Maybe you've heard about a little movie called Snakes On A Plane? It slithered into theaters a few weeks ago, on a tidal wave of hype from internet fanboys and media wags, and almost immediately disappeared. Even on the heels of surprisingly good reviews from a critical community that put away their fangs and played along, this so-called "cult movie" made little noise at the box office after months of suffocating hype.
In the aftermath of SoaP's disappointing box office, the internet's viability as a marketing tool and audience-galvanizing force has been called into question. What went wrong? Did Harry Knowles and his band of socially-inept talkbackers succumb to agoraphobia and avoid the theater? Maybe. It's certainly easy to invoke the stereotype of the online community as a bunch of 35-year-old fat virgins with no social skills, but I think in 2006 we can all admit that the sheer size of the community makes such a narrow view totally preposterous. There are more obvious reasons the movie bombed.
Repeat after me: you can't manufacture a cult movie.
The very essence of a cult movie is that its appeal is esoteric. It is discovered organically by a small segment of the audience, beneath the mainstream, and passed along by word-of-mouth. Part of the fun of a cult movie is being one of the few in the know, being part of the cult. Just look how "over" Christianity became once Bush started pushing it on everyone. Boring!
Getting in on the ground floor of a movie like Repo Man, or Donnie Darko, or Bottle Rocket, or Eraserhead is a badge of honor. Fans of cult movies watch, at first with glee, as Wes Anderson's second or third movie finally breaks him mainstream and their affection is validated. Only their glee turns to rage as they witness the bandwagon fill with posers who start co-opting the movies, quoting the lines but never really getting it, not really, ya know? Once again, Dr. Jones, we see there is nothing you can possess that a bunch of frat boy losers cannot take away.
Being under-the-radar is what gives a cult movie its credibility. When Jay Leno starts making jokes about something, it's not only as over-the-radar as possible, it's suddenly about as cool as your Mom (unless she's on MILFHunter.com, then it's nowhere near as cool). SoaP was never under-the-radar.
It was never a cult movie, it was a poser movie. For one thing, it was supposed to be a blockbuster, which is anathema to cult status. The closest thing to a "cult blockbuster" was The Matrix, because it snuck up on us, was embraced by everyone, and is still championed by a crowd of nerds who hung on after the miserable sequels bled the rest of us off.
Snakes On A Plane was for the crowd that doesn't know about cult movies until they aren't cult anymore. It's part of an insipid new segment of the audience that craves instant affiliation with everyone else. It's MySpace. It's "Vote For Pedro" t-shirts. It's Dane Cook's idiotic Superfinger. It's a secret-handshake that isn't secret at all.
There's nothing cult about conformity.
SoaP is a B-movie, plane (ha!) and simple. And there's nothing wrong with that. But the internet's not to blame for the movie's fizzle, the marketing is. With SoaP, the hype worked against the product, as hype so often does. The Blair Witch Project showed how to utilize the online space effectively, back when the net was newish and full of surprises. But that little movie didn't pretend to be something it wasn't. Well, actually, it did, but at least it was clever about it. And it didn't aspire to blockbuster status.
TV shows can use the internet to build ratings and start petitions to save "Roswell" and "7th Heaven" because they can survive on a niche audience. But a movie can't rely on the internet community to achieve blockbuster status; it's just too fractured to attract enough people.
The person who comes along and achieves any kind of online coalescence, who somehow unites the online community across its entire demographic, will revolutionize marketing and media as we know it. He will also conquer the world and usher in a Gene Roddenberry-esque era of utopia. Or else brand us all with the Mark of the Beast.
Snakes On A Plane might be a perfectly enjoyable little flick; I have no idea. I stayed away. The funny thing is, now that the movie bombed upon release, it actually has a chance to become the cult movie it strived so hard to be! People will rent it. It may eventually shed its skin and reinvent itself as a decent, campy movie that was unfairly maligned, attract a small crowd of rabid fans, and spawn games where shots are taken every time Sam yells something about those "motherf!#*in snakes!"
We shall see how it goes. Either way, the marketing people screwed up, and I will strike down upon them with great vengeance and furious anger! Do they deserve to die for their mishandling of the film? Yes, they do. And I hope they burn in hell!
Let's get real here. You don't want to know about me. You want to know about "me".
