Pop Culture

Will Ferrell Needs Himself Another Hit

The Campaign was a Will Ferrell film that somewhat underperformed at the box office.
The Campaign was a Will Ferrell film that somewhat underperformed at the box office. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Hollywood can be a very polarizing business. Whereas some stars may appeal to a certain crowd, they may just as easily turn a different crowd off altogether. For instance, back in his prime, Jim Carrey was a box office king who got people to the turnstiles by showcasing a unique brand of physical, offbeat comedy. And just as Carrey appealed to a certain type who preferred his over-the-top antics, he turned off those who found him a bit much in equal measure.

This isn’t to pick on Carrey, who has shown himself to be a more versatile actor than people once imagined. In fact, he is one of many current or former movie stars who generate an opinion – some good, some not so good. Adam Sandler’s characters and juvenile humor weren’t for everyone. For all her talents, some can’t get beyond Jennifer Lawrence’s off-screen persona, which some find off-putting. Others consider her the finest young actress in a generation. Hell, even Dane Cook had his defenders back when Dane Cook was a thing.

On the flip side, there are a few movie stars who, for the most part, have managed to keep their approval ratings near 100 percent. Tom Hanks is an American treasure. Same for Denzel Washington. Julia Roberts has it. Will Smith had it for a while before he veered into strange territory. Same for Tom Cruise.

Then there’s Will Ferrell. Maintaining a high Q rating is particularly hard for a comedian, as different brands of comedy appeal to different types of folks. Some prefer outlandish, others subdued. Some, meanwhile, prefer a more smart-ass or sarcastic type of humor.

And this is where Ferrell has thrived over the years. He can do over-the-top (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Zoolander, Blades of Glory). He can be the immature man-boy who remains lovable nonetheless (Old School, Wedding Crashers). Ferrell can do sweet (Elf). Hell, the dude can legitimately act, as evidenced by his turns in Everything Must Go and Stranger Than Fiction.

Ferrell has ridden this versatility to a near-universal approval rating and box office hits aplenty. Of the live-action films in which he toplined the marquee, seven Ferrell flicks have topped $100 million at the domestic box office. Throw in animated films and supporting roles, and that number swells to 11.

So, yeah, Will Ferrell is a beloved comedic actor, a genuinely nice person by all accounts (somewhat of a rarity in Hollywood) and a bona fide movie star. He is also in dire need of a hit.

Ferrell is a regular on the talk show circuit and he routinely turns up at various awards shows and dazzles the crowd with his wacky antics or low-key, sarcastic humor. When compared to inaccessible movie stars like Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio – great actors both, but not exactly easy to relate to – he’s the movie star you’d likely most want to hang out with. That everyman status has suited him well, both professionally and financially.

But it’s time for Ferrell to start paying dividends again at the box office. This warrants mention because Ferrell is back with another film this weekend. Alongside fellow Saturday Night Live veteran Amy Poehler, Ferrell stars in The House, which hits theaters on Friday. The film tells the story of a married couple who blow through their daughter’s college fund and start an illegal casino ring in their basement to recoup the money.

On the surface, The House has everything one could want in a surefire Hollywood blockbuster. It has a pair of reliable comedic leads in Ferrell and Poehler. It features a number of noteworthy co-stars, including Jeremy Renner, Nick Kroll, Alison Tolman, Michaela Watkins and Jason Mantzoukas. It reunites Ferrell with long-time collaborator Adam McKay. It arrives in the heat of the summer movie season, when people are looking for something to do indoors.

And yet The House feels like far from a sure thing. For starters, the film's release has already been delayed. Second, as of Tuesday afternoon, no reviews existed online, meaning it’s likely advance screeners of the movie weren’t held, a sure sign that a movie studio doesn’t exactly have faith that reviews will be glowing.

Now, in the past, Ferrell’s box office track record would indicate his ability to overcome lukewarm reviews in carrying The House to boffo box office returns. However, of late, there’s little to indicate that ability still exists.

In the past decade, only four live-action films headlined by Ferrell have eclipsed $100 million at the domestic box office. Only two of those films (Daddy’s Home and Anchorman 2) were released in the past five years. The former had the benefit of featuring a fellow box office heavyweight (Mark Wahlberg), while the latter had the good fortune of being the sequel to an absolutely beloved property.

Hell, Forbes has named Ferrell to its annual list of most overpaid actors…Three. Years. Running. Point being, Ferrell needs himself a hit in the worst way, and The House ain’t exactly a sure thing to help turn the tide.

There is, however, hope on the horizon. Daddy’s Home 2, whose predecessor topped $150 domestically in 2015, should fare well. And a planned comedic adaptation of Holmes and Watson – which reunites him with Step Brothers cohort John C. Reilly and rolls out next summer – certainly has potential.

So Will Ferrell isn’t going anywhere as a movie star, and this is a good thing, mostly because Will Ferrell is an incredibly charming and talented person who appears to have his priorities in order while appreciating his fame and good fortune. Ferrell may not exactly be polarizing or controversial, but he’s always a welcome presence on a movie screen. Here’s simply hoping there are people in the theater watching.
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Clint Hale enjoys music and writing, so that kinda works out. He likes small dogs and the Dallas Cowboys, as you can probably tell. Clint has been writing for the Houston Press since April 2016.
Contact: Clint Hale