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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Why did ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ bomb?

The numbers on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World are in, and they are not pretty: the film earned only $10.6 million over its debut weekend, three-quarters of a million behind Inception, which has been playing for more than a month, and way behind The Other Guys, even though it dropped more than 50 percent over its second weekend. It was totally left in the dust by the top two movies, newcomers The Expendables and Eat Pray Love.

What’s worse, word-of-mouth is looking dire for Pilgrim: It dropped steadily from Friday to Saturday to Sunday, suggesting that next weekend will see it drop precipitously. Josh Tyler at Cinema Blend dubs it “one of the biggest bombs of the year.”
Pilgrim certainly seemed destined to do better than this. It has been eagerly anticipated for months. Reviews are mostly ecstatic (my negative review is a distant outlier).

So what happened?

Cinema Blend’s Tyler has a few ideas, which boil down to:

People say it’s become cool to be a geek. That’s not true. People have just started applying the word geek to cool people. Hipsters aren’t geeks and geeks aren’t rock musicians and rock musicians aren’t old school gamers and aging gamers don’t like musicals. In a perfect world none of that would matter and people would simply show up to the theater and be blown away by the innovative level of creativity on display in Scott Pilgrim, but you have to get them there first.

And then there are movie lovers like me, who appreciate innovative levels of creativity, but didn’t really see that put to good use here.

Scott Wampler of Comedy Examiner puts Pilgrim’s flopping down to “Michael Cera fatigue” (which Tyler also touches on).

So what happened? Why did Scott Pilgrim vs. the World bomb? Are the devotees of the graphic novels simply too few in number, but misleadingly loud in proclaiming their love? Could it be a matter of a poor translation of the source material to the screen, leaving even its original fans unhappy? Something else?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • MaSch

    Isn’t it obvious? The target audience was busy attacking reviewers who gave a negative review to the movie and thusly couldn’t go to the cinemas …

  • DaveTM

    While this isn’t why it bombed I think this is why people expected it to do better. And that is that on the internet a very small group of really loud people make people think that something is really popular, when it just isn’t the case most of the time.

    The people that love Scott Pilgrim really love it and are more than likely right in the age group to flood that love all over the internet. It doesn’t change the fact that probably over 99% of people in the country haven’t even heard of the thing.(I go to a comic shop once a week and I hadn’t even heard of it till the movie was announced) Just because something is trending high on twitter doesn’t mean it’s really popular.

    Also does people finally realizing he’s not that good of an actor who will take virtually any role offered to him constitute fatigue?

  • Ken

    As I haven’t seen the movie, and I never read the comics, my guess is just going to be a total stab int he dark. Perhaps potential audiences just don’t know what to make of it. Ads suggest that it won’t have the flash of movies based on well-known comic properties (Iron Man, Dark Knight, etc.), so that might keep the young male demographic away somewhat. Of course, there’s enough of a hint of comic-bookiness to keep other crowds away, if they would automatically dismiss that sort of thing. Pretty much, it’s probably because it doesn’t fit nicely into some clear genre, as the week’s top 2 movies would appear to, based on advertising.

  • markyd

    Being a follower of box office #’s, I was floored when I saw how poorly Scott did. Hell, I was thinking it was going to do 40-50m! I also tend to visit geeky sites where this movie was heavily promoted/discussed(yours included). I actually thought Expendables was going to tank. Guess I don’t know shit, huh?
    A similar, but not quite as bad, thing happened to Kick-Ass. It seemed to me that it was hyped like crazy, and was going to do boffo box-office, but then only opened to +/-20m.
    I guess some things are just TOO geeky for the general public.

  • RogerBW

    Comic-book-movie fatigue? We’ve had quite a lot of them lately, most of them much bigger and flashier than Pilgrim.

  • RyanT

    It was difficult to market. I mean you know how most of the times you can tell what kind of movie you are about to watch from the trailers preceding it? Well for the showing of Scott Pilgrim I saw, I got Jackass 3D, Nowhere Boy, Bran Neu Dae, Skyline, Devil, and another film I’m forgetting… but wow how different are all of those films from one another!

