Ten Years Ago, Theatrical Comedies Like Neighbors and Let’s Be Cops Had Their Last Laugh

Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill at the premiere of "22 Jump Street" - Los Angeles Premiere - Arrivals
Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill at the premiere of "22 Jump Street" - Los Angeles Premiere - Arrivals / Jeffrey Mayer/GettyImages

While murder mysteries and even sexy thrillers have had big screen comebacks in recent years, theatrical comedies haven’t been so lucky. Back in 2008, 126 different comedies populated movie theaters and contributed a combined $2.05 billion to the domestic box office. Summer 2008 was especially bursting with comedies thanks to titles like Get Smart, You Don't Mess With the Zohan and Step Brothers. 16 years later, summer 2024 has no real major comedies on tap for release. The closest contributions to that genre this summer will be a handful of indie titles like Ezra and Fabulous Four, none of which will come anywhere close to the box office hauls of the biggest summertime comedies of years past.

The big-screen comedy has been phased out by modern Hollywood gradually. There wasn’t one single year where the genre suddenly vanished from movie theaters. However, if there was a single summer season where the genre had its biggest last gasp, it has to be summer 2014. Nobody could’ve known it then, but the box office hauls of that summer’s yukfest’s were about to become incredibly scarce.

Summer 2014 delivered a pair of big-screen comedies that each cracked $150 million domestically, Neighbors and 22 Jump Street. The latter of those features grossed $191.7 million in the U.S., an extraordinary haul for a big-screen comedy that no subsequent entry in the genre has come close to matching. Also contributing mightily to the box office landscape that summer were titles like Tammy, Let's Be Cops, and the breakout indie hit Chef. Though it technically debuted just one week before summer 2014 began, The Other Woman also made most of its $83.9 million domestic gross during the hottest months of 2014.

It wasn't just the moneymakers among summer 2014 comedies that made this year stand out in hindsight. It's also the box office duds. Take Sex Tape, a July 2014 Cameron Diaz/Jason Segel vehicle that attempted to make the Bad Teacherbox office lightning strike twice. The feature flopped with $38.5 million domestically. At the time, it was seen as a drastic step down from typical summer comedy box office grosses.

Flash-forward a decade and Sex Tape’s box office gross looks a lot different. Since all North American movie theaters reopened in March 2021, the only non-Barbie live-action comedies to exceed that haul were The Lost City, Anyone But You, Ticket to Paradise, No Hard Feelings, and 80 for Brady. Sex Tape did circles around modern comedy underperformers like Strays, About My Father, and Bros…and that’s before taking inflation into account. Fellow summer 2014 comedy underperformer A Million Ways to Die in the West also looks way more impressive a decade later. The producers of The Machine and Easter Sunday would’ve killed for that movie's “underwhelming” $42.7 million North American haul.

The co-existence of underperformers like Tape and West with big hits like Neighbors speaks to how many comedies hit theaters in the summer of 2014. Such a weighty slate of summer comedies would be impossible to comprehend as soon as just five years later. It's not like summer 2014’s slate of big-screen comedies was the final summertime to feature a steady stream of entries in this genre. The following summer alone would deliver Pitch Perfect 2 and Spy, while the summer of 2016 delivered Central Intelligence and Bad Moms. However, save for Pitch Perfect 2, none of those subsequent titles would come anywhere close to being as big as Neighbors and 22 Jump Street.

More critically, though, starting in summer 2015, this once foolproof summertime genre started to have some real pains. Once-surefire hits like Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and Ted 2 came in under expectations. By 2016, studios also began to pull back how many comedies they released in the summer. Studios that once embraced summertime comedies like Paramount Pictures had abandoned this strain of yukfest's by summer 2016, just two years after summer 2014. This gradual decrease was best reflected in the dwindling prominence of comedies among the biggest movies of various summers. Five comedies populated the 20 biggest movies of the summer of 2014. Two years later, only three cracked the top 20 biggest movies of the summer of 2016. That number is being very generous in counting the VFX-driven tentpole Ghostbusters, which was marketed more as a tentpole blockbuster than a studio comedy.

Part of that subsequent decline in big-screen comedies could be chalked up to the sudden absence of many big comedy stars. Summer 2014, in hindsight, was the last major bow for several fixtures of the comedy scene. Adam Sandler would never headline another non-Pixels theatrical comedy after that summer’s Blended. Jonah Hill was about to go on an acting hiatus after 22 Jump Street. In the wake of A Million Ways to Die in the West flopping, Seth MacFarlane directed Ted 2 and then retreated back to television. Jason Segel would similarly vanish from mainstream movies after Sex Tape. Summer 2014 wasn’t just a last hurrah for comedies at the box office. It was also the final gasp for many staples of summertime comedies.

Those vanishing comedic performers reflected another problem affecting big-screen comedies after 2014. Major studios largely abandoned this genre in favor of tentpole releases. Studios had been bitten by the franchise and cinematic universe bug. Comedies no longer fit into the equation for outfits like Warner Bros. or Columbia Pictures. With these studios dialing back their investment in comedies, big performers like Sandler retreated to streaming services. Meanwhile, the comedy, once a fixture of the summer, fell out of fashion. In their place emerged more live-action remakes of old animated films and legacy sequels in the summer 2018 and 2019 slates.

An end of an era was approaching after summer 2014 but nobody could’ve predicted that ten years ago. The long-term safety of this genre in the theatrical space was so assured that even flops like West and Tape didn’t inspire apocalyptic think pieces. They were just comedies that people didn’t gravitate towards. The days of Hollywood leaving multiple weeks devoid of new releases so that one big superhero movie could dominate the marketplace for an entire month had yet come to pass. Back in the summer of 2014, Think Like a Man Toocould open a week before Transformers: Age of Extinction. Let’s Be Cops debuted two weeks after Guardians of the Galaxy. There was room for all kinds of movies on the big screen. What innocent naivety permeated the theatrical landscape in the final year before Netflix began the dreaded “streaming exclusive” release…

What's ironic about all of this is that, as a whole, summer 2014 was perceived by Hollywood as a bit of a miss as a whole. Grossing only $4.06 billion, summer 2014 was the lowest-grossing summer domestically since 2006. It eventually became the second-lowest grossing summer of the 2010s, only ahead of 2017. However, for comedies, this particular summer was an important last hurrah. Before Hollywood studios began phasing out the big-screen comedy, this genre had a spectacular summer that delivered near-weekly new entries to moviegoers. This was an era where a poster featuring Melissa McCarthy with a paper sack over her head was enough to get people to come to the theater.

It’s hard to be entirely wistful for an epoch where Tammy could be a box office hit without breaking a sweat. However, it is easy to be mournful that the entire landscape of theatrical comedies has vanished in the intervening decade. Hopefully, someday, audiences will once again see a summer moviegoing season populated by big-screen comedies (perhaps even ones closer to Bottoms than Sex Tape in quality!) As summer 2014 proved, this genre could bring in the big bucks, even when an apocalypse for the domain was fast approaching.

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