August 20, 2006

“Snakes on a Plane” fails to charm

By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - So much for the Internet hype.
"Snakes on a Plane," a camp thriller that generated an
unprecedented tsunami of online hysteria during the past year,
crawled into the No. 1 slot at the North American weekend box
office with estimated ticket sales of just $15.3 million, its
distributor said on Sunday.

New Line Cinema had hoped the movie would open in the
low-$20 million range, a spokeswoman said. While the Time
Warner Inc.-owned studio was disappointed, she said the film
would be profitable. Hailed by celluloid cognoscenti as being
so bad that it's good, "Snakes" cost about $30 million to make,
a relatively modest sum.

The sales figure covers actual data from Friday and
Saturday, as well as an estimate for Sunday. It also includes
$1.4 million from Thursday-evening screenings.

Samuel L. Jackson plays an FBI agent trying to regain
control of a plane that the Mafia had filled with poisonous
snakes in order to kill a protected witness. The only problem
was that the title so handily summed up the film's plot that
there was little incentive to see it, said Brandon Gray, an
analyst at

"This tells you that you need to have a compelling story or
premise to get an audience for your movie," he said.

Senior New Line executives were not available for comment.

The project had been in development since 1999, going
through several studios, rewrites and directors. It became a
cause celebre last year when Jackson publicly assailed New Line
for changing the title to the nebulous "Pacific Air 121."

The studio backed down, empowering Jackson and adoring
online fans to complain that the film was not violent enough.
Scenes were added ratcheting up the gruesome quotient. The
bloggers' victory ensured plenty of media coverage, seemingly
turning the little B-movie into a preordained must-see hit.

But filmmaking-by-Internet committee has its limits.
Industry surveys in recent weeks indicated only modest interest
among the moviegoing masses. New Line found itself both playing
up the film's unusual backstory and playing down its sales
expectations. It did not screen the movie in advance for
critics, a common tactic when a studio fears the reviews will
be less than complimentary.

The box-office champion for the previous two weekends,
"Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," slipped to No. 2
with $14.1 million. The total for Sony Corp.'s Will Ferrell
NASCAR comedy rose to $114.7 million.

Director Oliver Stone's September 11 drama "World Trade
Center" held steady at No. 3 in its second weekend with $10.8
million and the two-week total for the burgeoning hit rose to
$45 million. The film was released by Paramount Pictures, a
unit of Viacom Inc.

The top-10 contained two other new releases, as well as an
arthouse hit that entered the top tier for the first time after
expanding into national release.

The college comedy "Accepted" opened at No. 4 with a solid
$10.1 million. The film stars Justin Long as a youngster who
starts his own fake college after he fails to be accepted into
any real colleges. It was released by Universal Pictures, a
unit of General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal Inc.

The teen comedy "Material Girls," starring siblings Hilary
and Haylie Duff, opened at No. 9 with $4.6 million, in line
with the modest expectations of its closely held distributor,
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.

Doing considerably better was the family comedy "Little
Miss Sunshine," which jumped five places to No. 7 with $5.7
million in its fourth weekend. The crowd-pleaser has earned
$12.8 million to date. It was released by Fox Searchlight
Pictures, the arthouse arm of News Corp.1 Twentieth Century Fox