Here’s a scenario that the Oracle wouldn’t have predicted: Will Ferrell’s cute little sugarplum fantasy ”Elf” defied even the craziest predictions and handily beat the mighty ”Matrix Revolutions” at the box office last weekend.
After opening in second place behind ”Revolutions” the weekend of Nov. 7, ”Elf” totally trounced the action-packed franchise capper in week 2, earning $26.3 million to Neo & Co.’s $16.4 million. What’s more, proving that a movie’s box office take isn’t necessarily proportional to the length of its title, ”Elf” also beat Russell Crowe’s ”Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.” ”To be No. 1 in the second weekend, that’s crazy,” Ferrell marvels. ”That’s crazy.”
Indeed, no one expected a comedy about a dopey North Pole denizen who treks to Manhattan and gorges on spent gum and cotton balls to best the final chapter of a globally hyped trilogy. And while ”Revolutions” will certainly make money (thanks to an unprecedented simultaneous worldwide release, the movie’s total take already stands at $310 million), its performance, given the combined billion-plus dollars its predecessors took in, is a major disappointment. (Both New Line, the studio behind Elf, and Warner Bros., which released ”Revolutions,” are divisions of EW parent Time Warner.)
So how, exactly, did Ferrell pull it off? ”Yellow tights win every time,” the star laughs. ”And pointy shoes. That’s the edge, actually.” Well, that and broad appeal and a dash of classic counterprogramming, says New Line domestic marketing president Russell Schwartz: ”It’s one of those magical times in an actor’s career when we’re catching him on the ascent.”
For Ferrell, that ascent has been a long climb. The 36-year-old former sportscaster wannabe paid his dues performing in L.A.’s Groundlings comedy troupe, perfecting a sidesplitting George W. Bush impression during seven seasons on ”Saturday Night Live,” and weathering that stink bomb ”A Night at the Roxbury” before stealing the show in ”Zoolander” and dropping trou in last spring’s breakout hit ”Old School.” ”It’s kind of hard coming from ‘Saturday Night Live,’ which is a sketch-driven show, to a movie,” says Bob Newhart, Ferrell’s ”Elf” costar. But, adds ”Elf” director Jon Favreau, ”He’s a guy who’s completely committed.”
The first ex — ”SNL” star to break big since Adam Sandler, Ferrell is now Yule-log hot. He recently wrapped the ’70s-set comedy ”Anchorman,” which he cowrote, as well as a coveted part in Woody Allen’s untitled next film. Also on deck: a soccer comedy with Robert Duvall; playing it straight as a lost soul who cares for hermit Ed Harris in the drama ”Winter Passing;” and voicing the Man in the Yellow Hat for an animated version of ”Curious George.”
Meanwhile, his skyrocketing fame brings the kind of heat that adds momentum to such long-stalled vehicles as an adaptation of John Kennedy Toole’s ”A Confederacy of Dunces” or big-screen versions of ”Bewitched” and ”Get Smart.” ”It’s not quite a whirlwind as of yet, but everyone keeps telling me it’s going to be a whirlwind. So I’m bracing for a whirlwind,” Ferrell says, joking ”I’ve just checked into a hospital. I’m suffering from quote-unquote exhaustion right now.”