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Your Fears About Hollywood Overreacting to Scott Pilgrim’s Bad Box Office May Be Justified

With a weekend box office of $10.5 million, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which cost about $60 million to make, had the alarmingly bad opening that fans feared it would. While a few (generally older) critics slammed it, it was really a stellar movie, and one needn’t have read the graphic novels it’s based on (I didn’t) to appreciate it.

There are plenty of theories as to why such a buzzed-about, well-marketed, solid movie performed as weakly at the box office as it did: CinemaBlend surmises that it existed in a no-man’s land, with people above 30 not ‘getting’ it, but people too far below 30 not ‘getting’ the retro gaming references either; it being a geek movie that most geeks don’t actually relate to (“This is a movie about a slacker musician whose biggest problem is choosing which of the two hot girls he’s dating he most wants to sleep with”); and, lastly, the ‘everyone hates Michael Cera’ hypothesis, which I don’t entirely buy, but which is widespread enough that it has to be based on some reality.

In some respects, it doesn’t matter why; what matters is the aftermath. Hollywood’s backlash against ‘geek’ properties without a hit-you-over-the-head mainstream hook could be just as bad as we fear.

The Hollywood Reporter recently chitchatted with lots of unnamed Hollywood “executives” and “industryites” about Scott Pilgrim‘s box office, and the reaction was a consistent one: Geeks are a fickle audience, and Scott Pilgrim was too weird. If only it had been more of a “date movie”!

  • “They made a movie that was too niche, too geeky and too hipstery,” an exec at a rival studio said. “You can’t count on the comic to draw the audience.”
  • “If that film had been made for $15 milion-$20 million, nobody would be crying,” an executive at a rival studio said Monday. “But you have an offbeat movie with an offbeat title starring somebody who is sort of a niche-targeted guy to begin with.”
  • One film producer suggested the pic would have been better served offering more of a date-movie vibe and leaning less on “geeky, kung fu movie” elements.

As Rich Johnston of Bleeding Cool points out, Kick-Ass, another geek movie with a disappointing box office performance, could be a template for an ultimate Scott Pilgrim win:

Kick-Ass came out in North America last week. And Kick-Ass blasted into number one, on DVD, on BluRay, on iTunes download, Zune and Sony/Playstation platforms. It gave the Kick-Ass studio Lionsgate its biggest digital week’s performance for any movie to date. It may have had to pull all sorts of dodgy statistics to claim number one for the week it debuted in the cinema, but there was no need here. But that’s not where the achievements end.

More people bought the DVD compared to how many saw it in cinemas than any other major released of the quarter, something Lionsgate has been specialising in. Just not as well as Kick-Ass with 1.4 million in disc sales. The Blu Ray release accounts for a staggering 42% of all sales, which means that Kick-Ass is making even more money comparatively. Indeed, added all together, it’s well over the gross for the first week in cinemas and won’t be far off the cumulative gross. And this is just the first week.

ForbesDorothy Pomerantz breaks it down further: A movie’s DVD earnings usually equal 60% to 70% of its domestic box office, but cult movies can earn more on DVD than in the box office. One example she cites, Office Space, made just “$11 million total at the domestic box office but earned $40 million on video.”

I really liked Scott Pilgrim, not just as a passing entertainment, but as evidence that there is a new, younger aesthetic on the horizon: That as in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s original graphic novel series, video games are no longer just a joke or a cash-in, but that the people young enough to have grown up with games as meaningful experiences in their lives are ascending to a position where they can pass along that meaning. And the fear with Scott Pilgrim‘s bad box office is that this will set us back, that it’s either superhero slugfests or geek “date movies,” whatever that means [Zooey Deschanel?]. I hope that DVD sales turn out to be strong, and, more broadly, that Hollywood even cares about metrics other than box office gross, since those long-tail metrics just may be the place where deeper enjoyment and appreciation of the property resides. I don’t think Scott Pilgrim-style filmmaking is dead yet or by any means, but it may be a long while before it gets any sort of budget again.

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