Written by Sarah

No, this isn’t about porn. Sadly…? We’re actually here to talk about the resurgence of adult-oriented movies at the box office. Once again, all numbers are US domestic.

It started last year when limited-release arthouse films Black Swan and The King’s Speech gained some marathon legs and exploded into the mainstream. Both rated R and marketed solidly for adults, they each scored $100 million-plus grosses at the box office. Then this year, even amidst a first quarter so depressing that many industry analysts were declaring 2011 the worst year for movies (oh please), several grown-up movies performed decently. Source Code, Unknown, Limitless, The Lincoln Lawyer, Water for Elephants, and The Adjustment Bureau all topped $50 million during the traditionally slower box office period at the first of the year. Adults will, in fact, go to movies without their kids.

Then summer started, the time when the box office picks up because kids are out school and what happens? The adult stuff is spanking the kids’ stuff. The Hangover Part II opened on Memorial Day weekend and shattered records, and is on pace to beat its own “top-performing R-rated comedy” record. In its wake The Hangover 2 leaves Pirates of the Caribbean, considered underwhelming despite a $90 million opening (ridiculous) the week before, and the other new opener for the weekend, Kung Fu Panda 2. KFP2 opened at #2 with $47.8 million—roughly half of The Hangover 2’s Friday-Sunday total of $86 million. Also ticking along is Bridesmaids, which is not only an adult-rated R but is also aimed at women and it’s pulled in $89.5 million in three weeks—if it’s current pace of minimal 20%/week losses holds, it will crack $100 million, too.

Know what all these projects have in common, besides being for adults? Lower budgets. The Hangover 2 is the most expensive movie in the lot at $80 million. The rest have budgets in the $30-60 million range. Adult fare isn’t just selling, it’s cheaper to make too (KFP2 cost $150 million, Pirates 4 a completely ludicrous $250 million), which means, as these movies continue to post positive gains, we should be getting more of them. If you’re like me and you interpret 3D and such gimmicky filmmaking (ahem, mo-cap) as a sign of the apocalypse, the adult movie renaissance is a sign of a brighter, 3D-free tomorrow.

Better than talking about porn, right?