R-Rated Comedy Movies Reached Their Peak in This Year

The Big Picture

  • 2008 marked the peak of the Frat Pack, a group of comedic actors who dominated the comedy film genre throughout the early 2000s with movies like Anchorman, Wedding Crashers, and Knocked Up.
  • Directors Adam McKay and Judd Apatow played a crucial role in shaping the comedy landscape in 2008, with McKay directing Step Brothers and Apatow producing and co-writing films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Pineapple Express.
  • The comedy landscape has evolved since 2008, with a shift towards more inclusive and diverse humor. The rise of genre-bending and prestigious films incorporating comedy has also changed the perception and role of the comedy genre in cinema.

2008 was a special year for the movies. Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Dark Knight elevated Christopher Nolan to a household directorial status, and prestigious titles like Slumdog Millionaire, Gran Torino, Milk, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button made for a memorable slate of dramas. However, if one genre sticks out for its imminence during the early 2000s penultimate year, it might be comedy — R-Rated comedy, in particular. The year saw the confluence of several funnymen at the heights of their comedic careers, working together on uproarious projects that spoke to the time’s fleeting zeitgeist.

The Frat Pack Reaches Its Peak

Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen, and Steve Carell in The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Image via Universal Pictures

The turn of the millennium saw the rise of a new ensemble of comedic actors known as the Frat Pack. Made up of 1990s Saturday Night Live cast members Will Ferrell and David Koechner along with others like Ben Stiller, Steve Carell, Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Vince Vaughn, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, Leslie Mann, and Owen and Luke Wilson, the Frat Pack starred in a number of the era’s top comedies, which were defined by raunchiness, absurdity, and strictly-adult humor.

Come 2008, the Frat Pack had ruled comedy film for about a decade, leading iconic titles like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Zoolander, Anchorman, Old School, Wedding Crashers, Dodgeball, and Knocked Up. By then, nearly every Frat Pack member was a household name. Armed with their star power, they were able to go into the decade’s final years with extra, R-rated audacity.

2008 thus saw the release of Step Brothers, Tropic Thunder, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Role Models, Pineapple Express, and Zack and Miri Make A Porno — all daringly hilarious and endlessly quotable movies that showcased the Frat Pack at the top of their games. Step Brothers had Ferrell and John C. Reilly playing the most burlesque versions of themselves as middle-aged man-children; Tropic Thunder saw Stiller and Jack Black make meta-commentaries on the entertainment industry; Forgetting Sarah Marshall became the near-definitive breakup movie for guys; Role Models saw Rudd alongside Seann William Scott in the latter’s most Stifler-esque role since American Pie; Pineapple Express reinvigorated the stoner comedy; and Zack and Miri Make A Porno… well, the title implies all there is to know about this Rogen and Elizabeth Banks raunchfest.

That’s not even mentioning the year’s R-rated sleeper hits, including Ferrell’s sports parody, Semi-Pro, the unrestrained teen comedy, Sex Drive, and the sophomore feature for one of the decade’s most iconic buddy comedy duos, Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. All of these movies were sidesplittingly funny upon release, and most still warrant rewatches today, largely thanks to their unforgettable Frat Pack performances.

Directors Adam McKay and Judd Apatow Guided Comedy in 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall Mila Kunis Jason Segel
Image via Universal Pictures

For all that these actors accomplished on-screen in 2008, immense credit is also due to the people behind the camera. Just as the Frat Pack grew into stardom during the early 2000s, a number of great comedy writers and directors emerged over the course of the decade, reaching the pinnacle of their successes by 2008. Adam McKay cut his teeth as a writer for the Upright Citizens Brigade and Saturday Night Live in the 1990s, and made the leap to film with Anchorman and Talledega Nights in 2004 and 2006, respectively. 2008’s Step Brothers, however, was McKay’s first R-rated feature, a territory where he would remain as he switched to making award-savvy dramedies like The Big Short, Vice, and Don’t Look Up.

