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A Plea to Hollywood After ‘80 for Brady’ Scores: Make More Fun Movies for Women!

By Rebecca Rubin,


What will it take to get older crowds back to movie theaters? It’s a question that’s been worrying the industry since the early days of the pandemic. Apparently, the answer is simple: unite four Hollywood icons in a feel-good film with a runtime that doesn’t test the bladder of audiences.

Buzzing along at a brisk 98 minutes, Paramount’s octogenarian comedy “ 80 for Brady ” touched down on the higher end of expectations with $12.5 million in its opening weekend , landing impressively in second place on box office charts.

The film, starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno and Sally Field as best friends whose obsession with Tom Brady brings them to the Super Bowl, marks one of the best starts in some time for a traditional comedy. It also bucks conventional wisdom about the film’s target demographic. Like 2018’s “Book Club,” another funny film catering to similar audiences, “80 for Brady” is proof that older women will go to multiplexes; they just want to be entertained by whatever’s on the big screen.

So, let “80 for Brady” serve as a plea to studios: make more joyful movies for women!

There’s no shortage of mindless, mid-budget movies for males, like Gerard Butler’s action thriller “Plane” or the dozens of Liam Neeson films released yearly. But why should men get to have all the fun?

“It’s such a neglected audience,” says Jeff Bock, a box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “For the box office to be healthy, it needs balance.”

They don’t even need to be great, or even very good movies! But right now, too many adult movies, especially those aimed at women, are dreary and depressing. Oscar contenders, like “Tár,” “Women Talking” and “She Said,” may be important, thoughtfully rendered and impeccably made works of art. They are not, however, escapist.

So never mind that “80 for Brady” holds a middling 64% on Rotten Tomatoes. Opening weekend crowds — 68% were women and nearly 50% were 55 years or older — cheered for the film, which landed an “A-” CinemaScore.

“It proves the old adage: you don’t need to make a movie for everybody, but it has to be for somebody,” says Paramount’s president of distribution Chris Aronson. “There aren’t a lot of movies [these days] that people can come out of saying, ‘That was really fun.'”

It also helps that “80 for Brady” (a co-production with Fifth Season, formerly known as Endeavor Content) was responsibly budgeted at $28 million. The film, which was commissioned to debut on Paramount’s streaming service, but secured a full theatrical release after positive test screenings, doesn’t require outsized ticket sales to turn a profit. That’s good because comedies in the vein of “80 for Brady” tend to have limited appeal at the international box office. While Brady is next to godliness in the greater Boston and Tampa Bay areas (and his recent retirement was unexpected good publicity for the film), he’s not as popular in the vast swaths of the world where “football” is synonymous with “soccer” instead of tailgating at Gillette Stadium.

Analysts point to several factors, including the charm of its leading ladies and earnest publicity efforts, in the film’s playbook for success.

“’80 for Brady’ is a perfect cinematic concoction for mature viewers,” says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior Comscore analyst. “The title is fantastic, the four main stars are irresistible, the Super Bowl is next weekend, and the marketing was great. The actors were incredibly active in getting the word out.”

There’s no denying that star power packs a major punch in reviving genres that have been struggling in theaters. Just look at “The Lost City,” with Channing Tatum and Sandra Bullock, as well as “Ticket to Paradise,” with Julia Roberts and George Clooney, which beat box office expectations for romantic comedies in part because of their high-profile leading men and women. In the case of “80 for Brady,” the four time-tested leading ladies have enough accolades to fill a football stadium — Moreno is an EGOT, Fonda and Field have two Oscars apiece, and Tomlin has won Tony and Emmy awards.

“The right film with the right talent involved always has a chance at the box office,” Bock adds.

Paramount also tested a unique strategy for “80 for Brady,” partnering with exhibition chains to offer matinee prices to every screening of the movie. In effect, later showtimes were less expensive than usual. (Though, let’s be real, the film’s target demographic likely isn’t going to the movies after 8 p.m., regardless of the price.) It’s the opposite approach that was taken by “The Batman” and other recent big-budget blockbusters that charged more per ticket on opening weekend.

It’s not clear exactly how much that played a factor in terms of attendance. However, data indicates that more people went to see “80 for Brady” than the weekend’s big winner, M. Night Shyamalan’s psychological thriller “Knock at the Cabin,” which debuted in first place with $14.2 million. With or without slashed costs, “80 for Brady” generated roughly $2 million less than “Knock at the Cabin,” which is impressive at a time when theatrical comedies have been faltering and horror has continued to thrive. As movie theaters rebound from COVID, it’ll be interesting to see if other non-tentpole offerings take a similar approach to pricing.

“There was so much pushback to variable pricing in the pre-pandemic era,” Dergarabedian says. “Now, there’s an openness. Everyone realizes there’s a benefit to trying new things.”

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