    If you look at theater numbers and opening weekend, the movie performed very similarly to Serenity. Another solidly-reviewed, fanboy-driven August release that didn’t burn up the box office as much as it deserved it. The latter is already a cult classice and Scott Pilgrim seems destined to follow suit. So while it’s disappointing, everyone involve shouldn’t hang their head in shame. It was critically loved and its core audience went wild for it. That’s better than most films…

  • The target audience was busy attacking reviewers who gave a negative review to the movie and thusly couldn’t go to the cinemas …

    lol this. :D

  • SteveH

    I saw it Sunday and had a great time. I do think it probably plays better to someone who has read the comics, as trying to distill six books into one movie meant that a lot of the subtext didn’t have room to breathe. (The sixth book, which does a lot to deepen things wasn’t even finished when most of the movie was filming.) The real thrust of the books was less about Scott “Winning” Ramona than it was him growing up and being more responsible and thoughtful. While I don’t think the film did as well on the “Rom” front as the books, I think it brought enough “Com” that the audience I saw was laughing their asses off. The dropping numbers over the weekend probably had more to do with an early rush up front than bad word of mouth.

    From my own experience, the biggest hurdle the movie has is explaining it to other people. Friends of mine who would like this sort of thing but were unfamiliar with the books seemed to have a hard time wrapping their heads around the concept of it. I anticipate that as more people see it, it will eventually develop a larger following. (Although possibly not until it hits DVD.)

  • JoshDM

    I think too many participants of the intended target audience got to see it for free at various screenings.

    Plus it launched the same weekend as THE EXPENDABLES. That’s suicidal.

  • JoshDM

    Also, it came out in August. Summer Movie. Bad idea.

    It needed to come out when college was in session so the likely intended target audiences would flock to it in groups.

  • Just to give an idea where I’m coming from, I never read the comic books, but I loved the movie.

    The people stating marketing reasons are hitting one nail on the head. It’s a movie directed towards gamers, yet some of the most hardcore gamers I know didn’t even know what the movie was about. After seeing the movie, I couldn’t even really describe it myself — I knew who I could recommend it to, but I didn’t know what to say about it.

    So it was something of a marketing nightmare, plus they released it in mid-August against two much bigger movies, one primed for male audiences, one primed for female audiences, so its scheduling didn’t do it any favors.

    But I’d like to add, I think it just comes down to target audience. Its target audience is very specific. It’s geared so strongly towards them that if you don’t embrace it, you’re likely to hate it (or at least cock an eyebrow and smirk at it). It takes a risk, and I think it succeeds marvelously, but possibly only for a minor segment of the population. So the numbers aren’t surprising, not in the least — frankly, I would’ve been surprised if the movie broke $20M in the first weekend — but, to paraphrase a friend, I’m very happy it exists.

  • MC

    I just remember all the doom and gloom surrounding Grindhouse when it had a disappointing initial take at the theatres. But looking at the numbers today, it ended up well in the black with both the theatrical (worldwide it made its money back) and DVD sales (which in the US alone made back over half the budget).

    Based on Edgar Wright’s other projects, there is still a lot of room to grow. After all, this movie hasn’t come out in the UK yet, and Hot Fuzz did 20 million pounds there.

    Charlie St. Cloud had similar opening numbers to Scott Pilgrim, and so far it has made 30 million, so a strong British opening plus a little bit of longevity at American theatres could mean this movie has a chance to reach towards profitability at some point before the DVD release.

  • EZ

    It’s a comic book movie about a romance featuring a rock musician in a video game world.

    It’s a niche of a niche of a niche of a niche.

    It could have been made with an artistry and quality surpassing (insert your top choice movie of all time) with maximum star power and it still would have been a bomb for an $80 million budget (plus who knows how much advertising, maybe another $80 mil).

    Edgar Wright will probably be okay, since the quality of the film is fantastic and shows his skills as a filmmaker. Michael Cera might be doomed since he wasn’t able to make this a hit. Bryan O’Malley might not get another movie made, but he’s set as a cartoonist – either way, he’s needs to move fast to actually make some more books.

    But it’s the suits at Universal who are the idiots for paying more than $30 million to make a film that’s a fraction of a sub-genre.

  • Jester

    It’s a one-off. People don’t get one-offs. Even you didn’t get this one.

    Even great one-off movies rarely do very well. See: Garden State, The Men Who Stare At Goats, et. al.

  • It’s definitely not too many free screenings. It sounds sort of possible from one angle, but imagine how many screenings it’d take to have cost the studio, say, a million dollars in ticket revenue. They definitely didn’t have that many, and even if they had, an $11.5 million weekend isn’t a relevant difference from a $10.5 million weekend.

    Three things killed it:

    1) It’s not super-easy to explain. For instance, The Expendables can be described in 3 words: “Action stars, together.”

    2) Universal sold it like gangbusters…to the audience that was already going to see it. Mainstream awareness of the film was probably extremely low.

    3) Michael Cera. Based on the message board response I’ve seen from people who didn’t see it, his presence was the only factor they acknowledged before tuning out. I’m convinced you could have made the exact same movie with someone other than Cera and the turnout would have been noticeably better.

