Monday, August 21, 2006

Snakes on a Plane Box Office

(A slightly modified version of something I already posted at the V, but hey, why throw away half-decent material?)

To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Snakes on a Plane - or, to use the full official title, Internet Phenomenon Snakes on a Plane - was the number one film in the US over the weekend. The surprising bit is that it only took $15.3m, and that's including the preview showings on Thursday. It's only marginally ahead of the number two film Talladega Nights. But Talladega was on its third week of release. It took $47m in its opening week, in a different league from Snakes. The previous number one film, Miami Vice did $25m. In fact, Snakes' opening weekend is below World Trade Center, Step Up and Barnyard: The Original Party Animals, none of which even made it to number one. So, yes, it's the box office number one... but it's a very, very quiet week.

It's become commonplace to talk about films being flops even when they have respectable takings. Snakes on a Plane is not, by any sensible standard, a flop. It's number one, for heaven's sake. And it's a ludicrous B-movie concept of the sort that normally goes straight to video via Roger Corman. ("Ooh, just the one set, you say?") A script like that is doing well to get a theatrical release at all, let alone to get Samuel A Jackson and a number one box office placing. It cost $30m to make; it'll make that back easily.

Even so, it was expected to do much, much better in its opening weekend. What happened?

I think their fundamental mistake was to massively overestimate the influence of the Internet and to position themselves as an Internet phenomenon. They disappeared up their own arse.

This film markets itself - literally. It's a one-line, four-word concept that catches the imagination. All you have to do is say it repeatedly. Snakes on a plane. Snakes on a plane. Snakes on a plane. Just keep repeating it in the week before release. Can't go wrong.

Instead, they've completely lost sight of the beautiful simplicity of the idea. They've got sidetracked into doing a marketing campaign about how great the Internet is, and how their film is a pop culture turning point. It's all "we're not showing it to critics" and "incredible buzz from the bloggers" and "homemade trailers" and "reshoots to include the fans suggestions" and so forth.

Where they ought to be selling a fun little B-movie, they've shifted the emphasis disastrously. It's been promoted as, at best, a cult movie for the Internet crowd. And at worst, a so-bad-its-good movie for students with a very laboured sense of irony.

They should have been marketing SNAKES ON A PLANE. They've ended up marketing TWATS ON A BLOG. Where they thought they were embracing a new mainstream, they were actually just turning themselves back into a niche film.

I think they'd have been better off showing it to the critics. Metacritic gives it an average of 60% - it wouldn't have been slaughtered. They'd have got a load of three star reviews confirming that it is, in fact, just a film about snakes on a plane, and not some esoteric cultural phenomenon for people who spend six hours a day squinting at Youtube. Now they'll have to rely on word of mouth to do that job for them.