‘Friends’ The Movie – Numbers make cents


May 6 marks the 5 year anniversary of the ‘Friends’ series finale which ended a successful 10 seasons on NBC broadcast television. During its run, ‘Friends’ remained a Top 5 ranked show in every season except for the 1st (#8) even reaching #1 in 2002 (which also resulted in an Emmy win for Best Comedy Series). The show was never superior or acclaimed for its sharp writing (bested by ‘Frasier’) or fresh/edgy subject matter (bested by ‘Seinfeld’) during its run, however it was a magnet for the young demographic and a staple in pop culture circles due to its relevancy of topics and story lines.

Its hard to imagine it has been 5 years since the finale aired in 2004, where we saw Ross and Rachel take a another stab at their relationship, Monica and Chandler give birth to twins, Phoebe settle down with Mike and Joey off to California. It certainly tied up many of the loose ends that loyal fans would come to expect however by no means did it signify a complete sense of closure in the chapter of each one’s life. This is where I feel it should be a no-brainer to start moving forward on a motion picture opportunity for the series. In July 2008, a false report surfaced from the Daily Mail in the UK about a possible movie in the works, however those rumors had no validation and no further developments have come from that.

Sex and the City     The Simpsons

Justification for a ‘Friends’ movie can come simply by examining the recent success of the ‘Sex and the City’ television franchise which turned a loyal female following into $150 million domestic box office earnings. It doesn’t stop there as a sequel is currently in the works on target for 2010. This was a series that averaged 6-7 million viewers each week in its heyday and captured 10.6 million viewers in its Feb. 2004 series finale airing. That is the precedent which I use to evaluate potential success of a television series to movie adaptation. If you allow a standard ticket price of $10 to accrue for every series finale viewer, ‘Sex and the City’ was destined for a minimum of $10 x 10.6 = $106 million which immediately translates to a profit given the $65 million budget. This despite a 50% Rotten Tomatoes review. ‘The Simpsons’ also recently turned 8.6 average million viewers (2007) into a whopping $180 million box office take-in on a $75 million budget in 2007. Obviously there is a threshold for this theory to hold true and it would be naive to expect ‘Friends’, watched by 52.5 million in the 2004 series finale, to translate into $525 million. Given that the show has been off the air for 5 years, a more optimistic number would be to extrapolate the 25 million average viewers at the peak of show in 2002 into a minimum expectation of $250 million in box office results. I highly doubt Warner Brothers would be disappointed with that number.

Granted the budget for a ‘Friends’ movie would far exceed the $65 million for the ‘Sex & the City’ gang. Its no secret, the 6 ‘Friends’ actors were a bit more spoiled at the height of their success and they banded together to earn $1 million each per episode in the final season. There would not need to be much more theatrics or extra effects to continue the story lines of 6 New Yorkers, so even doubling the budget of the ‘City’ folks to $130 million would still translate into $120 million in profit. As mentioned, this is just the lowest expectation value. If one were to look at the current state of box office cinema, it should be noted that during these tough economic times, yearly box office numbers are up 15% from 2008 while 3 of the top 5 all-time Spring opening weekends took place in 2009. Heck, even the absurd comedy ‘Mall Cop’ reeled in $145 million this year. It is safe to say that during the recession, audiences are comfortable with the $10 ticket price and are allowing the big screen to fill their entertainment value. This is even more reason for an upbeat ‘Friends’ movie to get the ball rolling to Production.

Obviously a shows’ viewership alone cannot be used a measurement for potential box office success. Other factors that need to be taken into consideration include:

  • relevance in the pop culture medium
  • a young demographic following
  • a soapy/serialized show theme

This dissuades a highly ratings successful series like ‘CSI’ to think its television popularity could translate into box office success (unrecognizable talent/older demo/episode independent stories). ‘Friends’ on the other hand fits the bill on all three accounts and one can argue even more so than ‘Sex and the City’ or ‘Simpsons’ for that matter. ‘City’ appealed primarly to the older 25-55 female audience while the ‘Simpsons’ tends to hit the ceiling at the age 25 crowd. ‘Friends’ was highly successful due to its topical subjects and its appeal to the broad 12-49 age demographic (male and female) which leads me to believe there would be instant economic gratification for the producing studio on the big screen.

Jennifer Aniston

For the actors themselves, its hard to imagine why each one wouldn’t want to participate. None of the six have had any long-term success following their ‘Friends’ stint. Examining further,

  • Jennifer Aniston – had marginal success with ‘The Break-Up’ in 2006 and has yet to breakthrough the big screen actress market as many had expected
  • Courtney Cox – had limited success starring in the FX drama ‘Dirt’ however that only lasted 2 seasons
  • Lisa Kudrow – been involved in a few forgettable films in a supporting role
  • David Schwimmer – tried his hand in some directing projects as well as offering his voice in 2 semi successful ‘Madagascar’ animation movies
  • Matthew Perry – had a starring role in ‘Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip’ but was canceled on NBC after the 1st season
  • Matt LeBlanc – starred in the ‘Friends’ spinoff ‘Joey’ on NBC but was cancelled prematurely after 2 seasons due to declining tv ratings

Considering that even the critically acclaimed, ratings challenged television series, ‘Arrested Development’ is close to finalizing a movie production, it doesn’t make sense why the ‘Friends’ gang has yet to step up. ‘AD’ in its prime only averaged 6 million viewers (translating into a minimum $60 million return value) however it satisfies the three other requirements due to its cult following. It would be bold to think an ‘AD’ movie could net much more than $100 million at the box office, however the recent success of television to movie series has given everyone hope. While the they are still relatively young and relevant on the Hollywood radar, the ‘Friends’ cast needs to take us on one final visit to Central Perk.

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