Instead of the producers giving us a thrilling movie about the Mob looking to kill a witness under protection by loading a plane with poisonous snakes, they delivered ordinary salted peanuts and pretzels. This doesn't go down well for the hearty summertime entertainment appetite.
The buildup for the theatrical movie "Snakes on a Plane" was seemingly the equivalent of a film about to do a massive $100 million or more in box office revenue for its first weekend--given all the hype of the press in touting the Internet.
Instead, the New Line Cinema movie only grabbed $15 million--enough to win the weekend but hardly the out-of-nowhere blockbuster media and marketing professionals were anticipating.
Internet buzz for the movie was created over a year ago when "Snakes" screenwriter Josh Friedman praised "Snakes" star Samuel L. Jackson for threatening to quit the movie when the studio considered changing the title. All of this snowballed. You would have thought this was to be the second coming of "Blair Witch Project."
All of which goes to show what the Internet is--and what it isn't--when it comes to entertainment marketing. Think about "Blair Witch Project," which went on to gross some $140 million in U.S. box office receipts in 1999. A lot was made about the movie's Internet buzz back then, when presumably the Internet had half the power of what it does today.
The press didn't want to miss another "Blair Witch" or even another "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," which pulled in nearly twice that of "Witch" at $241 million in 2002. The former's success was pinned to Internet buzz marketing; the later, to just word-of-mouth marketing.
"Snake"'s storyline was a piece of over-the-top, frivolous summer fun. Reviews said the movie pretty much came in as expected. Still, the film underwhelmed at the box office. New Line was counting on at least a $20 million-plus initial weekend for "Snakes," and came up about $5 million to $7 million short.
Instead of counting on the free buzz of the Internet, New Line would have done better by spending more money on traditional media and marketing--such as with television, for example--or running different creative.
Brandon Grey, film analyst of movie business TV site, boxofficemojo.com, said in press reports that no amount of Internet buzz is going to fool theaters-goers--especially when a film is long on buzz, and short on a story. I'd add one more thing: No amount of Internet buzz will put butts in seats, unless the marketing--with video attached--can sell a storyline.
The Internet still matters in theatrical marketing--especially to the core audience of young adults and teens. But "Snakes" points up a telling tale: as magical as the Internet is for entertainment marketing professionals, you still need compelling products and the right tools to sell them.
As venomous as snakes are, movies may still lack bite. You'd be better off chewing on a pretzel.