ABOUT MIKE JULIANELLE
more about mike julianelle
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
9.13.06 @ 8:35a
Here's the problem: I'm very suggestible. I don't take showers when I'm alone in the house (Psycho), I don't swim in the ocean anymore (Jaws) and if I see a bunch of rattlesnakes, moccasins, cobras, black mambas and whatnot on a plane, well, how am I gonna get to New York next time? I love constrictors, and have had a couple as much loved pets (red tailed boa named Hiss and rat snake named, what else, Ratzo), but those poisonous reptiles scare me almost to death. My daughter and I vowed we'd go see SoaP, but then we didn't. I don't know why. It just wasn't a priority. I'll get it from Netflix when it's out. Does anybody have a problem with that?
9.13.06 @ 10:58a
I haven't seen the movie. I'm barely even talking about the movie. I'm talking about the way it was handled, and the bogus way it tried to drum up a following. People were more into the concept than the actual film. You can't forcefeed a mass audience something that is, by definition, aimed at a subset.
9.13.06 @ 11:11a
Good thing nobody sent you one of the "personal" phone calls from Samual L. Jackson imploring you to go see the movie.
Bottle Rocket? NICE! I thought I was the only one who'd ever seen it. "Did you ever have a touch to lose, man?" Classic.
9.13.06 @ 11:15a
"I realized that not only did I not want to answer THAT question, I never wanted to answer another watersports question, or see any of these people again, for the rest of my life."
I DID get a phone call, and it was AWESOME.
9.13.06 @ 11:33a
Hehe, I got a phone call too. By virtue of said gimmick, there's no way SoaP can be classified as a cult flick- it's too well-financed and organized. I love anything that features Samuel L. Jackson in motherf***er mode, but even I know this ain't cult cinema.
My picks for "cult classics": among others, Heathers, Akira, and The Toxic Avenger.
9.13.06 @ 11:48a
What makes you think any studio cares about making a "cult" movies for a bunch of pedantic movie geeks? They want to make money. Okay here we go, you say SaoPs box office take was dissapointing, but it has grossed almost 50 million so far, not bad for a piece of crap movie. Usually as long as you merely break even in the theater the movies does very well financially because of the dvd and after market. The suffocating hype came mainly for free by internet fanfare, i think this was a very well marketed movie. The point of their marketing was to be a poser movie and it obviously worked on the internet "cult" movie geeks who started the brushfire and the fickle mainstream audience that fanned it. Do you think this movie would have ever been nearly as succesful if it was not for this marketing? Blair Witch is a huge exception to the rule, legit low budget cult movie that caught on and burning, but that was because there was something there, something different. Look at Big Fat Greeks, huge success by word of mouth, do you consider that a succefully marketed movie? Does that fall into your cult genre, or is the subject matter to alien for the 35 year virgin attached to the computer in his mother's basement. These movies were unexpected blockbusters but not because of their marketing, it was becuase of their content. SoaP never had a chance to become anything but a straight to DVD movie ala Iron Eagle 4 if not for the marketing. Oh and the cult crowd, are they not conformists themselves. Isn't that a necessary element? Otherwise there would not be any cult classics, just bad movies. Cult geeks are a joke, why would you dislike a movie because others have embraced it, or because it is "overhyped". It is as ridiculous as the meathead who watches the movie ten times just to stay up to date with fad quotes. Both are obviously lacking in some department if their opinions are driven by the likes and/or dislikes of others. Finally, back to the point, even though you don't think so, the marketing of this movie was done very well. Do you really think this movie would have had the legs of Blair Witch and made nearly as much as it already has if they didn't shove it down the publics throat? If so, I would get out of the marketing biz if i were you.
who's the master?
9.13.06 @ 12:05p
Paragraph breaks, please.
Regardless of what was spent, the movie's use of internet to create buzz and create word-of-mouth didn't result in anyone actually SEEING the movie.
It was being touted and counted on to be a blockbuster because of the buzz and it just didn't materialize, and I contend that that's partially due to a miscalculation in the kind of movie they were promoting and the kind of audience they were seeking vs. were likely to get, and in the fact that the marketing they used attracted attention to NOTHING BUT THE MARKETING and did not result in building an audience.
