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Why was ''Wild Hogs'' a box-office hit?

We find out why the John Travolta and Martin Lawrence comedy did so well despite bad reviews

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It’s been a cruel couple of months for the nation’s film critics. They pan Paramount’s Norbit and the thing opens huge. They rip into Sony’s Ghost Rider and it sets a record for the biggest-ever Presidents’ Day-weekend opening. And despite their best efforts to warn audiences away, Disney’s suburban-doofuses-on-Harleys comedy Wild Hogs, starring Tim Allen, John Travolta, William H. Macy, and Martin Lawrence, roared into theaters last weekend with a stronger-than-expected $39.7 million, leaving the much-lauded Zodiac to eat its dust. So Disney execs reveled in Wild Hogs‘ grosses like pigs in you-know-what while the rest of the industry was left searching for lessons. Here are a few:

LESSON 1
Don’t forget the boomers. Hollywood may be eternally entranced with youth, but older moviegoers came out in force for Hogs. ”The demographic is overlooked frequently, yet they’re more available,” says former Disney production head Nina Jacobson, who greenlit the movie. ”If you give them something worth seeing, they’ll go.”

LESSON 2
Small is the new big. Buzz may emanate from the coasts, but Hogs drew much larger crowds than normal in smaller towns — many of them in the country’s midsection. And the two midsize-market theaters where it grossed the most money? Albuquerque, N.M., and Fresno, Calif.

LESSON 3
Sometimes bad reviews just don’t matter. ”We’d all like nice things to be written about our movies,” says Sony Pictures’ distribution head Jeff Blake, ”but the one thing Norbit, Ghost Rider, and Wild Hogs had in common was that they looked like a lot of fun.”

LESSON 4
Between Ghost Rider and Wild Hogs, America clearly can’t get enough motorcycles. (Additional Reporting by Joshua Rich)

Unexpected Big Bows

THE PACIFIER: $30.6 MIL, March 2005

FAILURE TO LAUNCH: $24.4 MIL, March 2006

GHOST RIDER: $52 MIL, February 2007

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