How 'Ted' became a surprise box office superhero

Todd Cunningham, Reuters July 12, 2012, 6:54 am

LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - "Ted" has become the US summer's unlikeliest box-office superhero.

Hollywood figured the guys in tights - the Avengers, Spider-Man and Batman - would deliver at the box office this year and that animated kids' films would, too. But "Ted" is by far the biggest surprise and has provided a major spark in a summer now on track to be the biggest ever.

Seth MacFarlane's comedy, which stars Mark Wahlberg as a young man whose development is arrested because of his relationship with his best-bud teddy bear, has a good shot at $US200 million at the domestic box office. "Dark Knight Rises" could head that off, but it's already a bona fide hit for Universal.

That's rare air for an R-rated comedy. Only "The Hangover" films and 2005's "Wedding Crashers" have run up numbers that big. "Ted" added $33 million last weekend, after stunning Hollywood with its $54 million opening on June 29, the best ever for an original R-rated comedy.

That big bow - coupled with a $39 million debut from Warner Bros.' "Magic Mike" that same weekend - helped stabilize what had been a roller-coaster summer.

"'Rock of Ages' and 'That's My Boy' had just flopped," Jeff Box, senior analyst at ExhibitorRelations.com, told TheWrap. "Finally there was some good news that hadn't been anticipated, at least not news that good." It also showed that there was room in the marketplace for a hit that wasn't based on a comic book or a kids' film."

"It not only revived the summer," editor-in-chief Phil Contrino of Boxoffice.com told TheWrap, "but it helped Universal rebound from 'Battleship' and brought a fresh face into the feature film market in Seth MacFarlane."

"Ted" was a bargain for Universal. The studio picked it up for $69 million after MRC Films, which is in the second year of a five-year pact at Universal, produced it for roughly $50 million. Prior to "Ted," MRC's best known films were Academy Award Best Picture nominee "Babel" and Sacha Baron Cohen's "Bruno."

"We had established Seth as a young filmmaker we wanted to be in business with, and that's why we went after it so aggressively," Universal's co-president of production Peter Cramer told TheWrap Tuesday.

A first feature can be tricky, even for someone as talented as MacFarlane, so Universal was glad to see Scott Stuber, who had produced its "Safe House" and "Battleship," on board from the start.

There were others considered for the lead role in "Ted" before the filmmakers settled on Wahlberg.

"We found the right guy in Mark," Cramer said. "I don't think you can underestimate the impact he and Mila (co-star Kunis) had."

Universal caught a break when Paramount's "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" jumped off the June 29 slot to next year. Universal shifted "Ted" from July 13 - when it would have gone against "Ice Age: Continental Drift" and faced "Dark Knight" a week later.

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