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Comedy films are seriously hurting

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By Scott Bowles
Friday, June 28, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

Comedy films have been no laughing matter of late.

Once a staple of summer and one of the most bankable genres, comedies have lost their box-office edge.

According to film tracking site, comedies accounted for more than 25 percent of ticket sales a decade ago. This year, it's less than 12 percent, the lowest percentage in the modern era.

“It's not been a great bet for Hollywood lately, because studios love their franchises, love their trilogies,” says Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations. “And creating a sequel for a comedy is hard, let alone a trilogy.”

He points to the “Hangover” series as emblematic of comedy's woes. The 2009 original cost $35 million to make and earned $277 million. But the 2011 sequel was excoriated by critics and did a disappointing $255 million. And this year's third installment has stalled at $110 million since opening May 23.

“When a franchise that was that big does those kinds of numbers, studios take notice,” Bock says. “And the impression isn't favorable.”

Other reasons behind the decline:

Potty mouths. Today's comedies require coarse language “to sound realistic,” Bock says. “But an f-bomb is going to get you an R rating, which is automatically going to limit the box office you can do.”

The international market. Overseas revenues are important — they now make up at least 60 percent of a movie's overall business — but comedy takes a backseat to spectacle. “Comedy is harder to translate than special effects,” says Paul Dergarabedian, president of's box-office division.

The little screen. As ticket prices continue to climb, “people need a good reason to go to the movies, spend the money, get a babysitter,” Dergarabedian says. “And there's a lot of competition from TV when it comes to comedy.”

There are stars who still shine in comedy, including Melissa McCarthy. She's in “The Heat,” a buddy-cop comedy, opposite Sandra Bullock. McCarthy anchored 2011's “Bridesmaids,” which did $169 million. And she co-stars with Jason Bateman in this year's biggest comedy to date, “Identity Thief,” which has collected $135 million since its Feb. 8 opening.

Analysts expect “The Heat” to do at least $150 million domestically.

“Maybe that changes the trend this summer,” Bock says. “Everything indicates ‘The Heat' is going to be huge. The studio will probably want a sequel, and will get one.”

Scott Bowles is a staff writer for USA Today.

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