The Friends Zone: A Movie History

Friends: The Reunion premieres today on HBO Max and millions of the show’s fans can rejoice in seeing the six main characters from the NBC sitcom together on the couch once again. Running from 1994 to 2004, the show was an instant smash that continues to gain new followers through streaming services.

I was a viewer going back to the mid 90s. Due to Friends becoming so gigantic at the outset, Hollywood studios quickly tried make the main cast immediate movie stars. This resulted in varying degrees of success.

So in honor of the reunion, let’s take a look back in movie history at this iconic sextet and I’ll rank each actor from 1-6 on their cinematic output!

Jennifer Aniston (Rachel Green)

The Friends Zone Cinematic Ranking: 1

Before her casting as Rachel, Aniston’s only significant big screen credit was as a lead in the cult slasher Leprechaun. Yet her filmography during and after Friends easily puts her atop these rankings. She garnered critical raves in the indie dramas The Good Girl and Cake, was the love interest in the now beloved Office Space, and has plenty of comedic hits like Bruce Almighty, Horrible Bosses, We’re the Millers, and Murder Mystery. 

Courteney Cox (Monica Geller)

The Friends Zone Cinematic Ranking: 3

Cox is really the only Friendster with notable movie appearances before the show. Just a few months before the Friends premiere, she starred alongside Jim Carrey in the surprise hit Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Years before that, she acted alongside He-Man and Skeletor in Masters of the Universe. During Friends, she appeared in the horror blockbuster Scream and she’s about to turn up early next year in its fourth sequel. The rest of her filmography is pretty scant, but she’s the only one with a well established franchise.

Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe Buffay)

The Friends Zone Cinematic Ranking: 2

Many might call 1997’s cult favorite Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion her finest contribution to the silver screen. Kudrow has also appeared in several supporting roles over the years from The Opposite of Sex to Analyze This and its sequel to Easy A to Booksmart. There’s certainly been some clunkers (Hanging Up and Lucky Numbers), but the voluminous output is enough to rank Kudrow in second.

 

Matt LeBlanc (Joey Tribbiani)

The Friends Zone Cinematic Ranking: 6

He found further TV success post Friends (though it took some time after the ill-fated spin-off Joey). LeBlanc’s big screen career never really launched. The 1996 starring vehicle Ed paired him with a primate and was a critical and commercial disaster. To put it another way, the monkey business with Marcel on the TV show was far more profitable. Two years later, his participation in the Lost in Space pic was met with shrugs.

Matthew Perry (Chandler Bing)

The Friends Zone Cinematic Ranking: 4

Perry ranks first among the boys as he had solid performers alongside Bruce Willis in The Whole Nine Yards and Zac Efron in 17 Again. There were, on the other hand, some duds like his pairing with Chris Farley in Almost Heroes and in the Yards sequel. He’s about to appear in his most high profile entry in years with Don’t Look Up from Adam McKay which stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence.

David Schwimmer (Ross Geller)

The Friends Zone Cinematic Ranking: 5

The Pallbearer found Schwimmer in a rom com with Gwyneth Paltrow in 1996. It wasn’t quite the loud flop that Ed was, but it certainly came and went with little fanfare. His filmography is rather low-key with supporting appearances in Six Days, Seven Nights and Apt Pupil. His greatest successes can be found in voiceover work as Melman in the Madagascar franchise and on the small screen in the heralded limited series The People v. O.J. Simpson.

And there’s your trip down Friends memory lane, folks! For the real thing, watch the team reunion on HBO Max.

2019: The Year of Eddie Murphy and Adam Sandler

One of the welcome cinematic storylines of 2019 involves two beloved Saturday Night Live vets who accomplished some of their finest film work, have garnered Oscar attention, and both returned to the show that made them after many years away.

I’m referring to Eddie Murphy and Adam Sandler and they both get spots in my Year of 2019 posts. Murphy had been absent from the silver screen since 2016’s drama Mr. Church. Over the past several years, he was known more for his family comedies then the raunchy comedian that sold out stadiums in the 1980s. 2019 saw a return to form with Netflix’s Dolemite Is My Name, his critically hailed recounting of Rudy Ray Moore’s contributions to movies. The pic has given Murphy his best reviews since 2006’s Dreamgirls and gotten him back into the Oscar conversation. We also witnessed the legendary performer host SNL for the first time in 35 years. 2020 will showcase Murphy returning to stand-up (something he hasn’t done since the late 1980s) and reprising his Prince Akeem character and others in Coming 2 America, which again teams him with Netflix and Dolemite director Craig Brewer.

Mr. Sandler also hit the 30 Rock building to headline SNL. He hadn’t been back in that role since being fired from the show in the mid 90s and embarking on his own wildly successful film career. The SNL gig saw him perform a humorous and touching tribute to cast mate Chris Farley. His partnership with Netflix includes this year’s Murder Mystery with Jennifer Aniston. There’s already a sequel planned for it. And the critical kudos came with crime thriller Uncut Gems, which opens wide on Christmas. That pic, from directors Ben and Josh Safdie, has Sandler picking up awards precursors and, like Murphy, in the mix for Academy attention. He’ll return to his preferred streaming service next year with Hubie Halloween.

