Would Cloverfield have worked today? Of course by “work” I mean use a left-field trailer release and hardcore secrecy-based viral campaign to lead into a solid $40m opening and then “eh” it’s way to barely twice that? Perhaps not- perhaps that was the last bat before twitter became whatever it is and the Facebook “like” button turned all over our profiles into constantly churning fire-hoses of media minutiae. Is that what’s changed? Or was that a one-bust kind of nut? Or could there be very similar and successful approaches to films in the future, as long as they’re pulled off correctly? This is something that’s hard to call, but my gut tells me Cloverfield (just barely) got away with something we won’t see much of anymore, and certainly not from Bad Robot.
Regardless, it’s clear the Super 8 path of simultaneously marketing mystery and a building up a monster reveal while selling old-school Amblin adventure has not led to great returns. Despite a Super Bowl kick-off spot and campaign to match most any summer blockbuster, the film has not caught on as the EVENT that everyone involved expected. Spielberg’s name goes a long way with the moviegoing public, but Spielberg’s films dont come wrapped in all this mystery shit, and a big sloppy homage to his work from 30 years ago offers little additional traction. As for Abrams- he’s a brand to the nerds, but to the mainstream he’s a guy with a name that’s occasionally popped up next to a lot of very different, occasionally interesting things. This is JJ’s first feature that doesn’t come with some brand recognition, so a $25-$35m opening is going to feel like an underperformance no matter what, even if the studio and the early enthusiasts are already spinning expectations towards a slow-opening and long legs.
From where I sit, the schizophrenic nature of the marketing is actually a pretty strong metaphor for the nature of the film. It’s a story that is struggling to be two different things, and while both things are potentially awesome (and even sometimes at the same time), they aren’t made to complement each other and thus drag each other down. Hindsight shows that to pull off the legitimately scary monster movie / kid’s adventure film correctly, the adult drama would needed to have been ditched. Or that element would need to be strengthened and the monster element adjusted, or I dunno. Super 8 could have been great, and instead it just works. It will not matter in 20 years, and it’s not likely to make much of an impact this summer.
The one thing the film has in its corner though –and this is definitely huge– is that its momentum is undeniable, and it is an in-the-moment crowd-pleaser. Paramount has scrambled all units and bent over backwards in the last 7 days to get this film in front of eyes, and that’s because they know that people who see it pretty much like it. In this way Abrams really did nail the populist wonder of 80s Amblin, and that will at least do for a good showing in the twitterverse, and maybe even a decent couple of following weekends.
If Super 8 truly falls flat and the general goodwill of X-Men propels it to some unprecedented second weekend success, the mutants could hold number one. In reality though, the house that Xavier built is about to learn a lesson that Super 8 will learn next weekend: blockbuster legs are gonna be hard to come by this year. Kung Fu Panda and The Hangover will continue to drop steeper than they’d like, though The Hangover II still has its initial blowout to coast on as it zips past $200m this weekend (tonight, actually). No way it makes it to the $277m of the first film in the states, but it could come within spitting distance of the same overall total. Panda will at least blip into number three with those family legs, so there’s that (and toys, so many toys). Pirates 4 will yeah or whatever.
Super 8 ….. $34,000,000
X-Men: First Class ….. $25,000,000
Kung Fu Panda ….. $15,000,000
The Hangover ….. $14,500,000
Pirates 4 ….. $9,500,000
Come back Sunday to wonder what the fuck I was thinking with me.