Inflated Expectations: 10 Movies That Would Have Done Better if Geeks and Fanboys Ruled the World

After a second disappointing weekend at the box office for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, it’s becoming clear that despite strong reviews and good word of mouth, this movie is just not finding an audience on the big screen. Perhaps it was a matter of poor timing or lackluster marketing, but the more likely explanation seems to be that it is a niche film that only appeals to a select group of people. That doesn’t make it a bad movie, but it is definitely frustrating for those people who did see it and loved it and can’t understand why everyone else doesn’t feel the same way.

It’s not the first time a movie has been hyped up like crazy on the internet only to fizzle out at the box office. This is a phenomenon that has been happening quite frequently over the last few years, where online buzz and viral marketing overwhelm the blogosphere and create the illusion that the whole world is anticipating a movie when, in actuality, the average joe has not even heard of it. Let’s take a look at ten other movies that seemed like surefire hits among geeks and fanboys, but simply failed to reach their full potential at the box office.

10. Adventureland

Opening Weekend: 5.7 million
Worldwide Gross: 17.1 million

The marketing campaign for Adventureland flaunted the fact that it was from the same director as Superbad, but ultimately this was not a broad teen sex comedy and casual moviegoers could sense the difference. Despite gushing reviews from bloggers and critics, the movie’s box office numbers were a major disappointment, especially when you consider that it stars both Kristen Stewart and Ryan Reynolds. It probably didn’t help that it opened against Fast and Furious but played in half as many theatres.

9. Slither

Opening Weekend: 3.8 million
Worldwide Gross: 12.8 million

There was no way this was ever going to be a major blockbuster, but based on the performance of gruesome horror movies like Hostel earlier in the year, some thought that James Gunn’s Slither might be a medium-sized hit. Its disastrous $3.8 million opening weekend only reinforced the fact that horror-comedy is strictly a cult phenomenon that rarely appeals to the masses. Geeks also really got behind the film thanks to the fact that it starred Nathan Fillion of Firefly fame, but alas, it disappeared from theatres in the blink of an eye.

8. Kick-Ass

Opening Weekend: 19.8 million
Worldwide Gross: 96 million

There’s been a lot of debate this year over whether or not Kick-Ass failed at the box office. Considering that it was shot as an independent film for $30-40 million, it’s safe to say that it made its money back, but the movie also just barely won its opening weekend by edging out How to Train Your Dragon, which had already been in theatres for three weeks prior. The R-rating was definitely a factor, but now Kick-Ass has already been surpassed by other R-rated movies released later in the year such as Predators and The Expendables. For a movie that was consistently highlighted online as one of the most anticipated movies of the year, not many people seemed to show up for it.

7. Fantastic Mr. Fox

Opening Weekend: 6.9 million
Worldwide Gross: 46.2 million

Despite the fanatical cult following that Wes Anderson has developed over the years, his biggest hit thus far has been The Royal Tenenbaums, which made just $71 million worldwide. He primarily delivers art house films that have limited theatrical runs, but many thought Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on a beloved children’s book, was his first real shot at a mainstream hit. Reviews were stellar, but sadly, stop motion animation, quirky humour and dysfunctional family dynamics did not bring in hordes of parents with their children over the Thanksgiving weekend. They all went to see Old Dogs instead.

6. Watchmen

Opening Weekend: 55.2 million
Worldwide Gross: 185.2 million

Easily the highest grossing movie on this list, it’s hard to call Zack Snyder’s Watchmen a financial failure, but it definitely didn’t live up to its potential either. Hailed as one of the greatest graphic novels ever made, it didn’t come close to generating the same revenue as any of the other major comic book movies in recent years. Longtime comic book fans may have been excited, but no one else had a clue what it was. All they knew is that there was a naked glowing blue guy in it. There were a lot of other things working against Watchmen too (an R-rating, long running time, etc.) but Snyder’s previous film 300 made $456 million worldwide on a much smaller budget. Go figure.

5. Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Opening Weekend: 10 million
Worldwide Gross: 42 million

Kevin Smith’s movies have never done all that well theatrically, instead they usually make the majority of their money on home video. Zack and Miri Make a Porno, however, had fairly high expectations placed on it due to the fact that it starred Seth Rogen, who had just racked up a ton of money the year before with both Knocked Up and Superbad. Smith’s rabid online fanbase was also eager to see it, but when it finally hit theatres over the Halloween weekend in 2008, it was met with the sound of crickets. Poor timing and problematic marketing have been blamed, but the truth is, it did about the same business as Kevin Smith’s last few movies. The expectations just happened to be blown out of proportion.

4. Grindhouse

Opening Weekend: 11.5 million
Worldwide Gross: 25.4 million

How could such a potentially awesome theatrical experience end up being seen by so few people? Quentin Tarantino may be one of the most worshiped filmmakers of the past two decades, but that doesn’t mean the average moviegoer will always follow him wherever he goes. When he teamed up with Robert Rodriguez for a double bill of sleazy b-movies of the ’60s and ’70s, everyone assumed that The Weinstein Company had a massive hit on their hands. As it turns out, audiences were scared off by the extended running time and the old school aesthetic, and the movie ended up grossing less than half of its production budget. The Weinsteins still haven’t fully recovered from this bomb.