  • MC

    Edgar Wright on the matter via Twitter: For the record, am pretty damn happy to have a Top 5 movie and a top 5 album in the US. Never had either before.

  • bats :[

    Two words: MaryAnn Johanson.

    Feel the power! :D

  • Hank Graham

    It could have done even worse. M. Night Shyamalan could have been involved.

  • amanohyo

    There are no big names attached to the movie.

    Michael Cera is not a convincing action star. He’s also not a pretty-boy or a very good actor. Jon Heder or Jesse Eisenberg might have sold a few more tickets (with their acting, not their prettiness), but ultimately, without big name stars, you need amazing word of mouth and major award winning hype to do well.

    Who is this movie for? It’s not satisfying as a romantic comedy, not satisfying as a martial arts action flick, not satisfying as a coming of age drama, not satisfying as satire. The stylistic shots and rapid editing are too much for the average moviegoing family or couple. Who does that leave? Hardcore retro teen gamers and fans of the comic (many of whom have no doubt pirated the film by now). Not really a big pool to draw from.

    I also think it’s important to remember that the stereotypical Call of Duty/Madden/Gears of War/Halo-playing dudebro gamer would not like this movie. It’s too sensitive and nerdy for them and not sensitive enough for people who appreciate decent acting and writing. It occupies a cinematic and social no-mans land is what I’m trying to say, a wannabe jack of all trades that sucks at everything except style.

    Also: Unabashedly Canadian without any hilarious accents? What is up with that eh? (before any Canadians yell at me, I’m just joking)

  • Who is this movie for? It’s not satisfying as a romantic comedy, not satisfying as a martial arts action flick, not satisfying as a coming of age drama, not satisfying as satire. The stylistic shots and rapid editing are too much for the average moviegoing family or couple.

    This is all your opinion, not fact. It is also not backed up by the audiences I saw when I saw it, which got vocal response from the crowds, most of which consisted of families.

  • Maybe people are sick of the brand of anti-feminism depicted in Scott Pilgrim and much prefer the brand of anti-feminism depicted in The Expendables.

  • I think it’s that “niche of a niche of a niche” thing. But I *hope* (while being aware that this almost certainly isn’t the case) that it’s because the target audience is sick of Nice Guy Syndrome. It’d be nice to have some evidence that my generation is less misogynistic than our parents; it would complete the hat trick with the studies suggesting we’re less racist and less homophobic than our parents.

  • markyd

    I don’t get the whole comfort zone thing. I, as a general fan of movies, will see any movie, in any genre, as long as it’s good. For the most part, I can’t stand cheesy rom-coms. If one came out to much critical acclaim, I would give it a closer look, and maybe even go see it. Love, Actually is an example of this. Great movie.
    Are that many people really that tunnel-visioned? Are there people that ONLY go see stupid blow-em-ups and nothing else? Or Will Ferrel/Adam Sandler comedies? Rom-coms?etc. Wow. That’s just sad, if it’s true. They are missing out on so many great movies.
    I have yet to see Pilgrim, but I may go by myself next week when I’m on vacation. The wife has no interest(big surprise).

  • Actual conversation from Friday afternoon in my office:

    Coworker: What are you doing tonight?

    Gordon: Seeing Scott Pilgrim with some friends

    Everybody: Ew, the Michael Cera movie? I’m so sick of Michael Cera. He’s always the same.

    Gordon: Sure, but it’s also an Edgar Wright movie.

    Coworker: Who’s that?

    Gordon: He did Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

    Coworker: Oh! I love him! I’ll see that!

    My conclusion as to why this is failing is the perception of this as a Michael Cera movie. Have you seen even one piece of marketing that says “From the director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz?” I sure haven’t. People, even regular non-geek people, really like those movies. (And they should.) Why isn’t THAT the focus of the marketing efforts?

    As for the giant black cloud that is Michael Cera. Look at imdb for a moment. Consider the past couple of years of Michael Cera’s career. Now look at his future. See how he’s starring in nothing? The industry had already figured out he was box office poison before this movie was even released. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that he’s definitely not too big of a star to do the Arrested Development movie. May he gloriously return to his best ever role, that of George Michael Bluth.

  • Even if Scott Pilgrim does contain a Nice Guy I still don’t understand why so many people around here are attacking it so ferociously. Other major releases this year have included The Bounty Hunter and Killers. The movie, even if it is ineffective, is about a Nice Guy looking to ditch his Nice Guy-ness and strike down other Nice Guys looking to keep preying on a woman, even if that woman is underdeveloped. And even MaryAnn admits the film is a technical marvel with at least one funny supporting performance.