Yeah, the movie didn't cost much and the marketing budget wasn't high, but $50 million does not a blockbuster make, not after 3 weeks and not in a business in which your opening week gross is all that matters. Expectations were high for this movie to capitalize on what appeared to be a big fanbase, and it JUST DIDN'T HAPPEN.
Do a google search on the movie. You'll find 15 articles talking about how SoaP is primed to do HUGE business and be a big blockbuster all because of the internet. Um, I don't think so.
9.13.06 @ 12:20p
I got a phone call. It's still saved.
Also, while I didn't see the movie, I gotta say, it wasn't the hype that interested me at any point. It was the snakes. On a plane.
9.13.06 @ 12:28p
Adam, I agree. But the title was part of the problem. It created buzz and maybe some interest, but once someone heard the title, they had basically ALREADY SEEN THE MOVIE. It's a double-edged sword. You know what you're getting, but you also know there aren't any surprises.
9.13.06 @ 12:30p
That was the miscalculation of the media. You are comparing apples to oranges. When a movie like Water World spends ridiculous money on production and to promote itself and flops in the theatre, that is entirely different then a movie that get an early internet buzz then tries to capitlize on that.
We will never know what the movie would have done in the box office if they never marketed it and just left it alone. I honestly think it would not have done nearly as well.
Was there a chance it could have been released on limited screens, built an audience and became a mega success like VERY FEW other movies, yes. But put yourself in the shoes of the movie execs. You just spent 30 million to make the movie, do you cross your fingers and hope a bunch of "cult" geeks see it 30 times each, and it gains wider audience success when all the "cult flim" wannabes flock to the theater to learn the lines. Or, do you give up the slim chance that will happen and the incremental money it would earn by using the momentum already created and nailing down a pretty nice financial success out of it. I assure you they will always choose the later.
9.13.06 @ 12:33p
I heard they did try to change the title to flight 227 or something, sam l jax said there was no way he would be involved unless it was called snakes on a plane. that title had to be, no question about it.
9.13.06 @ 12:34p
Yep. The fact that it was snakes...on a plane... did me in, too. It could be an Academy contender and I still wouldn't have seen it. I had more fun watching SLJ promote the thing - that was entertaining enough.
And you know what? That was probably the point. I mean, come on, it's an "action" film at best, a horror film at worst, and yet it was better marketed than Hostel or Saw IV.
I honestly don't think it was trying to go cult - I think it was a corny premise and they all knew it, but they had fun with it. Friends I know that saw it said it wasn't as bad as one might think, but you aren't missing much if you don't see it.
That pretty much wraps up every horror flick I can think of.
A lot of good marketing campaigns support bad products. New Coke, for example. Pets.com
But if anything, the SoaP marketing campaign proves that no matter how good the advertising, you can pick people up and make them buy the product.
Yes, Mike, you got a phone call. But did I get a happy ha=ha e-mail in return? Noooo....
"There's nothing cult about conformity" should go on your Intrepid flyer.
9.13.06 @ 12:35p
You're right, the studios want the money. But I still contend that they went about it by promoting, or at least ALLOWING it to be promoted as, a cult movie. And I think that ended up being detrimental to their money-making goals.
They let the fans and Sam Jack highjack the movie and call it Snakes On a Plane, which defused as much interest as it drew, and immediately appealed to a small crowd that either likes B-movies or likes being part of a small crowd.
The marketing that was supposed to create buzz and drive profits ended up repelling the very audience that a movie called "Snakes On A Plane" could hope for.
Call it Flight 121, promote it as a horror/action flick, try to attract a wide audience, and see what happens. Giving it a cult title, marketing it to a cult base through the internet, succeeded in nothing but a small audience chatting in a vacuum, creating buzz about THE BUZZ, not about the actual movie.
9.13.06 @ 12:41p
So you're saying the marketing should have been more suspensful, not eluding to the major snake issue, have tons of people roll out the first weekend and let the buzz kill it after that?
9.13.06 @ 12:42p
$50 million is not a small audience. you are movies movies, i don't know the figures, but give me an approximate of how many movies come out each year, and what percentage make over 50 million. that is my whole arguement, you keep saying it ended up targeting a small b-movie audience and that it repelled the assumingly larger "cult" audience? i question your assumptions. give figures goddamnit!