3. Children of Men

Opening Weekend: 10.1 million
Worldwide Gross: 69.9 million

Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men was probably never destined for total box office domination, but with plenty of early praise from critics and an intriguing near future science-fiction story, a certain subset of very vocal cinephiles were dying to see this back in 2006. Some fans even kickstarted an online campaign to try and get the movie an Oscar nomination. It opened wide in January of 2007 with very little in the way of marketing, and still ended up getting lost in the shuffle of feel good holiday blockbusters like Night at the Museum and The Pursuit of Happyness. Dystopian sci-fi stories that lack flashy special effects are not an easy sell, and as you might expect, Children of Men never made its money back.

2. Snakes on a Plane

Opening Weekend: 13.8 million
Worldwide Gross: 62 million

Over the past few years, Snakes on a Plane has become the classic case study for a movie that manages to generate an insanely high level of interest across the internet, only to have that interest fail to translate to real dollars. Part of the problem is that the movie was embraced by so many bloggers ironically based primarily on the goofy title, but in the end, they couldn’t be bothered to actually sit through it. Although it probably would have been a perfect fit for a direct-to-video release, all the hype pushed it to play on nearly 5000 screens, and the general public’s aversion to the horror-comedy genre doomed it to a disappointing payout. $13.8 million is not a terrible opening weekend, but well below the internet-fueled expectations.

1. Serenity

Opening Weekend: 10 million
Worldwide Gross: 38.8 million

It still seems a bit crazy that Joss Whedon was able to convince someone to greenlight a movie based on a recently canceled TV series with poor ratings, but I’m guessing that strong DVD sales and a die hard fanbase had something to do with it. Either way, the online enthusiasm for Serenity was unlike anything I have seen before, with many proclaiming it to be the second coming of science-fiction and some even saying it would be the next Star Wars. Unfortunately Joss Whedon did not spawn the same pop culture phenomenon that George Lucas did all those years ago, ending up with a disappointing $10 million opening instead (okay, so that was actually more than Star Wars made in its first weekend back in 1977). Even with crazed Firefly fans buying extra tickets and trying to force them on strangers at multiplexes, however, they still could not convince the rest of the world to care, and it grossed less than $40 million worldwide. Unfair? Perhaps, but every now and then the geeks and fanboys of the world need a little reminder that they are outsiders for a reason, and the rest of the population does not always operate on the same wavelength. And really, would they want it any other way?

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  • Great article.

  • Kurt

    Mr. Nobody
    The Big Lebowski
    The Host
    Let The Right One In
    Tank Girl

  • Nate

    Fucking Vampires Suck had a better opening than Serenity. That’s some kind of crime.

  • Chris

    Great article, totally agreed except for Adventureland (which I actually found kind of boring).

  • I find the strange thing about these films is that they only made this much because fanboys were seeing them over and over again.

    @kurt: the host and let the right one in are foreign films, which never make much money

  • @Kurt,

    Primer is not among this group. It cost nothing to make, and was not hyped as the next big movie. It’s done very well for a movie that no one has heard of.

  • BigHungry

    I so wish Serenity would of ruled the box office and a sequel would of come from it, or a STNG tv show. STNG = Serenity The Next Generation.

  • BigHungry

    ^ – Oh I guess this makes me a geek but I did not see “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” so mabe just mabee… I am safe…. Nope.

  • Maopheus

    This article does bring up an interesting perspective now on film marketing. I guess geeks and fanboys have always existed, ever since there were enthusiast movie magazines and fan clubs, but their influence was much smaller. News trickled out much more slowly and youth marketing was non-existent. Even into the ’90’s, you only had stuff like Starlog or Fangoria and it was definitely on the fringe. Without the Interweb, this whole subject might not even exist. The whole marketing of a movie like Snakes on a Plane wouldn’t exist. But maybe the fact that it didn’t really pan out may have put the scare into the studios. Viral marketing may have its limits. Not that all of these movies utilized viral marketing, but some did. But I think that one thing this article shows is that unlike the music industry which has been Balkanized for a decade at least, movies still need that broad, mainstream appeal to be really successful.
    And another thing about Watchmen. When the trailer first came out, it was awesome but I though that they erred in saying that it was based on a graphic novel, because I think that Joe and Jane Average have no clue what a graphic novel is. They shouldn’t have relied on that.

  • Kurt: I thought about a few of those (in particular, Moon) but I decided to stick with movies that had come out in wide release. Still haven’t seen Mr. Nobody… is that out on DVD yet?

  • Jonny Ashley

    I love this article, and I revere these directors for the most part. It takes a cold sacrifice to release a good movie foremost and a box-office hit second. There’s just way too much formulated surefire-hit retard candy out there.

  • Mike

    this makes me depressed…sigh.

    these movies make nothing and twilight makes a billion effing dollars.

