Paramount knew they had a moneymaker on their hands with this weekend's Jackass 3D, another installment in the low-budget, riotously funny and ridiculous franchise that was guaranteed to turn a profit by selling tickets to the most immature of moviegoers, even if nobody else showed up. As it turns out, though, everybody showed up, rocketing Jackass 3D to the top of the box office with a $50 million gross for the weekend, making it the biggest-ever fall opening. That's right, Jackass 3D opened bigger than any Saw movie, bigger than Meet the Parents, bigger than Couple's Retreat just last year. The movie is enormous for many more reasons beyond its innovative use of bungee cords and a Porta Potty.
So, uh, how the hell did this happen? How did a movie that looked fun but unremarkable turn into the fall's biggest success story, and the first movie audiences actually seem interested in seeing (rather than just having no better option) since The Town, or maybe even The Expendables? Even the biggest supporter of the Jackass franchise wouldn't have seen this coming. Starting 10 years ago as cheap late-night programming on MTV, Jackass grew into a cultural flashpoint for all the copycat violence it inspired among its young fans, even getting publicly decried by then-Senator Joe Lieberman. That made it all the more appealing, of course, for the legions of fans who made the 2002 movie a hit, opening at $22.8 million and going on to gross $79 million worldwide off a $5 million budget. The second film was basically as successful financially, but coming while MTV was airing a ton of Jackass spinoffs it was basically a victory lap for the series that had started it all-- Knoxville was moving on to a legitimate acting career, the guys were getting kind of old, and it was more of a grand finale than a next step in the process.
Four years later, though, the guys got back together for no reason other than that it seemed fun, and somehow they made it seem awesome, not pathetic, that they're doing the same things they were 10 years ago and still laughing hysterically. It's not just remarkable that Jackass 3D nearly doubled the opening weekend gross of the previous two films-- a bump even 3D ticket prices and general inflation wouldn't account for-- but that it did so well opening against Red, an action comedy aimed at a similar young male audience. Red did pretty well for itself too, bringing in $22.5 million, but it was nothing compared to the unexpected behemoth of Jackass 3D.
We were as baffled as you were to see the box office results this morning-- even Josh, the movie's biggest supporter here at CB, was only predicting $30 million-- but we put our heads together to figure out 5 things that made Jackass 3D such a hit, from the ongoing appeal of the brand to the fact that we actually wanted to see Steve-O's vomit flying out of the screen at us. None of these answers by themselves explain everything, but all together they give us some idea of how, 10 years later, Jackass is somehow still at the top of the box office. Take a look at the five answers we came up with and meet us at the end for some conclusions about what we can learn.
People Knew What They Were Getting And It Was Exactly What They Wanted
Going into the theater to see a Jackass movie, you may not know what species of animal is going to inflict testicular trauma or what instrument is going to crack someone’s skull, but you know that there will be animals, there will be testicular trauma, there will be instruments and there will be cracked skulls. It’s not commentary, it’s not complexity and it’s not art; it’s people hurting and making fools out of themselves for a laugh.
It’s not exactly a new phenomenon either. Michael Bay’s Transformers movies didn’t make money because they were interested in character development and story. If that were true, the second film would have gone broke from people wanting their money back. Audiences gather for Bay’s films to see guns, boobs and explosions. Walking in, Jackass moviegoers expect helicockers, midget bar brawls and sweat suit cocktails – and that’s exactly what they got.
We Actually Like Gimmicky 3D
James Cameron and the Pixar people and nearly everyone else are always trying to tell you that the future of 3D isn't in having things fly out of the screen, but immersing the audience in the movie experience subtly. But just as the content in Jackass 3D is immature, the use of the technology is as unsubtle and ridiculous as can be, flinging vomit and shit and flabby stomachs and everything else out at the screen, because dammit, they can. It's not just that the 3D in the movie is actually good-- no post-conversion bullshit here!-- but that it really feels worth the money. If you're already paying to see a bunch of guys injure each other already, you're definitely going to love the experience of seeing it all pop out of the screen.
