Box Office Top 10 Film News

Box Office: Why Ted 2 Faltered & What It Means For The Summer’s Remaining R-Rated Comedies

I missed the window on Seth MacFarlane’s Ted.  It was an astonishingly big hit upon its June 29, 2012 release, grossing $54.1 million at the domestic box office in its first weekend, the biggest debut in history for an original R-rated comedy. It ended up with a stunning $218m domestic, fourth best all time among R-rated comedies, and $549m worldwide. That’s for a movie that only cost $50m to make! Within days of its opening weekend, FX scooped up the TV rights.  However, for reasons I can’t even remember at this point I never saw it in theaters, instead catching it several months down the road on DVD at which point its box office accomplishments had lent it an air of “comedy classic.”  Unfortunately, it only made me laugh a couple of times, mostly in the section of the story where Mark Wahlberg and his magically sentient teddy bear encounter a coked out version of Flash Gordon’s Sam J. Jones.  As a Family Guy fan, I should have been the perfect audience for the film, but it was actually because of Family Guy that I had a cold response to Ted, feeling a bit like I had already seen everything it had to offer.  Perhaps a bigger problem, though, was that I was watching it by myself, missing out on the communal experience of seeing it in a theater full of like-minded people laughing at all the jokes, which is usually the best way to see an R-rated comedy.

I was not going to make the same mistake with Ted 2.  Over the weekend, I ignored the generally ho-hum reviews and headed to my local theater for a Sunday matinee showing, imagining a packed theater where the laughter would be infectious. The theater manager must have had similar thoughts because Ted 2 was actually playing in the main auditorium, replacing Inside Out.  Bad decision.  The auditorium I entered was barely a quarter full with an audience mostly comprised of college-aged guys and girls.  So, no hive mind reaction in a packed theater was going to influence my enjoyment of the movie.  Darn!  Luckily, though, the movie managed to make me laugh.  It’s far too long, really strains to connect all of its plot points, turns serious in ways it doesn’t really earn, and is often times very lazy with its story and joke construction. However, there are plenty of funny jokes. I’m still kind of laughing at Ted’s impression of Harrison Ford in Regarding Henry. The whole thing is kind of like a Family Guy episode where the plot mostly goes through the motions but you’re still entertained because of funny cutaway gags and/or peculiar line deliveries from Brian or Stewie. I don’t regret seeing it, but I understand why some might sit this one out.

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Amanda Seyfried gamely endures several jokes about her large eyes, both here and in A Million Ways to Die in the West

And it appears as if a great many are indeed choosing to avoid Ted 2. It opened to $33.5m this weekend, more than $20m lower than Ted 1’s debut and at least $10m-$15m lower than pre-release projections. Ted 2 was unlikely to unseat either Jurassic World or Inside Out, but it was at least supposed to be a close race. Instead, Ted 2 got the cold shoulder as Jurassic World pulled in $54.5m to barely beat Inside Out’s $52.3m.   This is now becoming a familiar story this summer – the box office pundits are getting their asses kicked as their projections continually fail to match up to reality with the biggest movies of the season. Pitch Perfect 2, Mad Max: Fury Road, San Andreas, Jurassic World, and Inside Out all opened significantly higher than expected while the summer’s only R-rated comedies, Spy and Entourage, opened well below expectations.

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Spy took a while to get going because of San Andreas, but it’s still around thanks to good word-of-mouth thus taking a small chunk of Ted 2’s potential audience

That type of thing has been happening for years, though. No one saw the first Ted doing the numbers it did in 2012. The week before it came out the pundits were predicting an opening between $35m and $40m even though Universal’s internal projections were far more conservative, somewhere in the $26m to $35m range. History has repeated itself with Ted 2, just in the opposite direction.

To understand why Ted 2 underperformed you have to first understand why the first Ted overperformed.

Here’s how BoxOfficeMojo rationalized Ted’s huge debut:

Ted‘s success is due primarily to the strength of its broadly-appealing, completely original premise: what’s not to like about a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking teddy bear hanging out with Mark Wahlberg? It didn’t hurt that this felt like a logical transition to the big screen for Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, and previews maintained the general humor of that show while clearly bringing something new to the table.

