From Will Ferrell’s late-night TV appearance announcing its launch to the blitz of Dodge ads, tie-in materials and “SportsCenter” shout-outs that marked it release, “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” has been surrounded by an air of grand ceremony pretty much throughout its life.
So much grandeur, in fact, that one might have expected the movie to become a major blockbuster — or at least more successful than the original.
Yet the Ferrell news parody opened this weekend to disappointing numbers. Its three-day weekend total of $26.8 million was lower than the $28 million of the original, substantially so when considering the original’s inflation-adjusted number of $35 million.
The new film’s five-day total of $40 million (the studio opened the movie Wednesday) falls short too. The first five days of the original release, which spilled into the not-exactly popular moviegoing days of Monday and Tuesday, yielded $46 million in today’s dollars.
And the new film was in 400 more theaters than the original.
Factor all the promotion for “Anchorman 2,” and all the presumed new fans that the series gained from cable airings and DVD sales over the past nine years — not to mention the ascendancy of co-stars Steve Carell and Paul Rudd — and, well, the new totals start to look more shabby than classy.
Judging actual profitability for “Anchorman 2” is tricky: the Paramount film had only a $50-million production budget, but with so many promotions and tie-ins, it’s even tougher than usual to gauge marketing costs. Assessing popularity, or lack thereof, is simpler.
So what happened? Shouldn’t the new fans and the marketing blitz have spelled a major jump from the first film? Here are some potential factors.
Cable worked against it. The conventional thinking is that all those cable airings brought new people to the comedy. And it might have. But it also subtly reinforced a belief that the movie could be seen at any time, anywhere, and kept some moviegoers home. If the original never really went away, wouldn’t the same be true of this film too?
Marketing worked against it. Another factor ostensibly in the movie’s favor may well have undermined its opening. That heaping plate of Ron Burgundy over the past few months (there was also that anchoring of news in North Dakota, the relentless Dodge Durango commercials, the Newseum exhibition, the underwear cross-promotion) made people feel like they had gotten their fill of the character. Film fans really wanted to see a few more hours of Ferrell and friends getting into mischief. And thanks to all these appearances, they did so weeks ago.
Competition was stronger this time out. No doubt the explanation Paramount and filmmakers would prefer. Unfortunately that doesn’t totally fly — the competition was pretty similar. This movie was up against the second weekend of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” while the first film was up against the second weekend of a similar powerhouse: Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2.”
Older fans had moved on. It’s possible that the new film really did gain new fans. The problem is, a number of the old ones left. The year 2004 is a long time away. Ferrell’s comedy fell out of favor. So some who came to theaters to see the original were no longer enamored, or at least not sufficiently enamored to turn out opening weekend.
For backers, the hope is that the new movie has some of the same legs as the original. But it could be a tough road, at least in theaters. The comedy’s “B” CinemaScore is decent but doesn’t suggest great word-of-mouth ahead. And the holiday movies will keep coming. Audiences want a sequel until they get a sequel, the maxim goes. They are happy to quote and relive the original. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they think a new film smells of rich mahogany.
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