Rarely is a film released these days with as little precedent as Sausage Party. Sony and Annapurna’s piece of R-rated animation raunch — written by Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg, from a story by Rogen, Goldberg, and Jonah Hill, and directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon — is, for all intents and purposes, only the third major R-rated animated release in box-office history, following 1999’s South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut and Team America: World Police, both products of Trey Parker and Matt Stone. (To get even more granular, Sausage Party is the first-ever R-rated work of CG animation: South Park was a cartoon, and Team America was, well, puppets.)
This means that, no matter how it performed at the box office this weekend, Sausage Party would’ve marked a new frontier in the ongoing evolution of not only animation, but R-rated filmmaking in general — an area that already saw significant growth earlier this year with the massive success of Deadpool. And while Sausage Party didn’t come anywhere near Deadpool’s $132 million debut, its $33.6 million is still a huge opening regardless of genre.
If you consider it just as a work of R-rated animation, Sausage Party easily jumps to the top of its class. South Park made $11.3 million on its first weekend en route to a $52.0 million total domestic run, and Team America opened slightly better at $12.1 million but had less in the way of legs, ending at $32.8 million — less than Sausage Party’s opening. At a budget of $19 million, Sausage Party was cheaper than either Parker/Stone film (South Park was $21 million, Team America was $32 million) and is well on its way to providing a nice return on investment.
But even when you stack Sausage Party up against the larger category of R-rated comedies, it still looks good. As it currently stands, Sausage Party had the 64th-best opening for an R-rated movie of any kind, and, by my count, the 15th-best opening for what you would strictly consider an R-rated comedy. Even more remarkable, it’s the best opening yet for the Seth Rogen–Evan Goldberg partnership, just barely topping their previous high, which was — you’ll never guess — The Green Hornet, at $33.5 million. (Of course, The Green Hornet also cost $120 million.) In also beats out Superbad ($33.1 million), Pineapple Express ($23.2 million), Neighbors 2 ($21.8 million), and This Is the End ($20.7 million).
The question now is how big an appetite America has for foods having sex with each other. Sausage Party’s B CinemaScore is underwhelming but not uncommon for this kind of comedy: for Goldberg-Rogen, it’s better than The Watch (C+) and tied with Neighbors 2, but below all of their other movies. With this type of release, though, it’s hard to tell what that will mean — Identity Thief opened at $34.6 million and a B CinemaScore, but earned $134.5 million by the time it left theaters, a very strong 3.9 multiplier. Meanwhile, The Hangover III had the same CS and a $41.7 million debut, then finished with $112.2 million, a 2.7 multiplier.
The best comparison might be 21 Jump Street, which also delivered a B, was the first of its franchise, and is likely playing to a similar audience; it opened at $36.3 million and finished with $138.4 million, a 3.8 multiplier. In any case, Sausage Party is a financial success. The question is whether it becomes a runaway hit or just a nice line item on the Sony ledger. (You think Megan Ellison cares about the box office? MEGAN ELLISON DOESN’T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT YOUR LITTLE BOX OFFICE.)
Sausage Party’s success is even more interesting when considered next to another film in theaters right now — and I don’t mean Suicide Squad, which, despite topping the box office with $43.7 million, dropped a mighty 67 percent from its opening weekend. I’m talking about Bad Moms, which took in another $11.5 million in weekend No. 3, bringing its cumulative total up to $71.4 million. Even better, it only dipped 18.2 percent en route to that gross, meaning that people are continuing to go see these moms be bad.
At budgets of $19 and $20 million, Sausage Party and Bad Moms are showing that some of the best returns in movies right now can be found in sensibly budgeted R-rated comedies; if you consider Deadpool a comedy, that statement looks even stronger. Plus, consider the case of Ghostbusters, a PG-13 comedy — Paul Feig’s first after three (successful) comedies that were rated R — that seemed hamstrung by the content restrictions placed upon it. Comedies are seemingly better off going family-friendly, like Finding Dory and Zootopia, or fully adult-oriented, and leaving the PG-13 lane for the superhero movies.