After two terrific comedies, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly released “Holmes & Watson” this weekend, their third installment together. The film should have been an easy win for the studio, but it crashed and burned on takeoff, sinking to an all-time low for the duo. While on the surface it seems like a standard Ferrell/Reilly release, the small changes behind the scenes could be the reason this film fell short of its predecessors. With a strange release date, a new director, a new writer, and a jump back in time, there were a lot of changes to the formula this year, and any one of them could have been the reason that moviegoers stayed away from the comedy this weekend.
“Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” debuted in theaters back in August 2006 with a massive $47M opening weekend. The film would go on to make over $162M worldwide, but only $14.7M of that total came from overseas markets. Interestingly enough, “Talladega Nights” was directed by Adam McKay, the writer and director of “Vice,” which opened against “Holmes & Watson” this past weekend. Will Ferrell and Adam McKay wrote the script for “Talladega Nights” together, which also featured Sacha Baron Cohen, Amy Adams, Michael Clarke Duncan, Gary Cole, Jane Lynch, and Rob Riggle.
The success of “Talladega Nights” meant that Will Ferrell and Adam Mckay could work together again on another comedy, and this time they wrote the screenplay to “Step Brothers.” The comedy released in July 2008 but opened during a crowded box office. “Step Brothers” opened in theaters one-week after “The Dark Knight,” which proved to be a problem for the comedy. “Step Brothers” managed to debut in second-place with $30M, but “The Dark Knight” made $75M that weekend, taking away the focus from “Step Brothers.” In retrospect, Sony Pictures probably would have had more success if it didn’t release “Step Brothers” so close to Batman’s premiere, and that is a trend you might notice going forward. The comedy went on to make $128M worldwide, this time picking up $27M overseas. The film featured a big reunion for Ferrell and John C. Reilly, and this time they shared the screen with Mary Steenburgen, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, and Andrea Savage.
After a string of hits for John C. Reilly in 2018, which included “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” “Stan & Ollie,” and “The Sisters Brothers,” he teamed up once again with Will Ferrell for “Holmes & Watson.” This time around Adam McKay didn’t direct the duo, and he didn’t write the script with Will Ferrell. As we mentioned earlier, McKay was busy writing and directing “Vice” with Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Steve Carell. Instead, Etan Cohen took over both of those roles, basing the film on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s greatest detective.
Etan Cohen has written some pretty fantastic comedies over the years. He started out writing out for TV with MTV’s “Beavis and Butt-Head,” and went on to write for animated shows like “Recess,” “King of the Hill,” and Disney’s “Timon & Pumba” animated series. Cohen also wrote the screenplay for the hit comedy “Tropic Thunder,” and he wrote and directed Will Ferrell in “Get Hard”.
With a new director and a new writer onboard for the duo, Sony Pictures released “Holmes & Watson” one-week after the Christmas holiday, which is normally one of the worst weekends for a film to debut. Not only does the box office tend to slow down on that weekend, but any new release will have to compete with the big holiday hits that have already been at the box office. This year, that meant “Holmes & Watson” would have to topple “Aquaman,” “Mary Poppins Returns,” and “Bumblebee,” while previous hits like “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” were still doing well on the domestic charts. In the past, both of the duo’s films were released in the summer, where they did very well, so it’s odd that Sony Pictures were happy to release the new project on such a terrible weekend in the heart of winter. December isn’t a great month for comedies in general, even “Second Act,” a romantic-comedy with Jennifer Lopez, Vanessa Hudgens, and Milo Ventimiglia, was buried in the December release schedule this year. That film debuted in seventh-place overall, behind the same films that buried “Holmes & Watson.”
This weekend “Holmes & Watson” debuted in seventh-place overall on the Weekend Box Office charts, behind every major release that had already been in theaters. The comedy brought in an estimated $7.3M across 2,776 locations, an all-time low for a Ferrell and Reilly project.
It could have been the decision to change writers and director, the move from summer to winter, or the fact that it’s a period comedy when the previous hits were not, but “Holmes & Watson” stalled out at the box office this year. The release date certainly didn’t help, and it’s the second time that Sony Pictures had buried the comedy behind a major release date hoping to capitalize on an empty schedule. We should remind you that the schedule was empty because almost every other studio knew not to release a film that weekend.
Hopefully, this isn’t the end of the Ferrell/Reilly projects, but sticking with the proven structure would probably be a good idea moving forward. Moving around the release date wouldn’t make “Holmes & Watson” a better movie, but it probably would have had a better opening weekend. The critics were rough on “Holmes & Watson,” the movie has a 9% on Rotten Tomatoes, but they have always been rough on the duo’s comedies. “Step Brothers” has a 55% rating, and “Talladega Nights” sits at 71%.