Hollywood’s Newest Half-Billion-Dollar Star: Melissa McCarthy Is Box Office Gold

By  · Published on July 1st, 2013

Well, turns out that Melissa McCarthy is bankable, and not just as an amusing bit player (though she can do that) or an Emmy-winning television actress (yup, she did that, too) or as a scene-stealing supporting actress (even though she does that, and particularly did that while also stealing puppies), but as an honest-to-goodness comedy star. Not sure about that, are you? What if we told you that McCarthy is now a half-billion-dollar star, co-starring in just five films in the past two years that have racked up more than five hundred million dollars at the domestic box office alone?

McCarthy’s latest starring film, The Heat, is currently estimated to have pulled in a tidy $40m at the weekend box office, which brings McCarthy’s domestic box office haul since her breakout role in Bridesmaids to a cool $521m (including Bridesmaids, This is 40, Identity Thief, The Hangover Part III, and The Heat). With The Heat going like a house on fire, that number will only rise (numbers do tend to that, after all). McCarthy’s global box office success from those same five films currently stands at just over $928m, with The Heat not yet even open in overseas markets, suggesting that McCarthy’s total take will soon surpass $1b. What we’re saying is, yes, she’s bankable, and she’s especially bankable when she gets to flex her comedic chops alongside other funny ladies (like Bridesmaids’ Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph or her excellent cohort in The Heat, the also-notoriously-bankable Sandra Bullock). Women are funny. People want to watch them be funny. Isn’t the box office amusing (sometimes)?

Over the weekend, Jordan Zakarin at BuzzFeed wrote about the stunning phenomenon of moviegoers actually wanting to see female-driven comedies in a piece that was both firmly tongue in cheek (unintentional callback to one of the funniest jokes in The Heat) and just plain well-reasoned. While Zakarin joked, “this may be the craziest gosh darn newsflash yet: women are funny and the public likes it! Sure, you may find it hard to believe, since movie studios are filling our theaters with aliens and superheroes and car crashes and mega explosions, but comedy is still alive, and it’s not just men who can make jokes.” We are shocked and befuddled by such news! Oh, also, really excited about it. In his analysis, Zakarin also sagely points out the film a) has exceeded opening expectations, b) came in second to a film that was rated G, and c) has already surpassed the opening weekend of Bridesmaids by about $15m. It’s only going to make more money, amuse more people, and continue to raise McCarthy’s star power.

But is that enough?

Not quite. Or at least not yet. Feig’s Bridesmaids was expected to herald in a new golden age of female-centric comedies, though most of its immediate predecessors didn’t deliver on that promise at all (see Bachelorette, which could have been described in a pitch meeting as “what if you took all likability out of Bridesmaids and replaced it with ugliness, stereotypes, and illicit drug use?” [and, yes, we do know that the genesis of Bachelorette existed long before Bridesmaids was made]). It’s a point that’s not lost on anyone tracking the development of these kinds of films, and BuzzFeed’s piece also notes that Bridesmaids, “with all its fanfare and think pieces, was supposed to open up the movie development floodgates to talented female writers and actresses; instead, it mostly just meant that Feig and McCarthy got to collaborate again.” You win some, you lose some.

Even Feig, one of the people who has benefitted the most from the supposed uptick in the apparently new genre, seems upset about the way Bridesmaids didn’t quite develop into the first of many great female-driven comedies featuring many great female (or, in Feig’s case, female-friendly) talents, telling BuzzFeed last week, “We’re the only studio release this summer with women in leading roles…That’s the advance we made? That I got to make another one? I was hoping there would be a better outcome than that…no, that wasn’t supposed to be the end result ‐ there are female directors, other directors. I’m just concerned because there are so many funny women who should be working, and I can only work with so many of them at the time.” Again, even the one guy who has reaped the most benefits from the new crop of lady comedies is upset that we’re not getting more of them, and from different people. (This is probably a good time to mention that Paul Feig seems to be just a really great guy on top of being a funny and smart guy.)

There are a few more female-driven comedies due out this season that might continue to push the mini-genre forward ‐ most notably the Kristen Wiig-starring Girl Most Likely (which debuted at last year’s Toronto Film Festival under its original title, Imogene, and didn’t win many fans, with the only praise that could be mustered was that it was “quirky”), which will probably lure in plenty of Bridesmaids fans. But the real heir apparent to the Bridesmaids/The Heat throne is Maggie Carey’s The To Do List, the writer and director’s feature debut based on her beloved (and much-shared) script The Hand Job. While Girl Most Likely doesn’t seem, well, likely to include any of the unexpected (and unexpectedly hilarious) raunch that both Bridesmaids and The Heat so adeptly managed to make work, The To Do List absolutely does. After all, this is a film about a recently graduated virgin (Aubrey Plaza) who is determined to work her way through a list of sexual milestones in just one summer, all leading up to the eventual loss of her v-card. (And, admittedly, having seen an earlyish cut of the film, I can vouch for its unabashed adherence to going all the way in just about every way it can.) August will also see the release of Lake Bell’s In A World, the actress’ directorial debut that has already earned lots of love at both Sundance and LAFF.

Bridesmaids may have given female-centric comedies a boost and it sure gave us a gem in McCarthy, but it’s going to take more than just one fearless star to turn the cinematic landscape of comedy into one more accepting and admiring of lady-led comedies. Sure, a half-billion-dollar haul doesn’t sound so bad, but there’s got to be plenty more where that came from, right?

Thanks to Box Office Mojo for their invaluable box office reportage.