22 Jump Street opened this weekend with an estimated $60 million, almost twice the debut of 21 Jump Street, which opened in March 2012 with $36.3 million. It’s also the best-ever opening weekend for stars Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, and Ice Cube — although not for the film’s white hot directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, whose The LEGO Movie opened with $69.1 million in February and remains the top grossing film of the year domestically.
But here is where it gets interesting: A live-action comedy hasn’t opened this well since 2011’s The Hangover Part II ($85.9 million) — and before that, no live-action comedy opened past $60 million before 2003’s Bruce Almighty ($68 million). Adjusting for inflation brightens the picture for live-action comedy only a bit more, pushing 2008’s Sex and the City to a $63.2 million opening in 2014 dollars.
Otherwise, you have to go back to the start of the 2000s before live-action comedies did this well at the box office, including 2002’s Austin Powers in Goldmember ($73.1 million) and 2001’s Rush Hour 2 ($67.4 million) — and 2003’s Scary Movie 3 ($63.5 million, adjusted), 2001’s American Pie 2 ($63.5 million, adjusted), 2000’s The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps ($62.8 million, adjusted), and 2000’s Scary Movie ($62.5 million, adjusted).
Animated features and franchise action movies that are packed with laughs have certainly thrived over the past decade — The Avengers, one of the highest-grossing films of all time, has some of the best laugh-out-loud moments of any movie in recent memory. But as those aforementioned numbers bear out, for the past 10 years, live-action comedies have struggled to come close to the same box office heights as films that aren’t exclusively engineered to make audiences laugh.
Part of that is due to word-of-mouth — people are less eager to rush out on opening weekend to see a comedy until they have heard from their friends that it is actually funny. So while word-of-mouth pushed the total gross for 2013’s Anchorman 2 to nearly five times its opening weekend, since it opened with a tepid $26.2 million, the movie topped out at just $125.2 million — an underwhelming figure given how much money Paramount poured in to the movie’s omnipresent marketing campaign.
There is also, however, the “I’ll wait to see it at home” factor — the notion that a movie that “merely” makes you laugh is an experience that doesn’t need a giant screen and potential $14 ticket price. Setting aside for the moment the wonderfully unique experience of sharing laughter with a theater full of strangers, it is true that American comedy hasn’t been particularly cinematic of late.
The dominant forces in Hollywood comedy over the last 10 years have been films either produced, directed, or inspired by Judd Apatow; the collected works of Adam Sandler; the Hangover movies from Todd Phillips; and Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s films. As a recent viral video praising the work of British director Edgar Wright makes clear, however, none of these loose, improvisational movies really feel much like movies.
But 22 Jump Street — with directors Lord and Miller’s constant barrage of visually driven gags — does, and it is currently reaping the box office rewards.
Here are the estimated top 10 box office figures for Friday to Sunday, courtesy of Box Office Mojo:
1. 22 Jump Street* — $60 million
2. How to Train Your Dragon 2* — $50 million
3. Maleficent — $19 million
4. Edge of Tomorrow — $16.2 million
5. The Fault in Our Stars — $15.7 million
6. X-Men: Days of Future Past — $9.5 million
7. Godzilla — $3.2 million
8. A Million Ways to Die in the West — $3.1 million
9. Neighbors — $2.5 million
10. Chef — $2.3 million
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