Scott Pilgrim Vs Box Office "Failure"

August 16, 2010 by Simon Kinnear in Opinion with 2 Comments

It’s a day of mourning for movie lovers and comic book geeks alike today, with the news that Scott Pilgrim Vs The World only made around $10 million dollars on its opening weekend.

Or, to put it another way, get a fucking grip.

It’s time this ‘opening weekend’ madness ended.  Now.  It might be the execs’ way of working out whether they’ll still be in a job by Tuesday, but it simply isn’t a meaningful barometer of a film’s real success. 

Especially not a medium-budget, niche-appeal movie like Scott Pilgrim, which was never going to generate the mega-bucks of a summer blockbuster.  The God’s-to-honest truth is that – whatever its evangelical fanbase might think – Scott Pilgrim isn’t a ‘known’ property in the way that, say, Batman is. The accolades that the comics got, or the cult kudos for Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, mean nothing. With the best will in the world, to most people it’s just another film starring him out of Juno… and the opening weekend figures are comparable to Michael Cera’s recent leading roles (a tad shy of the $11 million Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist got, but better than Youth in Revolt‘s $6 million). OK, so Cera’s biggest hit, Superbad, opened with $33 million, but that had zero competition, plus the post-Knocked Up buzz of Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill.

If anything, $10 million is actually fantastic for a film debuting in a weekend dominated by big hitters for the lads (Stallone’s Dirtier Dozen, aka The Expendables) and the chicks (new Julia Roberts romcon Eat Pray Love).  There’s some very astute counter-programming going on here, to capture the interest of the folk in the middle.  As a hip, wry, unorthodox date movie, it’s the ideal compromise between Sly and Julia.

Scott Pilgrim is likely to thrive on word-of-mouth, repeat viewings and the drip-drip-drip of Blu-ray and DVD sales.  The film will recoup its budget (apparently around the $60 million mark) easily.  More importantly, it will last, continuing to play in college towns and selling to new generations just as the so-called failures of previous generations did. Dazed and Confused springs to mind as a classic example.  Sure, its cinema release was appallingly handled by a studio that didn’t know what to do with it, but a grassroots fanbase spread the word and it became a ‘hit’ after the fact.  It just took a little longer, is all.

And that was in 1993, before the Internet was a viable concern for most folk.  Scott Pilgrim has opportunities online for word-of-mouth that Richard Linklater could only dream about…but therein lies a very real danger.

What’s really going on here, of course, is that the buzz from bloggers has set unrealistic expectations.  In the cosy online cocoon of Twitter, it’s been impossible to hear about anything other than Scott Pilgrim for weeks, because of the ballooning Venn diagram mid-section between the cinema and comic fraternities, both of whom have blown increasingly hot air into the bubble.  For fans of Pilgrim and Wright alike, the film’s success has been a fait accompli, so $10 million really does start to feel like the world has caved in.

Trouble is, if people now start reading words like failure, they’ll start to believe it.  The collapsing buzz, the sheer sense of dejection from the guys who have been cheerleading and campaigning the past few weeks and months, will have a corrosive effect on the film’s long-term prospects.  So, if you liked the film, stop whining about how few people went this weekend and reinforce the message that you went to see it, you enjoyed it… so why not give it a go next weekend?

Too many films have been damned already by the Monday morning spreadsheets.  It’s time to stop listening to the doom-mongering of Hollywood bean-counters, and start telling it from the heart.

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  1. RebeccaAug 16, 2010 at 11:53 amReply

    I'm looking forward to seeing it when it's out in the UK. I think you're right about unrealistic expectations in relation to takings but also this irritating trend to write a film off if it's not top of the chart after one weekend -I rarely get to see films in their opening weekend and am getting increasingly fed up with films 'disappearing' after a couple of weeks because someone thinks they're not doing enough business (or not doing enough business quick enough).

  2. The Incredible SuitAug 17, 2010 at 3:00 pmReply

    Man you're good. You should, like, write for a magazine or something.

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