How Is ‘No Hard Feelings’ the Highest Grossing R-Rated Comedy of the Decade?
I am much, much dumber than Gene Stupnitsky.
Back in March, I arrogantly declared that the guerilla marketing campaign for No Hard Feelings, in which a Reddit ad supposedly written by concerned parents asking for a young woman to sleep with their son in exchange for a used car, was one of the most awkwardly bad attempts to build word-of-mouth that Hollywood has ever created. Now, after 10 days of modestly positive box office returns, the Jennifer Lawrence vehicle is on track to become the highest-grossing R-rated comedy since No Hard Feelings writer and director Stupnitsky’s last feature film, 2019’s Good Boys.
As No Hard Feelings crosses the $50 million mark at the box office, it’s time to simultaneously salute Stupnitsky for single-handedly keeping the raunchy, R-rated comedy alive and wonder, “How the hell are no other R-rated comedies making $50 million?”
Beyond the obvious explanation that Stupnitsky, whose latest TV project Jury Duty was the most original and engaging sleeper hit of the past year, knows far more about the entertainment industry than mouth-breathers like me, one of the largest factors involved in No Hard Feelings’ rise to the top of the 2020s’ adult-targeted comedy charts is the microscopic gorilla in the room — COVID killed the entire movie business to kick off the decade. The yearly domestic box office total plummeted by 81 percent in 2021, and though ticket sales have steadily increased year-over-year, we’re still on pace to miss the pre-pandemic box office numbers by about $2 billion in 2023.
Though the field is admittedly thin, another unavoidable aspect of No Hard Feelings claiming the top spot on the R-rated comedy power rankings is the star power Lawrence brought to the project. To reveal some minor spoilers, none of the market research firms that study the film industry asked theatergoers attending No Hard Feelings, “Did you buy a ticket when you heard that JLaw beats the shit of a bunch of teenagers while butt-ass naked?” but I have a feeling that the theoretical “yes” answers may have pushed the film to first place.
Finally, and most importantly, No Hard Feelings is funny. Despite its uncomfortable premise, the film is punchy, profane and uncomplicated in a way that few modern comedies attempt to be. Stupnitsky didn’t try to make some meta, self-referential navel-gazing slog like so many of the genre films in recent years that seem to apologize for being genre films. Stupnitsky took a weird, funny premise and turned it into a weird, funny script, then he let his cast create the chemistry needed to carry it across the finish line.
No Hard Feelings will win no awards at the end of the year, and, unfortunately, it may not even recoup its investment — with a budget of $45 million, No Hard Feelings will need to reach at least double that number at the box office to break even. However, what Stupnitsky, Lawrence and the rest of the cast and crew have already achieved is admirable and important. They proved that there are still capable creatives willing and able to make raunchy, R-rated comedy films simply for comedy’s sake. They proved that, even in an increasingly trepidatious media landscape, some visionaries will make a movie out of a Craigslist ad for no reason other than it made them laugh.