Posted on Sunday, August 22nd, 2010 by Adam Quigley
As Sylvester Stallone reigns supreme at the box office yet again, the sting of Scott Pilgrim‘s failure to resonate with the public only deepens. Strange how both films attempt to appeal to similar filmic influences, yet the divide amongst audiences has been so wide.
It’s possible that this is a result, however subconscious, of a contrasting appreciation for the way the films choose to define its men, with the reverence for the long-lost form of the burly ’80s action hero speaking more to people than the modern promotion of the geek hero. In this way, The Expendables and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World are on opposite sides of a cultural rift. Scott is a character whose manhood is not impugned by his scrawniness, awkwardness or geekiness, making him the sort of “badass” hero that could only exist in a post-Internet world. The characters in The Expendables, meanwhile, can essentially be seen as a plea to return to the male image as it was once celebrated, when masculinity was defined by muscles, scars, motorcycles, booze, tattoos and mindless acts of violence.
If this is indeed the case, and the box office can be deemed accurately representative of what constitutes a real man, the message audiences are trying to tell us here is simple: The men of today are gay; long live the six packs and mullets of yesterday.
Even more likely though, the disconnect was in the marketing. The Expendables made its bottom line very clear: Here are a bunch of awesome people. They’re in this movie together. Go see it.
Scott Pilgrim, on the other hand, was already battling the stigma of Michael Cera and hipsters, and its trailers did it no favors. Universal took the exact wrong approach. They assumed the intended demographic would be instinctively drawn to the material, so they advertised the hell out of it without restraint. Instead of downplaying the quirky hipness of the material, the marketing emphasized it even further, throwing out onscreen text like “It’s on like Donkey Kong,” incorporating out-of-place indie songs as background music, and tagging the ends of trailers with the same “That was epic” quip (despite it not even being part of the final film). For those not familiar with the graphic novels, the trailers reeked of trying-too-hard desperation, putting people off almost immediately. The studio didn’t so much sell the movie as they did spend a ton of money informing moviegoers what not to see.
Another theory: The respective box office success and failure could also be due to the differing methods used by each film to pay heed to their cultural heritage. Whereas The Expendables opted to emulate its very specific pop culture influences, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was more of a reflection on a melting pot of pop culture influences, making it harder for audiences to understand what exactly the movie was trying to be. Straight, simple emulation offers a far more secure base for financial success, as it plays to an instant familiarity. Audiences know what they’re getting, so they’re more likely to drop $10 bucks on it.
Of course, this is assuming that what’s being emulated hasn’t yet lost its appeal.
Case in point: Piranha 3D. Campy, old-school monster movie schlock certainly appeals to me, but you really can’t count on it to find much love at the box office. And unfortunately for the Weinsteins—but fortunately for us—director Alexandre Aja showed no limits in cranking up the cheese factor with Piranha 3D, which in turn may have alienated viewers looking for a more serious horror outing. The film ended up placing 6th (behind Vampires Suck and Lottery Ticket) with $10 million in its coffers—a touch less than Scott Pilgrim made last week. But relative to its $24 million budget, it’s not nearly the disaster that Pilgrim has proven to be.
And with that, America has spoken: Trashy ’80s action like The Expendables? Yay. Trashy ’70s exploitation like Piranha 3D? Nay. Smart, original and visually arresting genre-benders like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World? Fuck off, hipster.
Below you will find the weekend box office’s top 10 results thanks to Box Office Mojo: