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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
The Hangover Part III is the final chapter in the continuing adventures and bad luck of series main characters Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Alan (Zach Galifianakis). Touted as “the end” of the series in its marketing, The Hangover Part III finds our characters chasing down and attempting to capture the malevolent Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) and recovering the stolen gold of Las Vegas gangster Mr. Marshall (John Goodman). Our three heroes must survive both Tijuana and Las Vegas in this installment, which contains no actual hangovers, unlike the first two films. The principle cast, director, and writers are back for this second sequel, but it ultimately opened at the box office last weekend with only a fraction of the gross of The Hangover Part II, and drew universally negative critical attention and a middling “B” Cinemascore grade from fans. So, what exactly went wrong?
2009’s The Hangover was the surprise blockbuster of the summer, ultimately grossing six times its opening weekend on good reviews and overwhelmingly positive word of mouth (and benefiting from opening next to the critically derided Land of the Lost). The film made movie stars out of its principle cast, and spawned a much-hyped big budget sequel, The Hangover Part II, which grossed nearly 600 million dollars worldwide. It also helped further shape the career of director/producer/writer Todd Phillips, who had seen success in the past but not on this scale. Unfortunately, The Hangover Part II was also critically derided, ending up with a mere 35% score on Rotten Tomatoes. So, despite its healthy box office take, the film was not well-received by the public, and was also generally considered to be a soulless rehash of the beloved first film. A second sequel, The Hangover Part III, was inevitable based on the worldwide gross of the second film, but the diminishing returns of the almost universally negative reputation of that film were bound to be an issue.
Compounding the problem for The Hangover Part III was that it opening next to both Fast and Furious 6 and Epic, and one week after Star Trek: Into Darkness, all three of which posted strong box office numbers (Iron Man 3 also did well three weeks into release). A crowded market place plus underwhelming reviews plus diminishing returns made for a pretty bad scenario for The Hangover Part III. The film ultimately grossed 41 million over the weekend (53 million over the holiday break), which is nothing to sneeze at, but nowhere near the 85 million dollars the second film opened with. The Hangover Part III opened well overseas, where it will have to do big business to salvage the film’s domestic gross. The increasing budgets for The Hangover series needs to be taken into account as well. The first one was shot on a 35 million dollar budget, the second one ballooned to 85 million, and the third film cost over 100 million dollars to make, meaning the overseas gross will have to pretty much replicate the second film’s success to steer this ship into the realm of profitability for Warner Bros.
Additionally, The Hangover Part III changed the basic structure of the story. No longer about hangovers and their mysterious after effects, the second sequel becomes, in the words of critic Andrew Barker of variety, a “rote chase narrative.” Rotten Tomatoes summarizes the film as an “angrily dark action thriller.” I can see how the creative team behind the film series would want to grow, but why turn a comedy into a dark action thriller? It just doesn’t make much sense, and will only serve to further alienate the primary audience. I can appreciate a good turn to the dark, but The Hangover Part III was an even bigger opportunity to bring back the funny and the fans, and it seems like the filmmakers didn’t do this whatsoever. After all of this, I have to take Todd Phillips at his word that there will not be a fourth film in The Hangover franchise. With a fairly staunch negative reputation, increasingly poor critical attention (the third film scored a 20% on RT), and diminishing box office returns, I can’t imagine a fourth film would be all that successful.