You could argue that the success of The 40 Year Old Virgin in 2005 changed the nature of R rated comedies in our time. Instead of being relegated to cult classics, these mature, even raunchy films have become mainsteam money makers. But when talking about the films of Judd Apatow, or even the R rated trailblazer American Pie, we're talking about films specifically geared to American audiences. Given this reliance on humor based in American culture, how well do these movies fare outside the United States?
The first American Pie movie was an international success making $132 million outside the United States for a grand total of $235 million worldwide. The film spawned three theatrically released sequels: American Pie 2, which made $142 million outside the U.S.; American Wedding, which made $126 million; and American Reunion which made $177 million. The 40 Year Old Virgin, directed by the UTA-repped Apatow, made $67 million outside the U.S. for a grand total of $177 million worldwide. 2007’s Knocked Up, another Judd Apatow film, made a similar $70 million outside the U.S. for a grand total of $219 million worldwide. Superbad, a high school-set story produced by Apatow, was less successful, making only $48 million outside the U.S. for a grand total of $121 million worldwide.
In 2009, we saw a watershed moment for the R rated comedy with the release of The Hangover, directed by CAA client Todd Phillips, which made $190 million outside the United States for a grand total of $467 million worldwide. The Thailand-set sequel, The Hangover Part II, did even better outside the U.S., making $327 million outside the United States for a worldwide total of $581 million. 2011's Apatow-produced hit Bridesmaids, which you could argue was a female version of The Hangover, was able to haul in $119 million outside the United States for a total of $288 million worldwide—easily the biggest worldwide money maker in the Apatow stable.
The 2012 summer box office smash Ted opened in Japan last month, and in an amazing box office performance, the comedy, which features WME clients Seth MacFarlane and Mark Wahlberg, spent four straight weeks at number one. Its $32.5 million take at the Japanese box office is more than eitherThe Hobbit or The Life of Pi, and has even outgrossed Skyfall (32.3 million). At one point, Ted accounted for 38% of the market share in Japan. The film's impressive performance has pushed Ted over $316 million outside the U.S. for a grand total of $535.4 million worldwide.
So while Apatow's sensibility (and talent pool) have changed the nature of R rated comedies, outside of Bridesmaids he still hasn't released an international juggernaut in the vein of The Hangover or Ted. The latter two films take a very different approach from the traditional Apatow film. Apatow stories tend to be based in situations found in American culture, with distinctly American responses; even though both Ted and The Hangover films have pop culture references, they're based around broad, archetypical characters, which is what seems to push an R rated comedy over the top in worldwide box office.