How Seth Rogen’s Comedies Became the Perfect End-of-Summer Treat

Sometimes, a movie star or franchise rules a specific date on the release calendar. For years, Will Smith was the King of Independence Day. Liam Neeson would put out his geriaction flicks every January without fail. The Star Wars movies used to open around Memorial Day. Christopher Nolan loves releasing movies in mid-July. The Lord of the Rings films were a Christmas staple. But when it comes to August, there’s an unlikely champ, and it’s Seth Rogen.

Click right here to get the best of Cracked sent to your inbox.

That thought occurred to me while watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, the excellent new Turtles movie produced and co-written by Rogen. (He does a voice in the film as well.) Mutant Mayhem was a passion project for this longtime fan of the franchise. “We found a way to make it deeply personal,” Rogen said of the remake. “It’s a teenage movie, we’re putting a lot of our own feelings — of awkwardness and insecurity and a desire to belong and be accepted and all that — into the movie. And as I sit around with the other people working on (the film), I’m like, ‘We found a way to care about this,’ which is great.”

Despite the ongoing popularity of Barbenheimer, I think Mutant Mayhem is going to do pretty well at the box office, and if it does, it will be yet another August hit for Rogen as a star, writer or producer. His stranglehold on the month isn’t as fierce as those earlier examples I cited, but in the last 20 years, he’s managed to consistently deliver the goods during the dog days of summer. Which got me wondering exactly why that might be. My hunch: His films are perfect for that time of year when you just want to kick back and squeeze a little more enjoyment out of summer before the realities of life start making demands on you again.

Here are the movies that make my case: Superbad, Pineapple Express, Sausage Party, Good Boys and Mutant Mayhem. (If you wanted, you could also include The 40-Year-Old Virgin, in which he has a memorable supporting role.) Each of them came out in August, which is usually a dead zone for summer movies. When people get excited about “summer movie season,” what they’re really thinking of is May, June and July — by the time you get into August, the release calendar gets a lot less exciting quickly. The reasons why are fairly obvious. Parents are thinking about their kids going back to school, not taking them to the multiplex. The film industry is shifting into awards season, with the big fall film festivals happening starting in late August. (Of course, the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes are complicating that this year.) As a result, August is a bit of an in-between period: not quite the summer, not quite the fall in terms of delivering big event movies. Granted, films that are perceived as a roll of the dice come out then and can deliver huge numbers — such as Guardians of the Galaxy and The Meg — but that month’s releases often come with lowered expectations. 

Comedies don’t necessarily fit into the same paradigm, but it’s striking how often Rogen’s films have come out in August and hit it big. That shouldn’t be that surprising, though: I do think his sensibility is well-suited to the end of summer. We’re all tired from seeing so many (bad) hyped, self-important blockbusters. We’re burnt out on barbecues, pool parties and getaways. Fear not: Rogen will give you a dumb (but not actually dumb) comedy to help you wind down while you enjoy some air conditioning for a couple hours. You’ve earned the break.  

It helps that Rogen’s August comedies often present themselves as laidback affairs — and that’s because, well, all of Rogen’s comedies are laidback affairs. As ambitious as the dude is — producing, writing and directing with his longtime partner and friend Evan Goldberg — his movies often give off more than a whiff of secondhand pot smoke, their no-big-deal quality part of their appeal. Whether they’re actually about stoners (Pineapple Express) or merely seem to have been dreamed up while being high (Sausage Party), these motion pictures are like the class clown in the back of the room, mischievously entertaining his buddies without worrying about whether anybody else notices. Turns out, though, a lot of viewers do — and they like what they see. 

His first legitimate August hit set the template for the kind of late-summer smash that would be his specialty. Opening in mid-August of 2007, Superbad was written by Rogen and Goldberg, inspired by their own memories of being the age of their outcast teen characters who were, notably, named Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera). Sure, it was a zany sex comedy, but there was a lot of heart to it, too, with the writers clearly connecting with these insecure but goodhearted kids. 

That mixture of raunchy humor and sweet sentiments was the blueprint for Rogen’s buddy Judd Apatow’s movies, which got going with 2005’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin, another surprise August smash. But Rogen would tinker with the formula even more than his pal, often flaunting his films’ boyish immaturity, although the jokes were largely harmless as opposed to mean-spirited. In other words, they were the ideal films for young people (or those young at heart) who weren’t ready yet for summer to end. Rogen makes films about being adolescent, and there are few things more depressing for kids than the realization that school’s around the corner. 

His movies allow you to forget that reality for a little while — even if, in fact, you long since graduated and are part of the working world. The juvenile kick of Pineapple Express and Sausage Party comes from the thrill of watching adults basically acting like children, while the actual-juvenile protagonists of Good Boys are so winning because they believably behave like kids, full of insecurities about grownup life. Repeatedly in Rogen’s August comedies, the characters fear what they don’t know — often, it’s adulthood or, in the case of Sausage Party, the terror of discovering that the heavenly Great Beyond is a lie — which is easy to equate to those going-back-to-school blues a lot of us still remember. We want to hide out in that perpetual summer, at least for a little while longer, and Rogen gives us that. His movies are frequently about having to grow up, but as we’re watching them, we can put off responsibilities and obligations until the end credits.

August is when studios cast off their less-promising pictures. Industry observers don’t have much faith in Gran Turismo, The Last Voyage of the Demeter or Strays simply because they’re coming out this month. But those negative assumptions can be ideal for an irreverent comedy, which isn’t putting on airs anyway. In that less-competitive atmosphere, a movie like Superbad could sneak under the radar, charming the pants off audiences while leaving them laughing at the film’s most outrageous moments. And again and again since, Rogen’s August movies have done the same thing. I still remember walking into Sausage Party, not expecting much, only to come away convinced it might be that summer’s best comedy — certainly it had the season’s filthiest, funniest sex scene. It was one last bit of pleasure before serious-movie fall swept away the fun of summer.

Rogen’s August instincts aren’t flawless: I wasn’t much of a fan of An American Pickle, which (to be fair) came out in August of 2020, when most of us were more consumed with COVID worries. But Mutant Mayhem finds him reasserting his rightful place as the master of the low-stakes August comedy. And, once again, he’s casting back to his teenage self, focusing on making Leonardo and the rest of the crew credibly neurotic and nerdy — you know, the way actual teenagers are. It’s fitting that the movie recalls the underground-comic animation of the recent Spider-Verse films, which are such big deals that Mutant Mayhem will be in their shadow. That’s always suited Rogen just fine. His dog-days films aren’t trying to take over the world — they just want to have a blast while exerting as little effort as possible. 

Of course, that’s not really true: It takes a ton of effort to make a movie. But summer is for takin’ it easy, especially during August, and Rogen has just the films for you. 

What's your reaction?

Related Posts

1 of 667