For the last full weekend of summer, the biggest wide release movie was the R-rated Melissa McCarthy puppet movie The Happytime Murders (sorry A.X.L.). Yet despite the theater count and the star power of Melissa McCarthy and Elizabeth Banks, film bombed - debuting in third place with around $10 million (although the box office numbers are not yet final). This marks Melissa McCarthy's lowest debut for a project she's headlined, and is a definite disappointment for a feature that was tracking anywhere from $13 million on the low end to $17 million by the most optimistic estimates. So what happened? Well, there is no clear answer, but competition and promotion may be partly to blame.
Coming in ahead of The Happytime Murders this past weekend were Warner Bros.' The Meg and Crazy Rich Asians, earning around $13 million and $25 million, respectively. The former has over-performed from the start, and the latter has ridden effusive reviews to two straight box office crowns (and it only dropped about five percent in its second week). Crazy Rich Asians has had great word of mouth that has helped it to excel. However, as Deadline notes in its analysis of The Happytime Murder's performance, competition and the recent downward trend of raunchy comedies at the box office are not solely to blame. STX Entertainment did not prop up and pitch The Happytime Murders to the public as a R-rated comedy event (a la Sausage Party), and the reasons for that are complicated.
For starters, neither Melissa McCarthy nor Elizabeth Banks were available to promote The Happytime Murders in the run up to the release - and with the stars unavailable there was also no premiere. With the biggest names unable to promote the movie, STX didn't throw a lot of money towards TV spots, spending less than it usually does on comedies. There also may have been some inclination that the film wasn't going to hit with audiences, which led to them hedging their bets with the marketing budget. Despite some hilarious red-band trailers, the film earned a rough C- CinemaScore, and has only a 22% on Rotten Tomatoes. So the bad reviews and buzz may have kept audiences from purchasing tickets. Additionally, it seems the stars also didn't have much faith in it, with no mention of the project featured on Melissa McCarthy or Elizabeth Banks' personal social media accounts.
It sounds like there were myriad factors that murdered this puppet at the box office, from competition to promotion and reception. Raunchy R-rated comedies have been struggling in general of late (unless Deadpool is involved), and The Happytime Murders doesn't buck this trend. Personally, I also wonder whether some audiences just weren't interested in seeing puppets in this way. Ted was an original thing, but The Happytime Murders took the kinds of characters we are used to seeing in a family-friendly format and put them in R-rated comedy territory and it's possible that turned some people off.
The Happytime Murders is now in theaters, so you can check it out and judge it for yourself. For all the other movies heading to theaters this year, check out our release schedule.