This weekend, Spider-Man met his match in the form of a chubby dad and a sparkly eyed, eight-abbed fraternity president. Seth Rogen and Zac Efron’s Neighbors obliterated expectations, earning $49 million in its first three days, one of the biggest-ever openings for an R-rated comedy. How exactly did this happen? These are our ten best guesses.
1. Thin-sliced demographics.
There was a time when Hollywood could make four-quadrant comedy hits by casting young stars opposite older ones as their parents or in-laws and telling jokes broad enough to bridge the generation gap (the Meet the Parents formula), thereby courting moviegoers in both age groups. But that hasn’t worked lately, maybe because in our era of infinite entertainment options, those audiences have become accustomed to being catered to individually. Less-savvy producers might have moved an oldster like Ben Stiller, Jason Bateman, or Robert De Niro next door to Zac Efron’s frat house. But by matching Efron (26 years old) with Seth Rogen (32), Neighbors’ makers were able to attract both 20- and 30-somethings, two different audiences that are nonetheless close enough in age that they can still relate. (Last summer’s 21 Jump Street pulled off a similar demographic trick.) 47 percent of the people who saw Neighbors this weekend were under the age of 25, suggesting that Efron and Rogen were equal draws.
2. Solid reviews.
Going in, Neighbors had positive word of mouth and rated a 74 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, which is pretty impressive for a 96-minute collection of penis jokes. Good reviews aren’t strictly necessary for an R-rated comedy to do well, but they can sure help. Neighbors’ slightly low Cinemascore (B) could spell trouble next weekend, but after an opening like this one, everything else is gravy.
3. The perfect release date.
The May 2 release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and May 16’s Godzilla presumably scared other tentpoles away, leaving Neighbors without any major competition from new, wide-released movies on May 9. Plus, it’s hard to imagine a better time to open a comedy about a frat house than the end of the spring semester.
4. Spider-Man 2’s badness.
Neighbors didn’t have much competition from last weekend’s No. 1 either. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 fell 61 percent in its second weekend, probably owing to word of mouth that pegged it as the worst superhero movie since Joel Schumacher put nipples on the batsuit.
5. It’s an R-rated comedy.
If Bridesmaids, Bad Teacher, Identity Thief, The Heat, Ted, We’re the Millers, and Rogen’s own This Is the End have taught us anything (besides lots of stuff about poop), it’s that moviegoers like their comedy raunchy. The success of those movies reflects a growing appetite for off-color humor, one that Hollywood has been eager to fill by green-lighting more R-rated comedies, marketing them more aggressively, and opening them in more theaters. This summer sees the release of fifteen R-rated comedies. Neighbors was lucky to be among the first out of the gate.
6. A simple, relatable premise.
Neighbors has a perfectly simple, low-concept premise that can be summarized in a single sentence: A frat moves in next to a married couple (or “Family vs. Frat,” as the marketers so elegantly put it). Also, it’s relatable — who among us hasn’t been in Rogen’s situation (damn kids!)? Or Efron’s (damn fogies!)?
7. A great trailer.
8. The perfect poster.
This one-sheet tells you everything you need to know: “Family vs. Frat.” Efron’s red Solo cup and Greek letters tell college kids that this movie is for them, while Rogen’s glasses and flannel send the same message to Wilco fans. Most importantly, the BabyBjörn is a dog whistle for everybody who loves The Hangover.
9. Rose Byrne.
Her star is rising fast. Neighbors’ audience was 53 percent female, and surely the Bridesmaids star is due plenty of the credit for that.
10. Zac Efron’s torso.
You can’t build a whole movie around Efron’s pecs (many have tried and failed). But if everything else about the film looks good, his abs sure won’t turn anyone away. Neighbors gave audiences (which, again, were comprised of 53 percent females) a much better excuse to ogle Efron than The Lucky One or That Awkward Moment.