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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?