9.13.06 @ 12:49p
$50 million dollars over a month is a bomb for a movie with blockbuster aspirations. And here is a quote that is a good illustration of the disconnect between the studios goals and the marketing hype:
"With all the expectations, you have to say we would be disappointed," said David Tuckerman, New Line's president of distribution. "But Snakes on a Plane did what tracking said it would, and it basically performed like a regular horror movie. When it was green-lighted, it didn't have all this hype with it. It was a regular movie that was going to do 35 or 40 million bucks."
And one more:
Months of media and Internet coverage over the bluntly descriptive yet ridiculous name, Snakes on a Plane, turned out to be nothing but hype, and the picture remained what it always was: an average horror genre picture for August.
"An average horror genre picture." Which is totally fine. But it's not what the marketing pushed for.
9.13.06 @ 12:58p
FYI, that $50M is its global take. Pirates 2 will break $1 Billion worldwide.
9.13.06 @ 1:06p
beats the 35-40 million expectation i guess. they overestimated the draw the marketing would produce, no doubt, but that doesn't mean it was bad marketing. If they had done nothing or marketed traditionally (which is more expensive) I doubt they would have fared any better. I think they did a good job with a bad product.
caveat to any fools reading this, i have no idea how much the movie sucks because i have yet to see it. doesn't say much since i see 1 movie a year in the theater. i WILL be netflixing it though, since i am the exact B-movie afficionado mike speaks of.
btw alex b, who hasn't seen heathers? if you want real "cult classics" see China O'brien 2, TC2000, or Rad. or maybe those are just B-movie crap.
9.13.06 @ 1:09p
Um, I'll take Option B.
9.13.06 @ 2:56p
I have a problem with the whole "cult" label. I mean, what defines it, really? Rocky Horror Picture Show was/is considered "cult" - but how many of us -
1)Know the premise
2)Know the songs, or at least "Sweet Transvestite"
3)Know what happens when it plays at the midnight theater
- even if we haven't seen the movie? So, because of mass consumption, is it still cult?
Or is cult something that remains underground, to a select few that strive to buck the mainstream?
Everyone claims to hate mainstream, but they suuuure want to ride the pontoon pleasure boat that floats on it. Because, come what may, mainstream exposure is still a measurement tool for success.
"An average horror genre picture." Which is totally fine. But it's not what the marketing pushed for."
Well, that depends. The marketing, while primarily done in jest, took a lot of chances that other movies/TV programs will soon copy. Some that could only be done with a tongue-in-cheek, bullshit movie like this one. So on one hand, it's brilliant.
On the other, they totally overstated their objective and overshot their target. Whoops. I know what you mean about the hype, but it proves that the hype, again, was more entertaining than the film. The hype could not quell the post-first-weekend "this totally sucks, even for a horror flick" vibe that circulated.
You still didn't thank me for your phone call, Mikey. :)
9.13.06 @ 3:06p
Whoa. I cited Heathers as a cult classic because it is one: a small film whose popularity grows by word-of-mouth. No one expected it to become popular, nor was it released with the same calculated objectives SoaP was. Heathers is an example of successful cult cinema that ultimately set trends instead of copying them. To knock it because of its success doesn't change the fact that it originated as a dark horse.
And hehe Adam, you saved the call?!
9.13.06 @ 3:08p
Tracey, I got one phone call, and the one I got was from, as Sam said, "my friend Patrick." Never got one from you!
9.13.06 @ 5:40p
Dammit! Knowing you didn't get it takes all the fun out of it! I e-mailed Heather for specifics and everything!
9.13.06 @ 5:43p
The same thing happened to me, I arranged for a few friends to get it and they didn't. Did it not work with voicemail or something?
9.13.06 @ 11:51p
"I still contend that they went about it by promoting, or at least ALLOWING it to be promoted as, a cult movie."
You know, from all the marketing I saw this film, I saw nothing of the sort that seemed to market the film as a "cult" movie. The previews did nothing to play up the campy nature of the film (and it WAS pretty silly in parts), instead trying to pass it off as a serious action roller-coaster ride. Then you've got Jackson going on talk shows saying how this will be the "best damn film ever". Of course he was being silly. He knew what a silly premise it was. I don't believe he intended to promote it as a cult film. Then again, there's no way in hell a film can be looked at as "cult" when it's being talked about by many a blogger.
