2011 Preview: Comedy - Too Fuzzy to Be Buzzy
While sequels The Hangover Part II and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked are likely to put up big numbers, it's tough to get a read on the rest of 2011's comedy slate. Because of their general lack of foreign appeal (the top five comedies in 2010 made just 38 percent of their worldwide total overseas, compared to 61 percent among the top five overall), studios err on the side of cheaper productions, and cheaper productions don't demand publicity a year in advance. Regardless, comedy remains a popular genre, and there's no shortage of box office contenders in 2011.

Even outside of the comedy genre, The Hangover Part II (May 26) is one of the safest bets in 2011. The first movie was a surprise blockbuster, earning a massive $277.3 million during the summer of 2009. Instead of returning to Las Vegas, the sequel transplants the main characters to Thailand, where they will inevitably find themselves in all sorts of trouble. With the two-year gap between installments, the Memorial Day weekend release date and the key change of location, The Hangover Part II calls to mind Sex and the City 2. Even if The Hangover Part II experiences a similarly steep second movie drop, it would still end up with over $170 million, which would be more than any live-action comedy in 2010.

There are plenty of other ribald comedies aspiring for Hangover-like grosses in 2011, though none are likely to come close. The Dilemma marked the genre's first entry in 2011, and it failed to get the year off to a memorable start. On Feb. 25, the Farrelly Bros. return with Hall Pass, which should be able to leverage its interesting wish-fulfillment angle and the appealing comic sensibilities of Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis to attract a decent level of interest from men. The following month, sci-fi comedy Paul will try to win over the Comic-Con audience, though that's recently proven to have limited potential. April sees the release of Your Highness, which has three stars (James Franco, Danny McBride and Natalie Portman) who are all currently reaching the heights of their popularity. The Arthur remake also opens on April 8, and it's unclear at the moment if there's much audience interest in an updated version of the Dudley Moore comedy. Take Me Home Tonight and Born to Be a Star also open in the Spring, though neither of them appear to have lofty box office aspirations.

Bridesmaid (May 13) is the first major comedy of the summer, and it will be the first Judd Apatow production aimed primarily at women. Bad Teacher strikes on June 17, though the presence of Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel and Justin Timberlake might not be enough to stand out in an inevitably crowded market. Not much is known right now about The Change-Up, but, with stars Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman and a decent Aug. 5 release date, this movie is well-positioned. Horrible Bosses should spark interest with its ensemble cast and cleverly dark premise, so long as distributor Warner Bros. finds it a hospitable date.

Only four adult-leaning comedies are currently slated for the Fall and Holiday seasons, though that can easily change as the year progresses. Wanderlust (Oct. 7) is Apatow's second production of the year, and it should be viewed as a minor success if it can reach the same level as director David Wain and star Paul Rudd's last fall release, Role Models ($67.3 million). The Big Year, starring Jack Black, Owen Wilson and Steve Martin, was recently added to Oct. 14. Director David Frankel's last two movies, The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me were both surprise hits, so this one is worth keeping an eye on. Jack and Jill (Nov. 11) is the latest high-concept comedy from Adam Sandler and Dennis Dugan and will probably continue their lengthy hit streak. Two weeks later, the mysterious Project X opens. While nothing is known about it right now, it's being produced by The Hangover's Todd Phillips.

While ribald comedies can be popular, the real moneymakers are family comedies. The first true family comedy of the year is Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules, which opens March 25 or just over a year after its $64-million-grossing predecessor. The following month sees the debut of Hop, which is the first of three 2011 movies featuring talking animals. The second is Kevin James' Zookeeper (July 8), and the final one is the latest Alvin and the Chipmunks movie (Dec. 16). The genre has had some rough spots in the last year (we're looking at you, Marmaduke), though these are all positioned well enough. Alvin, in particular, is an incredibly strong brand that should be able to score substantial grosses, even if it falls short of its predecessors.

Mr. Popper's Penguins (June 17) and We Bought a Zoo (Dec. 23) also involve animals, though they don't talk. Penguins should find plenty of success with its mix of Jim Carrey humor and cute penguins, while We Bought a Zoo will be a strong offering for family audiences over the year-end holidays (though it may lean more dramatic). Elsewhere, there's the live-action version of The Smurfs (Aug. 3), the latest Muppets movie (Nov. 23) and Disney's high-school movie Prom.

A handful of romantic comedies also appear poised for solid earnings. No Strings Attached (Jan. 21) and Friends with Benefits (July 22) tackle the same subject matter and will each leverage appealing casts to moderate grosses. Adam Sandler is back in February for Just Go With It, and will aim to match 50 First Dates's $120.9 million. Something Borrowed counter-programs Thor in the first week of summer and may have trouble standing out as a result. Larry Crowne is Tom Hanks' first directorial effort since 1996's That Think You Do!; he also stars opposite Julia Roberts, which should be enough to divert some attention away from the latest Transformers movie over July 4th weekend. Also looking to gain some traction that day is teen-oriented Monte Carlo, which could do well targeting the Disney Channel crowd. Crazy, Stupid, Love. (July 29) surrounds the ever-reliable Steve Carell with a handful of other interesting actors in what will likely be a nice explosion-free date night movie towards the end of summer. In the fall, Anna Faris and Chris Evans meet in What's Your Number? (Sept. 30), then director Garry Marshall attempts to repeat the ensemble success of Valentine's Day with New Year's Eve (Dec. 9).

Action comedies are generally a popular sub-genre, and there's no shortage of entries this year. Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son aims to resurrect the Big Mommas franchise, though there's no indication that audiences are clamoring for a new installment (this also fits in to the urban comedy sub-genre, along with Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family on April 22 and Jumping the Broom on May 6). Moving in to the summer, Katherine Heiglstars in One for the Money (July 8), which is her second Lionsgate summer action comedy in as many years. Last year's Killers made $47.1 million, which was her lowest-grossing movie in the post-Knocked Up era. Fox recently made the smart move of getting Jonah Hill vehicle The Sitter off July 15 (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2's release date) and on to Aug. 5, where it has a slightly better chance of winning in spite of it's not altogether original Adventures in Babysitting-style story. Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer's 30 Minutes or Less comes out a week later, and should be able to take advantage of the rising stars of Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari and Danny McBride. In September, Johnny English Reborn brings the incompetent British spy back to the big screen, though it's likely to have much more appeal overseas. Finally, Brett Ratner's Tower Heist (Nov. 4) brings together Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick and more in what appears to be a blue-collar Ocean's Eleven.

2011 Preview Continued:


Sequels: Now, More Than Ever.

Animation Streak Rolls On.Comic Book Cacophony.

Ten Miscellaneous Contenders