Kevin Spacey, left, Jason Bateman and Charlie Day in "Horrible Bosses." (John P. Johnson, Warner…)
First came "Bridesmaids," then "Bad Teacher," and now "Horrible Bosses" has continued the winning streak for R-rated comedies at the box office, even while overall ticket sales are down.
"Horrible Bosses" this weekend became the latest raunchy, low-budget movie to resonate at the multiplex. The picture, about three guys who are fed up with their evil superiors — including a foul-mouthed dentist played by Jennifer Aniston — and plot to murder them, collected a solid $28.1 million, according to an estimate from distributor Warner Bros. That was enough to beat the weekend's other new release, the Kevin James PG-rated comedy "Zookeeper," which opened to $21 million.
"I think audiences have shown this summer that they want to go out and just have fun," Jeff Goldstein, executive vice president for domestic distribution at Warner Bros., said of the New Line Cinema film. "There's a lot of reality out there that's too sobering, and people like to go and laugh in a theater. 'Horrible Bosses' was cool and hip, but it was also something that people can relate to — having the boss from hell. Just like everyone who saw 'The Hangover' knows what it's like to go out and have a wild night."
But "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" easily was the No. 1 movie for the second consecutive weekend. The 3-D film grossed an additional $47 million in the U.S. and Canada over the weekend, bringing the movie's domestic total to $261 million, the highest of the year. Abroad, the film is performing even more impressively, having racked up $384 million from 59 foreign markets.
American audiences who saw the movie over the July 4 holiday loved it, assigning it an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore. Positive word of mouth seemed to pay off this weekend, as ticket sales for "Dark of the Moon" fell just 52%, less than the 61% the second "Transformers" film "Revenge of the Fallen" dropped on its second weekend in theaters in 2009.
Still, overall business was down, with ticket sales off about 18% compared to the same weekend in 2010. Though summer blockbusters have helped 2011 revenues rebound somewhat, box-office receipts are down roughly 9%, while attendance has fallen 10% since last year.
Meanwhile, the well-reviewed "Horrible Bosses" was also received well by audiences, garnering an average grade of B+. The movie, whose ensemble cast includes Jason Bateman and Colin Farrell, appealed more to an older crowd, as 64% of the audience was 25 and older.
New Line spent only $37 million to produce "Horrible Bosses," far less than the budget of "Zookeeper." The latter, about a man who confides in talking animals when his engagement falls apart, was co-financed by Sony and MGM for $80 million. Sony took over its worldwide distribution and delayed the movie's release last year amid the financial troubles of MGM, which subsequently filed for bankruptcy reorganization.
The $21-million opening for "Zookeeper" placed it far behind the debut of James' last family-friendly film, 2009's "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," which took in $31.8 million on its first weekend and went on to collect $183.3 million worldwide.
Though the film received harsh critical reviews, audiences liked it just as much as "Horrible Bosses," also assigning it a B+. As expected, the movie appealed mostly to a family crowd; 52% of the audience were parents with their children.
Sony is hoping that "Zookeeper" will be able to make up much of its production costs overseas, where the film opened this weekend in 19 foreign markets, including Germany and Mexico, but collected only a tepid $7.5 million. Traditionally, American comedies haven't always played well abroad, though movies with talking animals are typically more popular internationally.
But in recent years, James' films have had more success selling tickets domestically than abroad. Only $37 million of the worldwide tally for "Paul Blart" came from overseas. Similarly, 2010's "Grown Ups," an ensemble PG-13-rated comedy in which he starred alongside comedians Adam Sandler and Chris Rock, grossed a smaller portion of its $271.4 million worldwide total internationally, with $109.4 million of the receipts coming from abroad.
In limited release, Sony Pictures Classics debuted "Beats, Rhymes & Life," a documentary about the band a Tribe Called Quest, on four screens. The film, which played in Los Angeles and New York, grossed $120,016 over the weekend for a respectable per-theater average of $30,004.