"They let the fans and Sam Jack highjack the movie and call it Snakes On a Plane...Call it Flight 121, promote it as a horror/action flick, try to attract a wide audience, and see what happens."
If I recall correctly, it was only Jackson who wanted the name to remain the same. He thought (and I agree with him) that Pacific Flight 121 is a VERY generic name for a film. When you look at a name like that, it has no punch and no indication of what the plot is, which in my opinion is a crucial part of making a film. You have to be able to grab the audience's attention.
"Giving it a cult title, marketing it to a cult base through the internet, succeeded in nothing but a small audience chatting in a vacuum, creating buzz about THE BUZZ, not about the actual movie."
Very true, but I think people neglected to go because the filmmakers had already spoiled the plot anyway. I went to see SOAP knowing exactly what I was going to get, and I wasn't disappointed. If you go in expecting something more than a silly action-comedy romp (and I think a lot of people did), you will think the film is idiotic, but that's what the film is. Of course it's supposed to be stupid.
9.14.06 @ 1:40p
Y'know, it's worse than that - there was even RHPS-type audience responses to the movie worked up for it before it was even released.
The thing that I found the dumbest of all about SoaP is that even the people who were caught up in it told me things like this:
"Oh, dude. I'm sure it's gonna suck.. but come on... SNAKES ON A PLANE!"
Yeah.. and? So, you know it's going to suck. You know it's nothing by hype, but you're going to go all ga-ga on it, anyway?
It's all final proof at just how desperate people are to feel cool. People just want to feel like they're part of something larger than themselves.
It's why most people go to church.
9.14.06 @ 1:54p
Well, I go to church, but I'm not stupid enough to go see Snakes on a Plane.
9.14.06 @ 1:58p
Way to twist that around.
9.14.06 @ 2:03p
I like church more than SoaP also.
I think the title is about the only thing this one had going for it. There's no telling how much less money it would have done as a true, straight-up-the-middle B-movie.
The buzz was about the buzz... we got what we needed out of it without seeing the movie. The movie itself became an afterthought.
9.14.06 @ 2:43p
Oy vey. I wasn't equating church to SoaP. I was equating church to the Internet.
It was a JOKE, people. RELAX!
9.14.06 @ 2:46p
I like the internet better than Church AND SoaP AND washing myself with actual SOAP!
9.14.06 @ 3:05p
All joking aside, I agree with Erik. Just because something that is a piece of crap WINKS at you to indicate that yes, it knows it's a piece of crap, doesn't mean it's any LESS of a piece of crap!
SoaP is a B-movie that tricked people (or at least tried to trick people) into thinking that because it admitted its idiocy it was somehow special - wow, it's really going for broke, admitting how stupid it is! yay! - when in reality it was nothing but a generic B-movie.
Luckily, most everyone seemed to have a good time, tricking the studio and media into thinking they bought it and would pay for it when when it came down to it, they revealed themselves to be a bit more savvy than they were expected to be.
9.14.06 @ 3:13p
Yeah.. that's exactly it. It's the idea that, "I know it's dumb, but it's good dumb." (Which is exactly what cult B-movies are all about, right?) based solely on the existence of some sort of social phenomenon based entirely on the fact that the title of the movie explains the plot.
I doubt anybody felt this way about Angels in the Outfield.
9.14.06 @ 3:30p
That's because it wasn't Angels in the Motherf*#!kin' Outfield.
9.14.06 @ 3:45p
And that, Russ, is the point!
Market Angels with that swear, act like the audience is in on some outrageous joke that only the edgiest, savviest people truly GET, and build the buzz around that, and you've got Snakes On A Plane.
The failure of the supposed internet fanbase to back up the buzz isn't too blame for its meager take, it was the studios and the marketer's simple underestimation of that fanbase. They weren't fans of the movie as much as they were fans of the hype. And thankfully they didn't fall prey to it beyond that.
9.14.06 @ 4:26p
No steak, please; just the sizzle for us!
9.15.06 @ 1:11p
That was the problem as far as I'm concerned. Like I said earlier, the buzz was about the buzz, not about the movie. You got all the mileage and enjoyment you needed out of sending or receiving the voice mail; the movie was, and continues to be, beside the point.