Hit R-Rated Comedy Directors Explain How Hollywood Hates R-Rated Comedies

Back in 2018, adult comedies had a mini-Renaissance that the greater movie business completely ignored
Hit R-Rated Comedy Directors Explain How Hollywood Hates R-Rated Comedies

Back in 2018, something special happened that may not ever be repeated in the future — America saw two R-rated comedies in six months and liked them both.

It’s no secret that the comedy film genre is not what it used to be. In decades past, studios pushed out mid-budget comedies by the bunch as America reveled in the abundance of low-stakes, highly entertaining movies that demanded little more from their audience than the willingness to laugh and the price of admission. Future superstars made their big breaks in Judd Apatow comedies. Adam McKay and Will Ferrell built an empire off of NASCAR jokes and John C. Reilly roles. And, across the country, friends, family members and coworkers bonded by repeating their favorite lines from the latest raunchy, R-rated sex comedy that infuriated critics on the way to big box-office returns.

The last decade has seen little of the kind of movie that eschews nauseating CGI and self-important world-saving plot lines for mid-sized budgets and solid punchlines, and even less so in the R-rated department. But, in 2018, two movies, Game Night and Blockers, proved that America’s appetite for adult-oriented comedy films is as ravenous as ever before. Those films’ directors recently sat down with Vanity Fair to discuss the unlikely phenomenon of their simultaneous success, as well as to explain why they think that Hollywood is less likely to make another movie like theirs than they are to try and convince us that The Martian was a comedy.

Back in that glorious Golden Age of 2018, writing and directing duo John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein made Game Night, a movie about a group of playfully competitive friends who accidentally find themselves in the middle of a high-stakes criminal conspiracy. The Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams-led comedy made $118 million on a $37 million budget, but it failed to convince studios to put their trust in Daley and Goldstein to steer the genre.

“The most timeless gripe that comedic filmmakers have had with the industry is that they’re not taken as seriously,” Daley said of his and his partner’s departure from straight comedy with last year’s fantasy/adventure film Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. “And it is a total bummer, in sort of the same vein that animated movies aren’t considered quite the same as live-action. It would be nice to have a seat at the table, and, like, when something is nominated for best comedy at the Golden Globes, maybe it’s actually a comedy!”

“As opposed to The Martian. I don’t remember laughing much,” Goldstein added, referencing how the Matt Damon sci-fi film controversially took home the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy in 2016. 

Goldstein’s remark struck a chord with Blockers director Kay Cannon, whose sex comedy about a group of parents who desperately try to prevent their daughters from losing their virginities on prom night earned $94 million at the box office on a $21 budget but failed to earn any industry accolades, even for its star-studded cast that included Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz and John Cena in one of the earliest examples of the WWE superstar proving that he’s better than most every other action-turned-comedy actor out there. Cannon added of the Golden Globe disgrace, “The Martian really got us! That one stuck with us.”

While Daley, Goldstein and Cannon all agreed that the industry has largely turned away from R-rated comedies despite their own success in the genre, the latter at least offered some hope, saying, “I think the pendulum will switch again. I do think that you have to make a great comedy that is incredibly relatable. People want to laugh together, but the stuff that’s been offered has been a little bit hit or miss. I think that the challenge for people like us is to convince the buyers and the business folks and the distributors that what I’m pitching to you is something I know can be great.”

“There’s just not a willingness to trust in the artists, because they’re business people and they’re just looking at numbers,” Cannon said of the studios who still balk at comedy pitches. But whenever Ridley Scott wants a nine-figure budget to make us watch Matt Damon mope around the desert, those same industry a-holes will gladly try to convince us that space potatoes are classic comedy.


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