Here’s the spin you’re going to be reading about Snakes on a Plane’s underperforming opening weekend: internet buzz doesn’t equal box office. It’s the easy answer to draw from the situation, because the film’s “cult” started on the web a couple of years ago, and that fanbase was an important part of New Line’s marketing campaign. Hell, in a lot of ways that was the marketing campaign, and it certainly was the main story whenever you read anything about Snakes. But the problem is that the idea that the internet is somehow to blame for Snakes’ underperformance is sheer nonsense, borne completely out of mainstream media’s utter lack of understanding about the online buzz for Snakes.
Here’s the big secret: nobody who was in on the early buzz was looking forward to this movie. The discussion and the jokes weren’t about the movie but about the absurdity of the whole thing. No one who was in on the joke early on felt that they needed to see a movie called Snakes on a Plane. They just couldn’t believe how hilarious it was that someone was making a movie called Snakes on a Plane.
But of course the message was somehow lost. Maybe our sarcasm was too dry. At any rate, the print media and New Line themselves got the wrong idea: people were slavering to see this movie. And so New Line maneuvered the movie as the Cult Sensation the Internet created and the Entertainment Weeklys of the world were all too happy (and quite intellectually lazy enough) to go along with it. Hey, it made for good copy.
What’s funny is that Snakes’ modest showing now positions it to be a legitimate cult movie. You see, a cult movie can’t be touted as such by the studio. It can’t be designated as one before release by glossy Time-Warner magazines. And it certainly can’t be a big hit. By not breaking through to the mainstream, Snakes may actually become the cult movie New Line always thought it would be.
There is one angle on Snakes’ opening weekend that you may be able to blame on the internet: by the time the movie opened, the joke was done. It had been so driven into the ground over the last year and a half that by the time the mainstream media picked up on it, the whole thing felt as overdone as Edward Woodward at the end of Wicker Man. The movie was simply released too late, long after the buzz had turned into a boring drone. But really, that’s all New Line’s fault. It’s their fault for making the film be PG-13 in the first place, and then going in for reshoots to bump it to an R – and going into reshoots seven months after the SOAP mania had really begun to get widespread, with Mr. Beaks’ seminal Samuel L Jackson interview at Collider.com (the one where Jackson talked about how he hated the then-current title change to Pacific Flight 121). If New Line had struck sooner they could have gotten the film out in the spring, where it was supposed to land in the first place, and they would have hit while the iron is hot.
So what’s the lesson here? It’s that we live in a world where the lifecycle of buzz is faster than ever, and certainly faster than the production and post time for a major motion picture. And it’s also that irony and sarcasm on the internet can really mess with the heads of studio marketing types. Sorry about that, guys.