How ‘Bad Moms’ went from sleeper hit to female-driven franchise

Mila Kunis, left, Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Bell, star in the sequel "Bad Moms 2."
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

It hasn’t been a good year at the box office — especially for live-action comedies. Over the past 15 months, only three films in the genre — “Bad Moms,” the “Ghostbusters” reboot and “Girls Trip” — were able to crack $100 million in domestic ticket sales.

This is what Suzanne Todd, the producer of “Bad Moms,” has been constantly reminded of in the wake of her film’s success. Yes, the R-rated flick made more money at the multiplex than anyone in the industry had anticipated: $183 million worldwide following its July 2016 release. But given the failure of so many other comedies, what if the film’s success was a fluke? Was it really a good idea to take the risk on a sequel?

“Especially when — gasp! — we wanted to add three stars who were over the age of 35,” Todd said with a laugh.

The first “Bad Moms” followed three mothers — played by Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn — who initially feel inferior to the PTA-attending, bake sale-organizing parents at their kids’ school. But after the trio form a friendship, they relish in their “bad” parenting skills, learning to embrace their supposed imperfections. The sequel, “A Bad Moms Christmas,” adds three bad grandmothers to the mix, those over-35 stars: Susan Sarandon, Cheryl Hines and Christine Baranski — who arrive in town just in time to judge their daughters’ parenting over the holidays.

The second film came together incredibly fast. Following the success of the original, writer-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (the screenwriters who launched “The Hangover” franchise) began working on a screenplay last September — just two months after “Bad Moms” hit theaters. They finished it within a matter of weeks and in December, STX Films announced the sequel was a go. “A Bad Moms Christmas” went into production in April — less than a year after the first one was released — and the movie opens Nov. 1.

“It felt like I was still taking my eye makeup off when the first trailer came out,” joked Hahn, 44, sitting beside her two original costars. “Who would have thunk it? It’s pretty awesome. It feels vindicating and powerful.”

It feels ‘I told you so,’” added Bell, 37.

“Everyone goes, ‘Are you surprised?’” said Kunis, 34.

“No, I’m not surprised. It can work. It does work,” Bell insisted. “People want it. I’m not shocked.”

Just a week before the Harvey Weinstein scandal rocked the industry and launched an ongoing conversation about how actresses are treated in Hollywood, the three stars gathered to discuss their experience headlining one of Hollywood’s only female-led franchises. They also reflected on their own journeys as parents. Kunis, who is married to actor Ashton Kutcher, has a 3-year-old daughter and 10-month-old son; Bell, whose spouse is actor-director Dax Shepard, has two daughters, ages 4 and 2; Hahn, whose husband, Ethan Sandler, is a co-executive producer of “New Girl,” has a son, 10, and a daughter, 8.

When did you realize “Bad Moms” was connecting with an audience?

Hahn: It did feel like there was some sort of cultural swell leading up to it. The mamas were really primed.

Bell: Moms were like: “Finally!” They were excited about what it meant for their category, because it showed moms who were, like, “I’m sexy! I can party! I have friends! I’m autonomous! You don’t know.” And this had been kind of an unsexy category, prior to that.

Kunis: It tested really well, which doesn’t mean anything other than “Oh, people don’t hate the movie.” I don’t think that anybody predicted it to break $100 million for an R-rated comedy. If there are four quadrants that movies have to fill, this one didn’t fill all four quadrants. It was female-centric and family-centric.

Hahn: Girls rule, boys drool. That’s why it worked.

Kunis: Facts. In the beginning, it was all women, but about six months ago, it became all men. They were like, “I watched it on the plane and it’s really funny.” I think men think they needed an excuse to allow themselves to see it.

Bell: Enter weird gender stuff. A group of girls would go see “The Hangover.” But to hear a ton of guys say “Let’s go see ‘Bad Moms’ this weekend!”? Dudes don’t do that.

Mila Kunis, center, Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Bell in a scene from "Bad Moms 2."
(Hilary Bronwyn Gayle / STX Entertainment)

Did you have options in your “Bad Moms” contract for sequels?

Bell: No! When you do something that’s a Marvel character, of course you have options. But when you do a comedy, they’re not like, “Oh, let’s do a second one.” I was lucky I got the first one. No one was talking about a sequel.

Did you feel like you had the bargaining power in your salary negotiations?

Bell: You think you have the power, but you never do. The studio does.

Kunis: No, you don’t have that much control. You have only so much, and then you can delegate where it goes and how.

Hahn: We’re all crazy grateful.

Kunis: Listen, as grateful as I am, so is STX who made $100 million. Let’s just be real here for a second. As grateful as I am, they made a lot more money than I did. I think that people need to realize you have deals set in place from previous negotiations —

Bell: Quotes!

Kunis: And so you can only go so far up above your quote for a sequel. I negotiate from that point. This is a sequel quote. Let me tell ya, her “Frozen” franchise is gonna pay off her cachet more than this franchise.

Bell: Yeah, but no one knows it’s me because it’s not my face.

Kunis: Financially speaking.

Bell: If it does well. But also, nobody cares about that one because it’s not live-action. That will never be my quote.

Kunis: That’s interesting, you can’t use that as your quote because it’s animated, can you?

Kunis, Hahn and Bell are all starring in a live-action sequel for the first time.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

What is Christmas like in your homes?

Kunis: We don’t give our daughter presents. I never really got gifts. Not because my parents were like “You don’t deserve presents” — it just wasn’t the way we showed love or appreciation for each other. If you needed something throughout the year, just go get it. It’s not that big of a deal. To this day, my parents are like, “It’s Christmas. You need a massage. Here’s 100 bucks.” That’s their version of a Christmas gift. By the way, I always take money from my parents. They’re like, “Here’s 20 bucks.” I’m like, “Yeah, I’ll take it.”

Bell: I love your theory and think that will build a stable, evolved adult. We do the opposite. Throughout the year, if my daughter says “I need this,” I’m like, “Cool. You can think about that when you talk to Santa because you’re gonna have one day where you’re gonna get 15 presents and it’s gonna be super-exciting and then that’ll be it.” But I think both have value. But I was just out of town for six weeks, and guess what happened? My husband bought my 4-year-old an electric dirt bike. Guess what the tag says? “13 and over.”

Hahn: That’s rad. No, that is the coolest.

Bell: I was just like, thank God she has a full-face helmet. Also, guess what? He has 50% of the control. If he wants to buy her a dirt bike, he’s allowed to buy her a dirt bike. Am I gonna come home and be mad? He’s her parent! He’s allowed to make those calls.

Hahn: What if I was like, “My kids spend 12 hours a day in front of a screen surrounded by Amazon boxes? And I go upstairs and I play with makeup.”

Do you feel like there’s more pressure on parents in L.A.?

Bell: Living here makes everything suck. You get a comparison hangover because there’s a lot of beautiful, shiny things here. I mean, kids’ birthday parties with real snow?

Kunis: Those are my favorite, are you crazy? I’m like “Yes, I’m gonna go to that wealthy person’s birthday party!”

Hahn: Our most expensive birthday party we ever had was when our son turned 1. He’ll never remember it and it was so stressful and now it’s like, “Let’s go to Baskin Robbins.”

Bell: We’ve never had a birthday party for our kids, because they won’t remember it. We’re not giving them birthday parties until they ask. “Yeah, I’ll make you some banana bread tonight and you can blow out a candle.” That is literally it. Until you want it. It’s the same way I feel about Disneyland — until you’re begging me to go to Disneyland, you don’t get to go to Disneyland! You need to want it.

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