Comedy is dying a death in Hollywood as stars flee to streaming services like Netflix and studios pour their resources into superhero movies.
US cinema box office figures show only eight per cent of revenue last year came from comedy movies, down from 25 per cent a decade ago. Major comedic successes at the box office are now few and far between, with studio chiefs struggling to attract big names to film projects.
In 2009 comedies earned $2.5 billion at the US box office, and six individual films each made more than $100 million. Last year that was down to $1 billion and only one film, Crazy Rich Asians, exceeded the $100 million milestone. Adam Sandler, who had churned out numerous hit comedies for Hollywood, is now signed to a multi-film deal with Netflix. Jennifer Aniston, another staple of Hollywood romantic comedies, signed up for Sandler’s latest Netflix movie, Murder Mystery.
The film broke records to have Netflix’s biggest opening weekend when it was released earlier this month, despite critics largely panning it as formulaic and humourless. And Eddie Murphy’s comeback comedy "Dolemite Is My Name" will also be on Netflix, rather than the big screen. As major Hollywood studios, including Disney, have increasingly focused on mega-budget superhero projects it has also become more difficult, even for established stars, to get comedies made. Will Ferrell told the Armchair Expert podcast: "I’ve recently come across things where I thought ‘Boy, what a great idea’. I went around town and everyone just went ‘Nope.’"
Ferrell is now writing a comedy film about the Eurovision Song Contest – for Netflix.
Since the start of the summer no comedy movie has brought in more than $35 million at the cinema, and there have been a series of flops.
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Those included "Long Shot," starring Charlize Theron as the US secretary of state, and "Poms," about cheerleaders in a retirement community. Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst at Comscore, said: "If you’re not delivering the goods audience have many other options these days.
"Names like Sandler and Aniston, they’re just going where the resources are. There’s no stigma now in movie stars going to the small screen. Sandler is one of the biggest comedy stars of all time, and here is on Netflix." Mr Dergarabedian added: "I think people still do want to go to the movie theatre and laugh with other people, there’s that communal electricity that comedy creates. "But the code has to be cracked again on what comedy can be in the movie theatre. We have seen a steady decline in recent years, but I wouldn’t completely close the door on comedy coming back."