Sorry Bros, But Ladies Actually Do The Buddy Comedy Better

The Women Aren't Funny trope dies a long-overdue death at the box office

(Photo Illustration: Diana Quach)
Apr 12, 2016 at 5:28 PM ET

Comedic actress of the moment Melissa McCarthy’s new comedy The Boss debuted in the top box office slot, earning an estimated $23.5 million this past weekend. While some critics are less-than-sold on the slapstick-heavy flick, which stars McCarthy and Kristen Bell as the unlikely leaders of a group of brownie-slinging elementary school girls, the pair has been widely praised for their performance, and the box office numbers are solid. As such, the film is sure to continue to usher in the long-overdue advent of the women’s buddy comedy.

The buddy comedy movie centering around male bonding has been around for a long time, originating from duos like Abbott and Costello. Over time, the formula shifted from simple pairings to allow for bigger ensembles—the more movie stars you could pack into one group of bros, the better. In 2009, the first installment of the wildly successful Hangover franchise set the stage for the modern buddy comedy era with equal parts bromance, crude humor, unlikely friendships, and wild hijinks. In addition to spawning two more (totally gratuitous yet extremely profitable) installments, The Hangover has served as a success model for the industry that has since greenlit at least 50 more male-centric buddy comedies.

While the setting vary, one thing has remained largely unchanged until recently: the gender of the main characters. A Vocativ analysis of 70 buddy comedies released in the U.S. from 2009 revealed that a hugely disproportionate amount centered around male leads—about four men’s buddy comedies for every one starring women. This despite the fact that, on average, buddy comedies about women actually do oh-so-slightly better than the ones featuring men’s stories in terms of both critical acclaim and box office success.

The recent rise of the female buddy comedy laughs in the face of the “universal truths” that have historically dominated the collective thinking of major movie studios. Those being: 1.) men are funnier than women, and 2.) there simply isn’t a market for women-led films.

We’re just going to go ahead and glaze over the tired “women aren’t funny” discussion, because, frankly, it makes less sense than the plot of the Entourage movie. Chances are, you’ve heard the lovely little adage, so culturally-embedded that its origins can be traced back to the 1600s. It’s the sexist thinking that has led women in comedy to be relegated to typecasting and one-dimensional roles in Hollywood comedies; something patron saint of the female buddy comedy Paul Feig decided to subvert in directing the hit film Bridesmaids, written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo. (Which, for the record, tied the comedy/drama 50/50 for the highest Rotten Tomatoes-ranking buddy film in Vocativ’s analysis, and grossed nearly $180 million in theaters.) Feig has since worked on both Spy and The Heat as a writer and director and is also involved in the upcoming all-female Ghosbusters reboot and a sequel to The Heat.

“[My preference for writing women is] just a slow attrition over the years of knowing all these funny and talented women, going to see them in projects they were in and going, ‘Yeah, that’s such a terrible part,’” he told Refinery29. “I felt like they weren’t getting to be funny and chalked up to being mean and looking like the jerk next to the guys who were the heroes.”

As far as the pervasive notion that women-led films don’t make money, it’s rooted entirely in myth. According to Mic, which analyzed the top-grossing films from 2006-2015, movies about women earned about $45.5 million more than movies about men. Last summer, Pitch Perfect 2 drew in nearly $70 million its opening weekend proving, as TIME Magazine put it, that movies don’t need men. Looks like women may have the last laugh.


Additional reporting by Cristina Cabrera