It’s also worth pointing out the importance of a great release date. Originally, Ted was scheduled for July 13, which was sandwiched directly in between The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises. When G.I. Joe: Retaliation was bumped to next March, Universal immediately moved Ted up two weeks to June 29. As a result, Ted came out at a time when animated movies (Madagascar 3, Brave) had ruled the box office for three-straight weeks, and when two R-rated comedies (The Dictator and That’s My Boy) had already failed to deliver this Summer. This turned out to be the perfect time for a raunchy crowd-pleasing comedy like Ted, and kudos to Universal for figuring this out.

Keep in mind that the summer of 2011 was partially the summer of the R-rated comedy thanks to The Hangover Part II ($254.5 million), Bridesmaids ($169.1 million), Horrible Bosses ($117.5 million) and Bad Teacher ($100.3 million). Flash-forward to the summer of 2012 where none of the R-rated comedies had delivered and family-friendly entertainment had taken over. Audiences were starved for something like Ted at just that exact moment. Plus, it was Seth MacFarlane’s first movie after building up a fanbase for so many years with Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show.

The problem for Ted 2 is that R-rated comedies are so hit and miss, dependent upon a novel premise and solid execution. As Rentrak’s senior media analyst told Variety, “When a comedy is a sensation, it’s normally a picture that no one saw coming. R-rated, raunchy comedies are one of the few areas where originality is king.”

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The moment it was announced that Milas Kunis would not return for Ted 2 was the moment the sequel was on shaky ground

Universal has been on both sides of that equation now with Ted, the first one embraced for seeming original and new and the second partially rejected for feeling familiar and tired. In 2012, Universal’s president of domestic distribution Nikki Rocco was all smiles, spreading praise around and telling THR, “I also want to pay tribute to the incredible marketing campaign that began generating interest [for Ted] from a very early stage.” Here in 2015, Universal’s new distribution chief Nicholas Carpou told THR, “You have to remember that no one expected Ted to do what it did. So for Ted 2 to do $33 million in a very crowded weekend isn’t bad. And we have a very good chance of playing out. Ted 2 will be a successful film for us.”

Ted did what it did because of a perfectly timed release and a marketing campaign which successfully hooked audiences on a novel-sounding premise. It was Seth MacFarlane’s breakout moment, and it entered a market in which Brave had just posted a good-not-great opening and Magic Mike was set to open.  Since then, MacFarlane’s perpetually smiling face has alienated people, be it after hosting the Oscars or paying Charlize Theron to laugh at all his jokes in the box office flop A Million Ways to Die in the West (which I actually kind of liked) or constantly courting controversy with the short-lived live-action sitcom Dads (which he merely produced, though his name was its sole marketing hook).  One of his animated shows (The Cleveland Show) was canceled, another (American Dad) was cut loose and picked up by a cable network, and the other (Family Guy) is showing its age.  That’s enough to lose some audience members who may have been unfamiliar with him before the first Ted.  Plus, the concept of a foul-mouthed teddy bear no longer seems as novel, and other than highlighting the addition of Amanda Seyfried to the cast the trailers didn’t make an entirely solid argument for what made the sequel different from the first one.

Of course, the dinosaur in the room probably played the most significant role in all of this.  Not even Universal predicted Jurassic World’s success, creating a true four-quadrant blockbuster which is now dominating almost everything in its path other than Inside Out. They effectively cannibalized their own business by opening Ted 2 just two weeks after Jurassic World, although I don’t really blame them. Jurassic World was not supposed to be doing what it’s doing, and giving Ted 2 the same exact end-of-June weekend as the first Ted made sense.  It just didn’t work out, at least not on the level that it did for the first Ted.

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Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck has to contend with Ant-Man, but it could prosper by appealing to women

All of this could lead one to ponder if the R-rated comedy is going through a rough spot right now. After all, last year’s Sex Tape and Million Ways to Die in the West bombed.  Although Melissa McCarthy’s Tammy ended up being considered a hit, it did so exactly the way Spy is this summer – a disappointing opening followed by strong week-to-week holds leading to a respectable and likely profitable total gross. However, last summer also had several instantaneous hits among its R-rated releases, such as Neighbors, 22 Jump Street, and Let’s Be Cops.  This summer has a flop (Entourage), a slow-starter whose totals still aren’t as high as expected (Spy) and Ted 2.  Are this summer’s PG-13 blockbusters crowding out the movies meant for adults?

