Thursday, August 19, 2010

Culture Shock 08.19.10: Score for now: Scott Pilgrim 0, the world 1

It didn't take long for the recriminations to begin. It was clear late Friday that "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" was a box-office dud.

"Scott Pilgrim" took in just more than $10 million in its opening weekend — not a good showing for a movie that cost an estimated $60 million to make and probably another $30 million to market. That's despite months of hype, a crowd-pleasing performance at Comic Con and a flood of TV ads aimed squarely at the movie's target demographic of Nintendo-age gaming geeks. Adult Swim even aired a four-minute animated prequel — now online at — for that extra, last-minute buzz.

After all that, a mere $10 million seemed like an insult. But to add injury, "Scott Pilgrim" finished the weekend at No. 5, behind the geriatric action stars of "The Expendables," a Julia Roberts vehicle and two holdovers from previous weeks. ("Inception" isn't going away until everyone has seen it — and dreamed about it.)

How could this have happened? "Scott Pilgrim" had been a trending topic on Twitter for a week before it opened — it still is — prompting the movie's director, Edgar Wright, to tweet Tuesday night, "Still trending No. 1 worldwide. For over a week now. If the film was called Scott Pilgrim Vs Justin Bieber, the internets might explode."

So, how did the movie billed as "An epic of epic epicness" end up an epic fail at the box office?

No. 1: It was the studio's fault. Universal spent millions marketing "Scott Pilgrim," but it went about it all wrong. Universal sold it as an action movie when really it's more of a romantic comedy, only with video-game graphics and Kung Fu.

No. 2: It was the calendar's fault. Opening "Scott Pilgrim" against Sylvester Stallone's "The Expendables" was a guaranteed fail. Both movies targeted the same demographic: people who played lots of Mortal Kombat.

No. 3: All of those free preview screenings backfired. Almost everyone who left the screenings loved the movie, but they didn't pay to see it again when it opened.

No. 4: It was Michael Cera's fault. Just about everyone has grown tired of Michael Cera playing Michael Cera in every movie. Portraying the same character in every film is fine if you're John Wayne or Jack Nicholson. It's not fine if you're Michael Cera.

(But to be fair, this time Cera does something different. Normally, he plays socially awkward smart guys. This time, he plays a guy who isn't smart enough to realize just how socially awkward he is.)

No. 5: It's a comic-book movie. Apart from "Iron Man 2," 2010 has been a rotten year for movies based on comic books. "Kick Ass," "The Losers" and "Jonah Hex" all flopped or underperformed. "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," based on the six-volume graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O'Malley, is just part of the curse.

No. 6: "Scott Pilgrim" was never going to appeal to more than a cult audience.

Whatever else it is, "Scott Pilgrim" is original. It's a movie that looks and behaves like a video game. It's "Superbad" meets "The Legend of Zelda," as Scott must battle his girlfriend Ramona's seven evil exes in order to date her. Each ex is a level of the game, with Ramona functioning as the prize at the end.

(O'Malley's graphic novels are deeper than that, but squeezing six volumes into a two-hour movie — while keeping all of Scott's showdowns with the exes — meant dumping a lot of the best character bits.)

Probably all of those reasons played some role in the movie's dismal box-office result.

But in the end, the box office doesn't matter much. "Scott Pilgrim" is the sort of movie that will live on.

It reminds me of another movie that was a disappointment at first but went on to become a much-loved classic. And 28 years later, "Tron" is popular enough to spawn a sequel.

So, maybe Scott Pilgrim's finest hour is yet to come.

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