Short Answer: Yes, They Should
No Hard Feelings was like a cool drink of water after a long trek through the Sahara. But why is that? What happened to all the great sex comedies of our collective youth, where did they go? More importantly, should they make a comeback?
The Good Old Days?
Movies evolve, and trends change. The ’80s gave us Porky’s, a handful of delightful National Lampoon’s movies (Vacation, European Vacation), then the very nostalgic (and a bit naive) John Huges movies, such as The Breakfast Club, where sex was a coming-of-age ritual and not, you know, real sex. Fast forward to the ’90s and sex comedies flourished. Sex was common in film, tops were off, and “Skinemax” was born. Those were the days.
Sex comedies hit a cultural milestone in 1998 with the release of There’s Something About Mary. The Farrelly brothers were at the top of the game, their first film since Dumb and Dumber in 1994; the cast was phenomenal, from Ben Stiller to Cameron Diaz, and frankly, the movie knew what it wanted to be. It wasn’t uptight, it didn’t take itself seriously and neither did the audience. The film raked in beaucoup bucks.
For a while, sex comedies reigned supreme. Why shouldn’t they? They were cheap to make, had mass appeal, were funny, and everybody could relate to them. For the most part, everybody has sex, and quite ofte, sex can be awkward. Relating to that awkwardness is a benchnmark of the genre. Comedy is half the recipe in sex comedies.
Money makes the world go round, and sex sells. There’s no denying it. If we can all relate to it, why wouldn’t we be talking about it in our media? Normalizing sex has lots of benefits, such as making it easier to talk about the vertical mambo, finding camaraderie in the shared experience of losing virginity, and the overall awkwardness of being possessed by a hormone demon.
If one of the objectives in making a movie is to make money, studios should be cranking out more R-rated comedies, right? There are arguments on both sides of the aisle. Let’s look at some of the highlights.
There’s Something About Mary (1998) crushed it at the box office, earning sixteen times its budget ($370 million). Still not impressed? The American Pie franchise has grossed almost a billion dollars to date against a total budget of only $150 million. That’s Jurassic Park money.
Knocked Up (2007) made over $200 million. Heck, Good Boys (2019) made over $100 million dollars — and there’s not even any sex in it! The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) earned over $175 million; Booksmart (2019) made back four times its budget, a solid investment; Wedding Crashers (2005) made almost $300 million against a budget of only $40 million.
Like all genres, there are flops. Eurotrip (2004) lost money; Girl Next Door (2004) made some but not much (about $30 million), Zack and Miri (2008) roughly doubled it’s budget at $42 million earned, (probably because of the leads), and Hot Tub Time Machine (2010) doubled its budget at $64 million. In each of these cases, reviews were mixed; none of them were critical successes, even if many have gone on to be cult classics.
In the past few years, a small resurgence in sex comedies hasn’t bolstered public opinion. Despite critical acclaim, Bros (perhaps the most prominent gay romance movie to date) made about half of its $24 million-dollar budget back, while Bottoms (2022) barely broke even at $12 million, despite being universally acclaimed.
If anything, the commercial failure but critical success of films like Bros and Bottoms only goes to show that the problem isn’t the material; the material is well received. The problem might be marketing.
So while there is a market gap, it’s not exactly clear how to fill it.
So what happened? What changed?
In the last decade, #metoo rocked the foundations of the film and media landscape, among other industries, and that no doubt swayed the foundations of sex comedies. Men in power would have thought twice about greenlighting films that might find them on the wrong side of public opinion. This was the time when men like Harvey Weinstein, Scott Rudin, Joss Whedon, and even Kevin Spacey’s reputations were smeared by their actions and allegations.
It’s clear that there is a correlation between the rise of social media, political correctness, accountability, and, thankfully, the pursuit to squash misogyny. Women have had enough of showing their boobs on camera only to be typecast, and suddenly, many women in movies were wearing bras during intimate scenes.
While this might have been an overcorrection, it was clear that correction was needed. Men have had their cake and eaten it too, and now, it was time to find a new baseline.
Loosen Up, Man
So where does that leave the industry? If anything, the return of sex comedies is a good thing, perhaps a great thing.
For starters, it shows that the world is finding a new middle ground, where we can joke about sex again, laugh at the ridiculousness of our bodies. The rise of reality TV shows like Naked and Afraid, and the more recent (and more… straightforward) Naked Attraction have proven, if nothing else, that the world likes sex. Call it voyeurism, if you like. For couples that aren’t quite comfortable watching porn together, this might be a safe middle ground to explore.
As the world changes, we shouldn’t forget to let loose and relax. With horror films, it’s implicitly understood that they aren’t for everyone, and likewise, raunchy R-rated comedies aren’t for everyone, but they certainly are for some people. There should be a place in the media for movies and shows about casual sex between consensual partners that just doesn’t go as planned.
These movies don’t overthink or take themselves too seriously. Stakes are low, hijinks are high, and audiences leave the theatre feeling upbeat with good vibes for days to come. There is nothing like sharing a laugh with hundreds of strangers in a theater — that universal experience of laughter, and all of us admitting that sex is awkward and the world should be laughing at it.
Ready and eager…
Yes, raunchy R-rated comedies do exist and they have a place in our theaters.
Official No Hard Feelings Trailer
Caleb aims to write high-concept genre pieces that focus on broken families. His works have been recognized by the Nicholl's Fellowship, the ISA, Screencraft, Launchpad, and Nickelodeon.When not writing Caleb enjoys video games and tabletop RPGs, camping, and is a connoisseur of fine bourbon.