    It’s just mind-boggling to me, the targets people have chosen. In the review comments, she used a bank robbery analogy. So, now, the guy who considers robbing a bank, plans it all out, but walks away at the last second is worse than the people who rob the bank blind, and blow it up with all the people in it?

  • Martin

    Have you seen even one piece of marketing that says “From the director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz?”

    I’m pretty sure that every trailer has stated that.

  • Have you seen even one piece of marketing that says “From the director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz?”

    All 3 of the movie’s trailers say this in on-screen captions. Michael Cera, on the other hand, is not a big enough star to get an on-screen credit in them. I mean, obviously, he’s in them, but they definitely trumpet it as Wright’s third film.

  • Lisa

    well some of the movie’s obnoxious fans have definitely put me off seeing it. Every time I read them trying to explain how great it is, I’m thinking this movie sounds awful.

  • Much like Kick Ass, the target demographic of this film prefers to pirate movies rather than go to the theater and see them. You’ll note that the demos for the Expendables skewed older–folks who are more likely to go to the theater.

  • stryker1121

    I’m a gamer geek who loves old school gaming/rock music/superhero movies, and I had never heard of “Scott Pilgrim” before I saw the trailer. Seems SP is one of those comics w/ a cultish (if vocal) fanbase, which doesn’t usually translate to huge BO success. And even w/ my nerdish leanings and enjoyment of Wright’s past work, I don’t have much interest in the movie outside of an eventual DVD rental. Too quirky-cute for me, and probably too geeky, esoteric and abstract for the general movie going public.

  • Susan

    The trailer said to me, “This movie is about a guy who must beat up his new love interest’s former lovers for some inexplicable reason.” It looked horrible and sexist, and I saw no reason to further investigate. My guess is a lot of other people thought the same thing.

  • Much like Kick Ass, the target demographic of this film prefers to pirate movies rather than go to the theater and see them. You’ll note that the demos for the Expendables skewed older–folks who are more likely to go to the theater.

    I guess that makes it funny that when one of my fortysomething brothers was discussing what movie he wanted to take my fortysomething sister to go see for her birthday this past weekend, the two choices he gave were Salt and Inception.

    For some reason, no one in my family–even my middle sibling who is a real hard-core action fan–expressed any interest in The Expendables. Nor were there much interest in any other new movies apart from the two I mentioned above. Then again my sister did admit to having already taken her daughter to see Ramona and Beezie

  • Two words: MaryAnn Johanson.


    * Cue Snap!’s “The Power” *

  • Lisa

    Queen of the Internet

    Hear her roar!

  • I posted this on Cinema Blend’s thread: the biggest reason this movie bombed over the weekend was Cera. He was heavily promoted as the face of this movie and of all the bad stuff I’ve read about Pilgrim the one constant has been how poorly cast Cera was for the role.

    One reason that Cinema Blend didn’t consider was that colleges – the primary target audience was college students – were bringing their students back in for enrollment. My friends’ oldest daughter (oh YE GODS I’m old) just went this weekend to move in to her dorm to start her freshman year at college. This was a terrible week to release a college-age film when the audience was too busy elsewhere.

    Want to know why I think that explanation works? Because my friend still wants to see the film this coming weekend, now that he’s not busy sending his daughter off to college.

    They should have saved Pilgrim for Labor Day weekend when most colleges are in full swing (usually the first football weekend).

  • Lynn

    …And books’ shojo manga style put them into a further niche. They don’t look like books devoted to action and manpain (though in fairness, it sounds like they aren’t.)

    If Wright had managed to hit all the different niches, I think I’d be making an effort to see it in theater. But even from his own interviews it sounded like his version of Ramona was not going to be very satisfying. And the hammy acting in the trailers looked very cringe-worthy.

    The thing I loved about Shaun of the Dead was its ability to keep the action in service of all characters and their development. Only considering the ramifications to the protagonist really limits the appeal.

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    Indulge me with a bit of optimism for a moment: maybe there just aren’t enough guys who become psychologically unbalanced when they find out their girlfriend had a sex life before they turned up to make the central metaphor chime with the wider public?

  • Lisa

    and yet Der Bruno and yet…

  • Another point of optimism: Scott Pilgrim actually opened better than Wright’s other cult hits (Hot Fuzz opened to $5.8 mill, Shaun of the Dead to $3.3 mill).

    Another point of optimism: Scott Pilgrim looks to be five times better than the so-called comedies coming out this week (Lottery Ticket? Vampires Suck?). So let’s call up all the college students we know to use this weekend to keep Scott alive! Let’s GO! ONE TWO THREE FOUR!

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