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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

weekend box office: ‘Snakes’’s numbers are a little scary

So, Snakes on a Plane didn’t do so hot, even if it was just barely at the top of the tally this weekend, earning a little over $15 million, including the early Thursday-night showings. For only Friday-through-Sunday, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby takes the weekend, but it doesn’t really seem fair to discount Thursday night, because if those early screenings hadn’t been available, all us geeks who saw the film then would have gone on Friday anyway.

What happened? Why didn’t Snakes draw the $30 million New Line was apparently expecting? Jay at Digital Media Wire thinks he knows:

This is obviously a movie that has as its core audience in young male adults (it is R-rated). That naturally limits the audience figure. But the studio obviously expected it to have a broader appeal, based on the fact that they decided to open it super-wide in 3,555 theaters.

I suspect New Line was right to think that the audience would be more than teenaged boys and young men — at both the Thursday-night and Friday-night showings I attended, the girls were out in equal numbers with the guys, and not, it seemed, just along with their boyfriends — women were whooping and hollering just as loudly as, and in some cases more aggressively than, the men.

USA Today, not surprisingly, gets it completely wrong:

[A]nalysts say that the movie’s failure to match its hype may dispel the notion of the Internet as a wellspring of untapped moviegoers.

Wrong: the Net is not home to untapped moviegoers — it’s home to the already-plugged-in moviegoers. Net-surfing geeks were already gonna see this film even if there had been no bizarre and creative groundswell of fanac for it. The untapped moviegoers for a flick like Snakes on a Plane are the people who aren’t online… except that there probably isn’t anything that would have dragged them in to see this movie anyway.

What that $15 million represents is hardcore geeks, the most serious fans of horror and cheeseball movies and the combination of the two, not the most casual ones. The studio may have done itself a disservice by not marketing beyond the weird crap the hardcore geeks were already doing to amuse themselves, but the vast majority of moviegoers are still not plugged in to the geek matrix. Those folks needed to see an ad for this movie during a rerun of CSI or Everybody Loves Raymond.

It’s possible, too, that Paul Dergarabedian of Exhibitor Relations got it right. He’s quoted at Yahoo! Movies thusly:

I think people were more excited about the marketing than the actual movie. New Line did not set out to create this Internet buzz. That’s actually a marketer’s dream, but when marketing translates into awareness but does not inspire people to get out from behind their computers and into the theater, that’s a problem.

And it’s true that some of the fan-created crap is better than the film itself, like All Your Snakes Are Belong to Us. Enjoy:

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  • Magess

    I think it’s more accurate to say that the unplugged people didn’t go. Also it’s the kind of movie that requires a good audience. I saw it with 7 people. Not cool. 200 people heckling the screen? That would have been cool.

  • MaryAnn Johanson

    Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that, Magess. Both of the times I saw it was with a completely psyched-up crowd that whooping and hollering and cheered and had a great time.

  • Will

    I originally thought that the movie would do well the first week and petter out slowly. Then I was thinking about it, especially after seeing the $1.5 million opening, that perhaps this will be one of those movies that will start with an average number and stay there for awhile through word of mouth and repeat veiwers. I’m gonna go back sometime this week or next.

  • MaryAnn

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see the film hold up well over the next couple of weekends as word of mouth spreads that it’s really pretty good, as these things go.

  • David C

    I was a little surprised to see that they were expecting to make much more than $15M, actually.

    IMO, they might have made a couple significant mistakes:
    1. Going for the inherently-audience-limiting R rating.
    2. Going for an August release instead of “striking while the iron was hot” and releasing it months earlier. In the weird way of the Internet, the Snakes on a Plane meme had mostly petered out by August, needing to be re-energized all over again.

    Personally, I’m too much of a wuss when it comes to actual Snakes on a Screen, but I’ll be buying the comic book adaptation this week!

    Funny story about that – writer Chuck Dixon, who’s one of the best “action” writers in comics, first heard of the movie from posters on his message board at http://www.dixonverse.net. His first posted reaction was “This is a joke, right?”

    Within days of hearing that, no, it was actually a real movie, he’d signed on to write the adaptation. :)

  • Well I think this is also another example of Hollywood just being insane in their expectations of the box office, and what constitutes a success. Does anyone actually think this movie would have done anywhere near as well as it did if it had been called “Pacific Air Flight 121”? Pssh. It would have brought in maybe $2 million.

    The people disappointed by the box office take of this movie are just the same no-sense-of-perspective idiots who are consider a movie a disappointment if it only just barely breaks the opening weekend record, because they were expecting it to bring in a billion dollars it’s opening weekend. SOAP is gonna do just fine, and it’s gonna have good DVD sales as well. By any sane measure, it should be considered a success.

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