This week sees the release of The Hangover 2, Todd Phillips’ follow-up to his incredibly successful The Hangover from 2009. When The Hangover was released two years ago, it came with very little fanfare. With an experienced director, but a low-key cast and no major marketing campaign, it took everyone unawares. After its opening weekend, word of mouth spread like wildfire, and The Hangover became the surprise hit of the summer. It didn’t just enjoy massive critical and financial success, it broke a record. It became the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time.
Now it’s back. Boasting the same direct, the same cast, and by the looks of it pretty much the same plot, The Hangover 2 will be looking to at least replicate the success of the first film. There will be no sneak attack this time, the audience knows exactly what to expect, and in fact, would be upset if they didn’t get more of the same. Where the first movie was an unknown quality, and had to find its legs over a period of time, the follow-up has a hungry audience waiting. This may well lead to the Hangover 2 breaking another record.
The first film may have been the highest grossing R-rated comedy, but did not have the highest grossing opening weekend for an R-rated comedy. That record is held, somewhat remarkably, by Sex and the City 2 with a $55m opening. That had the advantage of an existing audience, and the shoes and handbag crowd clearly turned out in force for the first few days. Of course, the movie was awful, and receipts dropped off pretty steeply over the following weeks. The Hangover 2’s tracking apparently puts it on course for a quite astonishing £100m opening, which would make it the biggest opening so far this year, and power it past Sex and the City’s total.
Will it also break the first Hangover’s highest grossing record? On the surface, that looks highly likely, but where the first movie benefitted from great buzz, if the quality is lacking this time around, that may be enough to ensure a drop off as steep as the girls from Manhattan managed. Only time will tell, but the problem with a sequel is that everything needs to be bigger, and the first movie was pretty over the top already. In trying to top that, Hangover 2 may find it overstretches itself, and its audience’s credulity.
The project has also run into a lot of controversy. Mel Gibson was originally to play a cameo, much like that of Mike Tyson in the first film. Mutiny by the, now powerful, returning cast quickly put paid to that idea. He was replaced by Liam Neeson, who was also then cut from the film, this time because he was not available for reshoots. Then there was the trailer issue. The first cinematic trailer had to be removed by theatre owners after complaints that one of the scenes appeared to feature a monkey doing something rather unwholesome. In actual fact, he was merely sucking from a baby’s bottle, but the damage was done. The trailer was pulled, with no time to cut a replacement, and valuable marketing time was lost. Will this hit the movie’s gross? Probably not, actually. The problems have been well documented, and no publicity is bad publicity.
In this case, I think it will probably outdo its predecessor financially. As i said, there is a baying audience eager for it, particularly in a year that has seen precious little in terms of comedy. If, however, a third movie ends up on the slate, I don’t think the success could possible be replicated again. With a sequel, you must go bigger. If you make a third, there tends to be no bigger to get, so a series begins to get introspective. A franchise based on drunken men doing stupid things is not well placed for introspection, and the audience may well be weary of the formula in general next time around.
I wasn’t particularly a fan of the first film, and i think the surprise element gave people a rose-tinted view of it. The audience will go into the sequel expecting to be rolling in the aisles. Expectation is the enemy of all comedy, and it can almost certainly do nothing but underwhelm in those circumstances. The Hangover 2 will indeed be the mother of all Hangover films, but I suggest everyone involved makes the most of it. It may well be all downhill once the opening weekend is done.
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