Tales From The Box Office: 15 Years Ago, Superbad Did R-Rated Comedy Super Good

(Welcome to Tales from the Box Office, our column that examines box office miracles, disasters, and everything in between, as well as what we can learn from them.)

Comedy occupies a pretty fascinating space within the movie world. Sure, comedies have been a part of mainstream cinema pretty much from the very start, dating back to some of the silent era's biggest stars like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. But comedy isn't as easy to churn out as something like horror. Just about anyone can make a horror movie with a little bit of money and some people willing to get blood on their clothes. Good horror is another conversation entirely but even the worst of the worst horror films can gain cult status. Comedy, however, requires a bit more.

With that having been said, it is always pretty remarkable when everything comes together and a comedy manages to break through the noise and become a hit. It's quite another thing for that film to endure beyond its initial theatrical release and stand the test of time. It's fair to say, 15 years removed, that "Superbad" has done just that, arguably ranking as one of the definitive teen sex comedies of all time. And its legacy also paved the way for a wave of R-rated comedies to follow in the years since.

In honor of the 15th anniversary of "Superbad," we're going to look back at the long process of getting the film made, how it managed to exceed expectations, and what we can learn from it all these years later. Let's dig in, shall we?

The movie: Superbad

"Superbad" is a movie absolutely overflowing with talent, both behind and in front of the camera. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, two of the most reliable and in-demand creators in Hollywood, penned the screenplay, with Rogen also appearing as Officer Michaels. Judd Apatow ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin") served as a producer, with the likes of Oscar-winner Emma Stone, Oscar-nominee Jonah Hill, and Michael Cera leading the cast, amongst many others. But at the time of the movie's release, these stars weren't shining nearly as bright as they did after the movie came out. In fact, Rogen and Goldberg had been working on the script for years and struggled to actually get it made.

Apatow had certainly had success at this point and Rogen was a rising star, having starred in "Freaks and Geeks" as a teen. But the collection of stars that came to be weren't shining quite as bright at that time. Beyond that, it all came down to studios having an aversion to R-rated comedy — especially comedy geared towards a younger audience.

Sure, "American Pie" and its sequels had done well, but those were viewed as the exception and not the rule. Before 2007 R-rated comedies that proved to be hits were few and far between, with "There's Something About Mary," "Beverly Hills Cop," "Coming to America," "Wedding Crashers," "Old School," "Borat," "The Birdcage," and "Jackass: The Movie" serving as a few examples. But they weren't made frequently and hardly any of them were of the teen sex comedy variety.

A window opens

It was actually a Will Ferrell comedy that Apatow produced, 2006's "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" earning $163 million worldwide that finally helped get "Superbad" moving in the right direction. As Rogen explained recently, producer Amy Pascal was keen to keep this gravy train rolling. "After 'Talladega Nights,' Amy Pascal was like, 'I'll make every comedy that comes from these guys,'" Rogen said. "So while we were making 'Knocked Up,' 'Superbad' got greenlit and we began the casting process."

And so, after working on the script (which was largely based on Rogen and Goldberg's youth in Vancouver, Canada), the team had the green light. Then, it was a matter of getting the right pieces in place. Greg Mottola, who had directed shows like "Arrested Development" and "Undeclared," was tapped to fill the director's chair. Originally the idea was to have Rogen play Seth (hence the character's name). But the process of getting the script greenlit took so long that he actually aged out of the role. After Hill worked with Rogen on "Knocked Up," the younger actor essentially begged his way into playing Seth. He was paired with up-and-comer Cera as Evan, as well as the totally unknown Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who would be immortalized as Fogell, aka McLovin.

Filming on "Superbad" finally kicked off in 2006, with much of the production taking place in Los Angeles. Sony then decided to give the film a prime summer release date, helping to round out the summer moviegoing season in 2007 — a summer that had been particularly robust at that. Movies like "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," "Spider-Man 3," "Transformers," and "Ratatouille," among others, had made bank. But now, it was a couple of best friends looking to end high school (pardon the pun) with a bang who were going to unexpectedly take the spotlight.

The financial journey

"Superbad" immediately resonated with audiences and bested expectations on its opening weekend. The film was released in theaters on August 24, 2007, topping the charts with a ridiculously good $33 million haul. It managed to easily fend off competition from the likes of "Rush Hour 3," "The Bourne Ultimatum," and "The Simpsons Movie." Word of mouth also proved to be healthy for the R-rated teen romp as it repeated at number one the following weekend with another $18 million. It continued to hold very well throughout September before finally dropping off in October.

All told, Motolla's film finished its run at the domestic box office with $121.4 million against a very reasonable $20 million budget. To ice the cake extra well, the movie also took in $49.3 million from international markets, giving it a grand total of $170.8 million. Even more impressive? Because this era was far more friendly in terms of physical media sales, it has reportedly racked up $140.9 million worth of DVD and Blu-ray sales domestically.

But the movie's biggest legacy, arguably, is how it helped to pave the way for many other R-rated comedies that would follow in its wake. "The Hangover," "Ted," "21 Jump Street," "Bridesmaids," "Neighbors," "We're the Millers," "Due Date," "Bad Teacher," and "Bad Moms" have all been released in the years since "Superbad" hit theaters — every one of them big hits. Not to mention Rogen and Goldberg's other hits like "This is the End," "Pineapple Express," and "Sausage Party." Millions, if not billions, of dollars worth of R-rated comedy has been produced since. That may not have been as possible without the success of this film.

The lessons contained within

There are a couple of crystal clear lessons to be extracted from the success of "Superbad." First and foremost, Hollywood likes to chase the pucks that are currently moving around the ice. If something hasn't worked for a minute, it will be ignored or disregarded almost outright. There are countless stories of great films that struggled to get made due to narrow-minded thinking at the studio level, only to go on to find success once they finally did get made. "Superbad" is a prime example.

Just because something hasn't been working doesn't mean it can't work again. I can only imagine the number of great movies that never got made because studio executives were simply refusing to look at the pieces of the puzzle before them. Everyone connected to "Superbad" suggested success was in sight and it wasn't exactly a wildly expensive risk, as far as movies go anyway. Good on Pascal for giving them the go-ahead, even if it was reliant on an assist from one Mr. Ricky Bobby. Franchises only get you so far. To survive, studios need to be open to any and all good ideas.

Beyond that, Sony was also smart to find the perfect release window for this film. It was at the tail end of summer, and one that had been loaded down with big blockbuster after big blockbuster. On the one hand, "Superbad" probably benefited greatly from offering audiences a break from that sort of thing while still promising solid popcorn entertainment. Additionally, the studio gave it just enough time as to not be contending with other huge releases that could have at its lunch. On occasion, a movie seems to have been doomed simply by its release date. Fortunately, that didn't happen here and we probably got a great many other wonderful R-rated comedies as a result.