25 Years Ago: Three Men and a Baby

I like to use this movie as the best example of a sleeper hit. A sleeper hit is a movie that comes out of nowhere and dominates the box office. I think it’s safe to say “Three Men and a Baby” came out of nowhere when it was released Nov. 25, 1987.

It’s an American adaptation of the French film “3 Hommes ut un Couffin” or “Three Men and a Cradle.” The plot is pretty simple. Three bachelors find a baby girl at their front door and attempt to care for her until they figure out why she was left there.

Not only was it a sleeper hit, but it was the biggest hit of the year. It outgrossed Beverly Hills Cop II, which I’m sure any betting person would have claimed that film would be at the top for 1987.

It’s a good movie. It’s a comedy but I wouldn’t say it’s fall-down hilarious. It’s charming and everything hinges on the guys’ relationship with the baby. There is a mistaken identity drug dealing subplot that is bizarrely inserted in the movie. I guess the filmmakers felt extra tension was needed. Still, making the audience think the baby has been kidnapped and also taking her to a drug deal just doesn’t fit.

Before its release, “Three Men and a Baby” had a few things working against it. Two of the three lead actors weren’t exactly proven film stars. Tom Selleck and Ted Danson were very successful on television with their series “Magnum, P.I.” and “Cheers,” respectively, but hadn’t proven themselves at the box office with feature films. Selleck had starred in a few films but none that took the box office by storm.

Steve Guttenberg is the third lead actor in the film and he had success prior to “Three Men and a Baby.” He starred in the “Police Academy” movies, “Cocoon” and “Short Circuit” but one could argue that the success lies with the films themselves and not Guttenberg.

And who would have guessed Leonard Nimoy could direct a film that didn’t have “Star Trek” in the title.

The film spawned a sequel, “Three Men and a Little Lady,” but it didn’t come close to the box office success of the original. I mentioned I use “Three Men and a Baby” as a great example of a sleeper hit. I also use it as an example of a movie with a concept that doesn’t lend itself to a sequel. Most of what is appealing about the film is the guys’ fumbling about trying to care for the baby girl. The sequel doesn’t have that since she is a little bit older.

And I couldn’t write a retrospective piece on the movie without mentioning the urban legend of the ghost. If you aren’t familiar, sometime in 1990, conveniently before the release of “Three Men and a Little Lady,” a story about a boy who used to live in the apartment where the movie was filmed committed suicide and his ghost makes an appearance. The problem with that is the movie was shot on a soundstage and not a real apartment. The image in the window is a cardboard cutout of Ted Danson that is folded.

We may not have seen the last of the fatherly trio. Selleck has stated in interviews that a third film titled, “Three Men and a Bride” has been floated around but it remains to be decided if that will move forward.

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