Judd Apatow: Hollywood's Billion Dollar Funny Man

Judd Apatow and wife
Judd Apatow and wife

Universal Studios is hoping that its latest Judd Apatow comedy, "Funny People" will rule the box office this weekend.

Apatow has quite a winning streak: the dozen or so wide releases he's produced have generated nearly a billion dollars at the US box office alone, and this from generally low budget films.

"Funny People" is just the third movie Apatow has written and directed (in addition to produced), and the first two, "Knocked Up" and "The 40-year-old-Virgin" were his biggest two hits. Combine Apatow's name brand appeal with Adam Sandler's huge fan base, and this could be a huge weekend. Universal's counting on it; just this week the studio signed Apatow for a three-picture directing deal.

"Funny People" does face challenges.

From a profitability perspective it's a lot more expensive, costing an estimated $75 million, likely in large part because of Adam Sandler's high price tag. The movie is also two and a half hours long, which can be a disincentive for moviegoers, and also makes it hard for theaters to cram in lots of screenings. And the topic of the film - a comedian who gets cancer - is darker than other Apatow fare. And let's remember, not all Apatow films are hits. Last month "Year One," which he produced brought in only $51 million at the worldwide box office and it cost $60 million to produce and more to market.

The film has the draw of two big brand names, which means it's sure to attract a big audience in its first weekend. The question is how it holds up. These days, and especially with movies like "Funny People," word of mouth will be huge. With social chatter on Twitter and Facebook, buzz about the movie could spread nearly immediately, so we could see a major drop or spike in traffic from Friday to Saturday depending on how the film is received.

On CNBC.com now:

  • Slideshow: The Top Ten Money-Making Stars of 2008
  • Slideshow: Highest Grossing Movies of All Time
  • Slideshow: Top 10 Video Games for 2010
  • Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com