Recession puts economic shine on movie comedies

Fri Dec 5, 2008 4:36pm EST
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By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With the U.S. economy slogging through a recession, Hollywood expects comedies to rule the box office as moviegoers try to escape their woes.

The strong showing for the Reese Witherspoon movie "Four Christmases," which topped the box office last weekend with $31 million, reinforced the conventional wisdom among moviemakers that bad economic conditions make comedies good performers.

Movies have always offered escape but comedies in particular provide solace to audiences when times are tough.

"If there isn't enough laughter in real life we seek it in entertainment," said Paul Levinson, professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University in New York.

"What this means as we proceed through this recession is that one thing which will certainly not be hurting will be comedies," he said.

With the U.S. economy in a year-long recession, a half dozen comedies including "Tropic Thunder," "Step Brothers," and "Get Smart" have crossed the key $100 million mark in recent months in U.S. and Canadian theaters, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Media By Numbers.

More funny business is on its way with "Yes Man" starring Jim Carrey and "Nothing Like the Holidays" with Debra Messing opening later in December, and "Bride Wars" starring Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson set for a January release.

The success of comedies in troubled times was demonstrated during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when families flocked to madcap movies by Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges.   Continued...

<p>Cast member Reese Witherspoon waves at the premiere of the movie "Four Christmases" at the Grauman's Chinese theatre in Hollywood, California November 20, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>