'Snakes' on a Hype Hangover

You've heard the jokes, bought the T-shirts and laughed at the Internet parodies, but would you still see the movie? "Snakes on a Plane" just may simply have suffered from too much buzz -- or perhaps moviegoers never expected anything more than a hysterically funny title

After months of hype, the Samuel L. Jackson thriller emerged from its opening weekend as No. 1 at the box office. But it was a rather anemic victory. With estimated ticket sales of just $15.3 million, it just barely squeaked past Will Ferrell's "Talladega Nights," now in its third week.

Moreover, had the film not opened on Thursday, when it earned more than $1 million, it would have finished in second place.

Certainly, in the months leading up to its release, no one expected the $30 million movie to become such a sensation simply because of its campy name. Now, some film experts believe the film has lost its underground "cool factor."

"'Snakes on a Plane' stopped being hip months ago, probably around the first time it got mentioned on 'The Tonight Show.' Anything that's on the radar of Jay Leno is instantly unhip," says film critic Joshua Tyler of CinemaBlend.com.

"The trendy types who were into it at first have long since rethought their position and are already boycotting."

Was the Public Laughing at the Film, Or With It?

Perhaps film studio New Line Cinema got over-enthusiastic when "Snakes" became an Internet obsession. "I think the hype was misunderstood. People were eager to laugh at it; they weren't necessarily eager to see it," says Devin Faraci of film site CHUD.com

"It was seen by many as a corny idea rather than something they wanted to spend $10 and two hours watching. To put it in schoolyard terms, they were laughing at the film, not with the film."

Given its modest budget, New Line says the film is already on its way to turn a healthy profit, and the attention "Snakes" garnered in the week leading up to its release became the talk of Hollywood.

Other movies, notably "The Blair Witch Project" a few summers ago, developed a self-generating Internet buzz, but it's a hard force to harness -- or measure.

"I think people were more excited about the marketing than the actual movie," says Paul Dergarabedian of Exhibitor Relations, a leading box office research firm. "New Line did not set out to create this Internet buzz. That's actually a marketer's dream, but when marketing translates into awareness but does not inspire people to get out from behind their computers and into the theater, that's a problem."

Whack-a-Snake: Studio Sidesteps Critics

Perhaps the public was expecting "Snakes" to bomb when it was not screened for critics. To escape the impact of bad reviews, film studios decline to show some films to critics at advanced screenings.

But "Snakes" actually got surprisingly good reviews. "Good Morning America's" Joel Siegel attended the first New York City showing of the film and gave the film a "B" grade, which is higher than what he gave M. Night Shyamalan's "Lady in the Water" or Owen Wilson's "You, Me and Dupree."

"This is a good-looking film, and Jackson is just so much fun to watch," Siegel wrote in his online review. "The other horror films that are out there? This one's a slither above them all."

If "Snakes" didn't suffer from overhype, perhaps it suffered because of current events. The release of the film followed reports of a major terror plot involving airplanes.

"People want escapism when they go to these kinds of movies. They feel so uneasy about air travel right now, the studio might have considered delaying the release," says Bob Madison, a science fiction historian and president of Dinoship Publishing.

"If you have to be worried about taking shampoo in your luggage, you don't even want to think about snakes -- or anything else -- smuggled on a plane."