Perhaps even more so than McKay, Judd Apatow was a tycoon of a comedy writer during the early 2000s, helping launch the careers of several Frat Pack mainstays from The 40-Year-Old Virgin onward. In 2008, Apatow produced Step Brothers along with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and he co-wrote Pineapple Express with Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Like McKay, Apatow would lean towards more serious content in the coming years, foraying into dark comedy with Funny People in 2009 and more recently making the heartfelt comedy The King of Staten Island in 2020. His 2008 filmography was thus the cherry on top of a decade defined by bold, promiscuous, and likely cannabis-inspired humor.

RELATED: 20 Best Hidden Gem Comedy Films of the 2000s

Outside the genre-defining McKay and Apatow, Kevin Smith directed Zach and Miri Make A Porno, demonstrating a leap from his View Askewniverse indie comedies into more mainstream hilarity. Role Models also saw David Wain direct his funniest movie since 2001’s Wet Hot American Summer, and though only rated PG-13, Dennis Dugan‘s You Don’t Mess With The Zohan deserves an honorable mention for being one of the last truly laugh-out-loud Adam Sandler comedies in the spirit of Happy Gilmore and Big Daddy.

Meanwhile, some of the Frat Pack made names for themselves behind the camera in 2008. As aforementioned, Rogen co-wrote Pineapple Express, while Segel penned Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Ferrell received credit alongside McKay for the Step Brothers screenplay. Perhaps most significantly, though, Stiller returned to the director’s chair for Tropic Thunder, a film that boasts a comedically gifted cast, but has aged poorly, to say the very least.

Although raunchiness and levity may have been staples of the era’s humor, there were also hints of sophistication emerging in the 2008 comedy lineup. Martin McDonagh made his feature directorial debut with In Bruges, a dark comedy that mixes sharp, funny dialogue with action, crime, and earnest themes of death and guilt. Similarly, the Coen Brothers released Burn After Reading, a neo-noir comedy in the same dry-wit, suspenseful style of Fargo and The Big Lebowski.

Culture and Time Changes the Comedy Landscape

Seth Rogen As Steve Wozniak In Steve Jobs
Image via Universal Pictures

Evidently, the times were changing at the turn of the 2000s first decade. McKay and Apatow’s careers would evolve throughout the 2010s to focus on more sincere content, as previously mentioned. Even Frat Pack actors started taking on more serious roles — Hill co-starred in The Wolf of Wall Street; Carell showcased dramatic chops in Foxcatcher; Rogen played Steve Wozniak in Steve Jobs; and Segel even donned glasses and a bandanna to depict David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour. The Frat Pack had seemingly grown up, and attempts at reliving the early days of zany, provocative humor started to fall flat. Late sequels to Anchorman and Zoolander failed to recapture audience’s appreciation, and fresh Frat Pack-starring concepts like The Watch, The Campaign, Hall Pass, Tower Heist, The Internship, and The Dilemma all faded to obscurity after receiving underwhelming critical reception.

Audience’s funny bones have clearly shifted since 2008. As Hollywood strives to be more inclusive, the male-centric style of humor that prevailed in the early 2000s no longer reflects the world in which we live. The bold obscenity that fueled this cycle of comedies can more readily come off as offensive in modern society. Meanwhile, comedy’s overall role has changed in cinema. Blockbusters — especially those in the superhero and action genres — now infuse more humor into their scripts. Likewise, as evident in the recent films of McKay and Todd Phillips, genre bending is quite prevalent, and prestigious films don’t seem as afraid to let their audience’s laugh. Some of the most notable directors to emerge during the 2010s like Bong Joon-Ho, Taika Waititi, Jordan Peele, and Greta Gerwig have managed to rise in the ranks of esteemed filmmaking without leaving comedy by the wayside.

With humor found in so many different genres of movies, and laughs being so readily available in different forms of media, straightforward comedy has ceased to be as culturally or commercially lucrative as a genre on its own. Ultimately, this could be for better or for worse. Rewatching our favorite comedies from yesteryear can be a cathartic experience, but also an uncomfortable one, as so many of the jokes have aged dubiously. Still, we can look back at 2008 as the year that this golden-era of R-rated comedy reached a zenith — even if that gold has lost some of its shine.

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