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The Huge Comedy Flop That Had Ben Stiller Freaking Out

These days, the entertainment industry loves to look back at popular intellectual properties and try to concoct prequels, sequels, or a secret third thing that can keep mining those IPs for as long as possible. Apparently, Ben Stiller didn't realize that making a sequel to the idiosyncratic, so-clever-it's-dumb 2001 comedy "Zoolander" might not be able to recapture lightning in a bottle.

"I thought everybody wanted this," Stiller told David Duchovny on the latter's upcoming podcast Fail Better (via People) of "Zoolander 2," his doomed sequel to the original, which was released in 2016. "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."

Stiller's not wrong; hardly anybody went to see "Zoolander 2." According to a story about Stiller and Duchovny's interview in Variety, the movie grossed roughly $29 million against a budget of $50 million, officially making it a box office bomb. He's also correct about the reviews, which were largely negative and criticized the movie for its weak script and lack of originality. Stiller, for his part, was left with self-doubt and constant questions, and it changed him as both an actor and director (he helmed the sequel as well as the original).

"It really freaked me out because I was like, 'I didn't know was that bad?' ” Stiller said. "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."

Ben Stiller says that Zoolander 2's failure may have changed his entire career

Ben Stiller went on to tell David Duchovny that he took some time to seriously think about what he would do after "Zoolander 2," and as it turns out, taking that time was a blessing in disguise. "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," Stiller admitted. 

"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," Stiller continued, saying that even if he'd been encouraged to do another comedy film, he could have "figured something out" but didn't want to go that route. Ultimately, this served both Stiller and his audiences — because he went on to help create some incredible TV shows and films as an actor, a producer, and a director, none of which, thankfully, are "Zoolander 3."

After Zoolander 2, Ben Stiller worked on other projects — and found massive success

When David Duchovny asked Ben Stiller if he didn't want to continue down the "Zoolander" path because he was "angry," Stiller offered up a thoughtful answer. "It was just hurt," Stiller said. "Finding yourself in terms of what creatively you want to be and do, 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."

In 2018, Stiller directed the acclaimed war miniseries "Escape at Dannemora" for Showtime which won him a Director's Guild Award, landed him an Emmy nomination for directing as well, and cemented his reputation as a serious filmmaker. Stiller hasn't directed any feature films since "Zoolander 2" as of this writing, but he's moved more into television, perhaps most notably with his dark AppleTV+ workplace drama "Severance." Aside from a small uncredited vocal cameo in one of its episodes, Stiller doesn't appear in "Severance," but he's an executive producer on the series and has directed several of its episodes (and there's still plenty of time for him to make another surprise appearance on the hit show whenever its second season drops). If fans have "Zoolander 2" to thank for "Severance," then they may owe that film a debt of gratitude.