For SNL, 2019 will be remembered as a time when two of their most famous alumni returned. For Murphy and Sandler, it’s a time when they gave us some of the most memorable onscreen work.

Uncut Gems Box Office Prediction

Veering far away from the Netflix comedies like Murder Mystery that he’s become known for over the past few years, Adam Sandler headlines the critically heralded crime thriller Uncut Gems and it expands nationwide on Christmas, The pic comes from directors Ben and Josh Safdie and the supporting cast includes future NBA hall of famer Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Lakeith Stanfield, Julia Fox, pop star The Weeknd, and Eric Bogosian.

Since its initial screenings at the Telluride Film Festival in late August, Gems has shone brightly with reviewers. It stands at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and Sandler has picked up early awards precursors and could be in the running for an Oscar nomination. How will this translate to box office dollars? For the past two weeks, the film has been in limited release in five venues and performed well with $1 million in its coffers.

Whether or not Gems translates widely to mainstream viewers across the country is a trickier question. Even with Sandler’s involvement, this may cater more towards the art house circuit as opposed to audiences looking for holiday options. I’ll project that this hits mid single digits from Friday to Sunday and low double digits for the extended five-day rollout.

Uncut Gems opening weekend prediction: $5.7 million (Friday to Sunday); $11 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

For my Little Women prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/12/17/little-women-box-office-prediction/

For my Spies in Disguise prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/12/17/spies-in-disguise-box-office-prediction/

2019: The Year of Netflix

Today kicks off my posts on the performers who will be remembered for having a strong 2019 and making an impact on the silver screen. However, as I have in previous years, my first writeup goes to a studio. And while Disney could be named every year nowadays (and they certainly had a terrific year), we turn to Netflix in 2019.

It’s hard to believe now, but it was a few short years ago that their big budget TV series House of Cards was considered a risk. Could this streaming service provide truly quality original content? Times have changed, ladies and gents.

Netflix has become an undeniable hub for high profile directors and actors. 2019 saw the studio give us successful comedies such as Murder Mystery with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston and the acclaimed rom com Always Be My Maybe. 

Action directors like Michael Bay turned to the service with 6 Underground starring Ryan Reynolds. We have filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh making Netflix a home with both High Flying Bird and The Laundromat. Millions of eyeballs were tuned to the Breaking Bad continuation El Camino. 

Most notably, 2019 seems destined to be the year when Oscar voters won’t be able to ignore it. The conversation about Netflix being able to garner multiple Academy nods is about to become a moot one. 2017 and 2018 saw voters nibble around the edges. Two years ago, Mudbound managed a Supporting Actress nod for Mary J. Blige and Adapted Screenplay. 2018’s Roma received a number of nominations and Alfonso Cuaron won for Best Director. It was considered a frontrunner for Picture, but lost to Green Book. Some blamed it on bias against the biggest streamer.

This year, we have two films that could win the largest prize of all – Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. Other contenders for a nomination include The Two Popes and Dolemite Is My Name, which returned to Eddie Murphy to form. Between those four pictures, you could see as many as a dozen acting nominations.

There’s little doubt that 2019 gave us a shifting in the tide of Netflix’s credibility. And that’s likely to stay. My Year Of posts will continue soon with some of the actors who had a lot to celebrate…

Murder Mystery Movie Review

Like the whodunnit paperbacks that Jennifer Aniston’s character reads to distract herself, Murder Mystery is a flimsy experience that you’ll quickly forget. It’s not bad while it lasts, but I wouldn’t count on retaining it. Adam Sandler and Aniston team up again after 2011’s middling Just Go with It and that title aptly describes this. Don’t expect much other than a few amusing moments from the cast and it’s probably best viewed in transit somewhere as a minor distraction.

Sandler is New York cop Nick, who yearns to be a detective but can’t pass the exam. Aniston is his hairdresser wife Audrey. They’ve been married 15 years and she’s bitter that Nick hasn’t made good on his long standing promise of a European vacation (Amazon gift card is more his speed). He finally acquiesces and on the ride over, Audrey befriends the dashing Charles (Luke Evans) who invite the couple to join his family on their luxury yacht.

Charles is nephew to Malcolm Quince (Terence Stamp), a mega billionaire who owns the vessel. He stole Charles’s young fiancée and their nuptials are imminent. Others on the boat are financially dependent on Malcolm, including his son (David Walliams), a Hollywood actress (Gemma Arterton), a Formula One driver (Luis Gerardo Mendez), and a hip hop influenced maharajah (Adeel Akhtar). When Malcolm is killed, Nick and Audrey find themselves aboard a plot akin to her throwaway books.

The body count rises as the head couple become the lead suspects. Nick must utilize his detective skills, which are most certainly not considerable. Murder Mystery is often as generic as its name. Sandler is in goofy nice guy mode while Aniston plays exasperated for an hour and a half. They do share a comfortable chemistry that helps as this moves along. Some of the supporting players momentarily rise above the material, including Arterton (her reaction to accusations of being the culprit is genuinely funny).

It’s not exactly high praise to say that this isn’t bad like some of Sandler’s other Netflix excursions. Mildly diverting is more apt. For a watch involving a flight or long train ride somewhere, Murder Mystery could fit the bill for Sandler and Aniston admirers if you decide to just go with it.

**1/2 (out of four)