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Ben Stiller Says He Was “Blindsided” By ‘Zoolander 2’ Flop: “I Thought Everybody Wanted This”

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures / Hope72 / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures / Hope72 / MovieStillsDB

It’s quite rare for a film’s sequel to perform as well as the original film. This is true for several movies that hit the silver screen, including the fashion industry satire franchise Zoolander and Zoolander 2. The first film was generally well-received, but the second film’s box office flop actually came as a surprise to its creator, Ben Stiller.

Zoolander 2 did not do well at the box office

Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, and Penelope Cruz in 'Zoolander 2'
Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, and Penelope Cruz in ‘Zoolander 2.’ (Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures / Wolf / MovieStillsDB)

The first film, Zoolander, was released in 2001 and did pretty well at the box office, earning $15.5 million on its opening weekend and $60.8 million worldwide against its budget of $28 million. Co-written by, directed by, and starring Stiller, the first film was generally well-received, with audiences appreciating the comedy for the parody of the fashion industry that it was. However, Zoolander 2 did not receive the same reception.

The sequel saw Stiller return to the titular character, along with Owen Wilson returning as Hansel McDonald. However, this time, the film was set in Italy a decade after the first film was set. Featured in the film were a handful of other popular stars, including Naomi Campbell, Justin Bieber, Kristin Wiig, Penelope Cruz, Benedict Cumberbatch, and more.

Co-written by Stiller, Justin Theroux, Nick Stoller, and John Hamburg, the sequel was released in 2016 and earned almost $14 million on its opening weekend. However, it only grossed $29 million worldwide, and against its budget of $50 million, proved to be a box office flop. The critical and commercial scrutiny the film received ultimately took Stiller by surprise.

Stiller had doubts about himself

Ben Stiller clasping his hands in front of him.
Ben Stiller attends on March 19, 2023, in Washington, DC. (Photo Credit: Taylor Hill / WireImage / Getty Images)

During a visit with the Fail Better podcast, Stiller explained why the film’s failure surprised him. “I thought everybody wanted this,” he explained. “And then it’s like, ‘Wow, I must have really f***ed this up. Everybody didn’t go to it. And it’s gotten these horrible reviews.” Not only was the film’s reception bad generally, but the weekend it was released, it was competing with Deadpool, which absolutely dominated the box office, earning $152.2 million that weekend alone.

Zoolander 2 flopping impacted Stiller deeply. “It really freaked me out because I was like, ‘I didn’t know, was that bad?’ What scared me the most on that one was l’m losing what I think what’s funny, the questioning yourself … on Zoolander 2, it was definitely blindsiding to me. And it definitely affected me for a long time.” Naturally, he said that watching the film flop was “not a great experience.”

It helped him move on to different projects

The cast of 'Escape at Dannemora' with Ben Stiller.
The cast of ‘Escape at Dannemora’ alongside Ben Stiller on June 5, 2019. (Photo Credit: VALERIE MACON / AFP / Getty Images)

In a backward way, the failure of Zoolander 2 actually helped Stiller progress in his career. “The wonderful thing that came out of that for me was just having space where, if that had been a hit, and they said ‘Make Zoolander 3 right now,’ or offered some other movie, I would have just probably jumped in and done that,” he explained. “But I had this space to kind of sit with myself and have to deal with it and other projects that I had been working on — not comedies, some of them — I have the time to actually just work on and develop.”

“Even if somebody said, ‘Well, why don’t you go do another comedy or do this?’ I probably could have figured out something to do. But I just didn’t want to,” he added. “I was just hurt. Finding yourself in terms of what creatively you want to be and do, I I always loved directing. I always loved making movies. I always, in my mind, loved the idea of just directing movies that since I was a kid, and not necessarily comedies. And so, over the course of like the next like, nine or 10 months, I was able to develop these limited series.”

More from us: Martin Scorsese Wants Leonardo DiCaprio to Play Frank Sinatra in New Biopic

Following Zoolander 2, Stiller went on to direct the 2018 television crime drama Escape at Dannemora, for which he won a Directors Guild of America award. Later, in 2022, he directed the thriller series Severance.

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!