  • Jose

    ^^ agree the worst movies ever make a jillion brazilian dollars and this awesome list makes hardly any money. But hey i was on the fence whether i was a geek and since i have all these movies on dvd then yeah thanks for clearing that up for me Filmjunk :)

  • shanesbeard

    Wow. Those numbers blew me away. Had no idea that some of these flicks made so little in their big-screen life. It is pretty depressing when Michael Bay can take a dump and the footage would make more than most of them on this list.

  • Werner

    Aren’t the geeks and fanboys those who like to download stuff….and lots of it….

    Above movies have lots of Seeds and Peers…just saying.

  • Mike

    alright…did a sad calculation…all ten of these movies earned 592.4 Million combined.

    Twilight Eclipse’s global number is currently $653,992,615.

    you can almost understand why the studios do what they do, if all 10 of these movies can’t even come within $50 Million of this behemoth.

  • Primal


    Even if nerds & fanboys ruled the world, foreign films will still make the same amount of money. Your other choices are sound, but I still haven’t seen Mr. Nobody. I need the resident nerds to release it in L.A. now if they haven’t already.

  • Ray

    I really liked Adventureland, I was bemused as to why it didn’t do better. I enjoyed all those films, except for Zak and Miri and Snakes, Snakes I haven’t see and Zak and Miri make a porno was one of the worst films I have ever seen. Kevin Smith is an awful director, regardless of his fan boy following.

  • S.Wilkins

    perfect article. Scott Pilgrim was probably easily the best movie released this year so far and its gettin slept on badly. Watchmen and Adventureland coulda been nixxed from the list tho. both were pretty lousy

  • KeithTalent

    The thing about geeks and fanboys is they relish the exclusivity and being able to laud over the common folk with all of their awesome unknown films, or whatever other form of media, that the general public “just doesn’t get”. If all of these films made hundreds of millions of dollars and became part of common society’s social fabric, then the fanboys’ heads would explode, dirtying their ironic t-shirts.

    That said Mr. Nobody is the best film I have seen this year. Amazing, and I’m so happy I managed to catch it in the theatre. I’m only said I did not get a chance to see it a second time before it’s extremely brief run ended here.

  • DruSan

    I’m a fan of Kevin Smith’s but I’ve become resigned to the fact that his films just do not appeal to the mass market. They do ok the first weekend, without taking first place in the rankings, then disappear from the time 10 by the third week of release.

    I was also disappointed by the box office for Serenity and Watchmen. Everybody who wanted to see them went the first weekend, and then they fell off the radar.

  • Chappy42

    Fantastic Mr. Fox is my choice from the list

  • wikus

    Fantastic mr Fox was shit.

  • jamie

    your article was an interesting read.. and i agree for the most part.. except when it comes to serenity..i blame the poor box office on universal. i had never heard of nor had seen one promo for serenity.. and i go to the movies at least 1 to 2 a month..the only reason i even found out about it was that at the time i worked part time at a video store. when it came out i took it home to watch it…absolutely loved it have since watched the tv show and for the life of me can’t figure out why it was cancelled… if the advertisesing was better the box office results might not have suffered as much…but if they released a serenity 2 now… they would make a killing..but no instead we get pink panther 2 and piranha 3d…a 4 resident evils. 2 was enough.. and crack 2..

  • Mike

    In the end, it doesn’t really matter if the general population went and saw these movies. It is their loss. For those of us lucky enough to know about these great movies, the fun part is to introduce them to our friends and watch the movies again for the first time through their eyes. Each time I can get a friend to watch Kick Ass, I enjoy it as much as I did when I saw it the first time. And besides, do we really want to see Zack and Miri make a Porno part 2. Thats what would have happened if it were a huge success. I luv Ya Mr. Smith, give that penis a sandwich….

  • Bluegrasslass

    I was pretty excited about kick-Ass – until I found out Nicholas ‘I can’t act look at my ugly mug’ Cage was in it. Now I never want to see it. That guy is anathema to films.

  • transporter1968

    While I’ll give you that some of these films are not all that they were expected to be.Kick Ass and Scott Pilgrim are two of the most viewed blurays at my house.And I can’t understand how I’m supposed to go with my wife to see “Twilight” which is clearly for 14 year old girls.And watch the meyers chic piss all over vampire lore mixed with waaaaaaay too much love story, but those same 14 year old girls (AKA the bitches in my office were I work) can’t go down the path of geeks for 5 minutes and try to understand my favorite movie ever Scott Pilgrim.I guess big bang theory isn’t having the affect I thought it was.

  • Gottarhyme

    As I sit and read this list, I realise why geeks do NOT rule the world! I LOVED Fantastic Mr. Fox, WATCHMEN, and SERENITY…mainly because those films had fantastic scripts! Story telling is basically why I GO to the movies!And for the record, I am NOT a geek, but an attractive 36’25’36’ female with green eyes and brunette hair. I also happen to enjoy science fiction film. I also read. Does that make me a geek or a nerd? Or just someone normal with good taste?