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How did `Superbad’ top the box office?
NEW YORK – When the summer began, “Superbad” appeared like a possible sleeper hit, but by the time late August rolled around, it was a bona fide box-office favorite.
Made for less than $20 million, starring two relative unknowns and R-rated (somewhat contradictory for a teen comedy), “Superbad” gradually grew into one of the most acclaimed and talked-about comedies of the summer.
In its opening weekend, it took in $33.1 million, according to figures released Monday by Media by Numbers LLC, easily topping the box office and surpassing expectations. Most predictions had “Superbad” in the $25 million range.
The movie follows two teenage friends (Michael Cera and Jonah Hill) in a quest for alcohol and girls in their final high-school days. Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the film was directed by Greg Mottola and produced by Judd Apatow.
Apatow has recently become one of the most powerful players in Hollywood comedy, showing a Midas touch for making inexpensive, R-rated, earnest comedies like “Knocked Up” and “The 40 Year-Old Virgin,” both of which he directed. He and Rogen (a frequent collaborator) shopped “Superbad” for seven years before their success made “Superbad” more attractive to studios.
The humor quotient of the key actors ó Hill, Cera, Rogen, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Bill Hader ó was more important to the success of “Superbad” than casting known performers, Apatow said.
“I never think in terms of who’s famous. I just think in terms of who’s funny,” Apatow told The Associated Press as he headed to the “Knocked Up” premiere Sunday at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in Scotland. “I knew these five actors were hilarious and that people would love them.”
Though Apatow’s involvement in “Superbad” was highly publicized, the success of the film can’t be traced to the Apatow brand alone. A Sony Pictures release, the movie smartly adopted the marketing strategy of “Knocked Up” and “Virgin,” both released by Universal.
“He’s not a behind-the-scenes guy ó he’s out in front promoting these movies,” said founder and president Brandon Gray of Apatow. “He’s developed a brand, but it’s more about the style and the sensibility than it is about him as a name.”
By comparison, “Knocked Up” opened earlier this year with $31.6 million, and eventually made $146 million. In 2005, “Virgin” opened with a haul of $21 million, going on to make $109 million at the box office.
Like both of those films, “Superbad” was played heavily to preview screenings well before its August release, drumming up strong word-of-mouth.
“We kind of took a grass-roots approach,” said Rory Bruer, head of distribution at Sony. He added that that strategy fits “when you feel like you have something that is such a crowd pleaser.”
“Superbad” capitalized as well on videos posted on YouTube and, a site for comedic videos co-created by Will Ferrell. Over 1.5 million people have watched videos of the movie’s R-rated trailer on YouTube. Also popular have been videos of a mock argument during a press junket involving Cera and Hill, and those of Rogen and Hader performing in character as police officers.
“The R-rated trailer has been sort of the biggest marketing thing they could have done,” Hill recently said on the AMC program “Sunday Morning Shootout.” “The Internet has been the biggest way to get the word out about the movie and what the movie is actually like.”
More traditional media coverage also helped. “Superbad” found extensive coverage in newspapers and magazines, aided by the dearth of competition among other August releases ó a time when studios often dump their mediocre offerings.
But the studio had more freedom to advertise online with R-rated and long-form material.
“The Internet played a really big part in it because it gave us an opportunity to see aspects of (`Superbad’) that they weren’t going to get otherwise and it kind of gave it more of an organic feel,” said Bruer.