BoxOffice.com’s Phil Contrino told Variety that there really is no cause for concern at this point. R-rated comedies typically struggle if they come on the heels of blockbusters, Spy suffering in the shadow of San Andreas’ second weekend and Ted 2 being pushed aside by broadly appealing mega-hits like Jurassic World and Inside Out. “Comedies that try to open a little earlier in the summer tend not to perform as well,” said Contrino. “August and late July seem to be the right period of time for these kind of films. People have blockbuster fatigue by then and they’re sick of watching things blow up.” That’s at least one partial explanation for why Let’s Be Cops did so well last August, and it also suggests good things for Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck (7/17) and the odd quasi-sequel to the National Lampoon’s Vacation series, Vacation (7/29). Then again, Trainwreck is going up against Ant-Man and Vacation has Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.  Yikes.  My money’s on Trainwreck because unlike Entourage, Ted 2 or Vacation it’s an R-rated comedy meant to appeal to women, although you can say the same thing about Spy.

This Weekend’s Actual Box Office Top 10 Totals (6/26-6/28)

1) Jurassic World

  • Production Budget=$150m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$54.5m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$82.5m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$500.3m/$745.4m/$1.24 billion

2) Inside Out

  • Production Budget=$65m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$52.3m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$26.4m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$185.1m/$81.5m/$266.6m

3) Ted 2 (Debut)

  • Production Budget=$68m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$33.5m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$20.3m
  • Total Debut: $53.8m

4) Max (Debut)

  • Production Budget=$20m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$12.1m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=Nothing
  • Total Debut: $12.1m

5) Spy

  • Production Budget=$65m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$7.9m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$6.4m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$88.4m/$106.6m/$195m

6) San Andreas

  • Production Budget=$110m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$5.4m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$10.4m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$141.9m/$297.8m/$439.7m

7) Dope

  • Production Budget=They’re not telling
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$2.7m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=Nothing
  • Domestic Total: $11.6m

8) Insidious Chapter 3

  • Production Budget=They’re not telling
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$2m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$4m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$49.7m/$37m/$86.7m

9) Mad Max: Fury Road

  • Production Budget=$150m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$1.7m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$3m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$147.1m/$209.3m/$356.4m

10) Avengers: Age of Ultron

  • Production Budget=$250m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$1.6m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=Total not available
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$452.4m/$919.1m/$1.37 billion

What Left the Top 10?: Pitch Perfect 2 (Current total: $181m domestic/$276m worldwide), Tomorrowland (Current total: $90.1m domestic/$202m worldwide)

What’s Up Next?: Mad Max XXL and Terminator: Genisys open on Wednesday (7/1) in front of an awkward July 4th where Independence Day will fall on a Saturday thus potentially killing the weekend box office. Both new releases may fail to beat Jurassic World and Inside Out.

Sources: Rentrak, BoxOfficeMojo, Variety

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4 comments

  1. This is an interesting read – I love trying to figure out why a movie did or did not perform well in the box office. I think in the case of Ted 2, a lot of attention needs to be paid to Jurassic World and Inside Out. Both of those movies have been out so they have word of mouth appeal (who doesn’t want to see Jurassic after learning about the records it broke?) and those two movies alone appeal to every potential movie going demographic. Raunchy R-rated comedies are so niche and appeal to a smaller demo which largely excludes families. It’s very interesting to contemplate. Great post!

    1. Glad you liked the article. Thanks for the reply.

      It is interesting how much the conversation about box office performance is shaped by pre-release expectations. Ted 2 making $33m when it was going up against Jurassic World and Inside Out is actually pretty good. Ted 1 massively over-performed, and now Ted 2 is performing right around where Ted 1 was supposed to except it has much bigger competition. In the end, it probably will be a profitable movie for Universal, nowhere near as well-remembered as the first one but visited with plenty of comments like “You know what’s actually not as bad as I thought it would be? Ted 2” over the years.

  2. Seth McFarlane’s star isn’t shining at all anymore.

    The only reason I went to see Ted 1 was because the girl I liked wanted to see it and she was tired of all those big blockbusters. I was tired of those too but more tired of McFarlane.

    I still think ALL the good bits of Ted 1 were in the trailers.

    1. Ted 1 is certainly not without its charm, but I would be inclined to agree with you about the best parts being in the trailer were it not for everything with Flash Gordon – I don’t remember any of that being in the trailer, and that was my favorite part of the movie.

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