It's the exact same kind of gimmicky 3D that helped horror movies like My Bloody Valentine or the kid-friendly adventure film Journey to the Center of the Earth become surprise hits-- give the people what they want, and make no pretentious claims about it meaning anything more. It's hard to say if anyone other than the Jackass crew could get away with it given current 3D trends, but we should all be grateful they were around to take advantage of modern 3D technology and make it as crass as possible.
3D Inflation Strikes Again
By the time Jackass: The Movie finished its domestic run in 2002, it had grossed upwards of $64 million. Four years later, Jackass: Number Two hit theaters and made approximately $73 million. Both films lasted exactly ten weeks and neither made more than $30 million in its opening weekend. It took three days for Jackass 3D to make 78% and 68%, respectively, of those final figures. Going even further, the new film is now the record holder for highest opening weekend for a film released in September or October. So how the hell did that happen? The extra “D” might have something to do with it.
While there’s no denying that a lot of people had to go to see Jackass 3D in order to accumulate the total it did, it’s impossible to ignore the effects of 3D inflation. Studies have shown that movies with “3D” in the title tend to get the biggest bumps from the added dimension, largely because people don’t want to see a movie called Jackass 3D in 2D. For example, My Bloody Valentine 3D received a 481% markup from people also buying glasses. The average movie ticket price in 2010 is $7.95, so when you add an extra $4, you are increasing profits on each head by nearly 50%. A lot of people went to go see a Jackass movie in theaters this weekend, but not nearly as many as it would seem.
Those Guys Are Our Friends, And We Really Missed Them
For most franchises, waiting four years between installments would be a death knell-- people move on, forget they ever liked you, and can't be bothered to pay attention when the next movie comes out. That ought to go double for something like Jackass, which doesn't have a narrative or characters or any of the usual stuff that gets people coming back for more. But in a way, it does-- the ongoing adventures of Johnny and Steve-O and Bam and Wee Man have captivated us not just because it's hilarious to watch them injure themselves, but because they've invited us to join their merry band and laugh right along with them. It's like finally catching up with those goofy friends you thought you had outgrown, but who make you laugh harder than anyone else in your actual grown-up life. By going away for fours years they gave us time to miss them and think we had moved on, but the minute we got a look at Johnny Knoxville riding the jetski into the hedge, we knew-- we'll keep following these guys wherever they take us, because it's just not as much fun without them.
The Marketing Didn't Try Too Hard To Bring You In
As said above, people going to go see a Jackass movie have an idea of what they are going to see, but they don’t know exactly. In fact, that’s half the fun. Every time the screen fades to black after Johnny Knoxville gets run over by a bull or Chris Pontius hits a ping-pong ball with his penis, the audience gets to experience the thrill of anticipation. This effect can easily be ruined by over saturation of the market, however. The more images, reviews and trailers get released, the more that’s revealed about what these dumbasses do to themselves. Lucky for us, that was avoided for Jackass 3D.
If you were to go through our coverage of the newest Jackass adventure, you’d find that we wrote exactly 20 articles about the film, spanning from pre-production last year to this weekends box office results. There was one trailer, some scattered photos, three video clips, two interviews and a song. Even our review of the film was embargoed until the day of release and most critic’s screenings didn’t happen until last Thursday night. Audiences were fully aware of the film’s existence without being beaten over the head by its marketing. By the studio controlling how they wanted the film to be perceived, there was some actual mystery surrounding what the boys would be getting themselves into the third time around. In the internet age, that’s nearly impossible to come by.
It's hard to imagine anything else replicating this success, especially given how unique the Jackass franchise is-- even the TV spinoffs starring some of the same guys were never quite as good. In truth, it's probably one of those one-off phenomenons like the original Paranormal Activity or Borat-- a surprise hit you just have to enjoy for what it was and never try to replicate.
Now we have to wonder how the movie will do in its second week. Does the movie have repeat value that will see the more hardcore fans come back for a double dip? Will it survive people getting into the Halloween spirit by seeing Paranormal Activity 2? As idiotic as the concept may be, the film holds a 67% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a 7.5/10 on IMDb, and, with a $20 million budget, the movie has already doubled its expenses. No matter what happens from here on out, Jackass 3D is an obvious winner.