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Ten Movies That Achieved Significant Backlash Before They Were Even Released

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | August 11, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | August 11, 2010 |

It started on the Internet with Snakes on a Plane, a movie largely fueled by Internet hype and a catchphrase that never went away. I still regard SoaP as a movie that lived up to the hype, something that many can’t agree or disagree with, however, because that very marketing hype scared a lot of people away. Studios probably should’ve learned something from that experience: You can use the Internet to effectively saturate exposure, but too much, and you risk alienating the very people you are targeting.

It’s common sense, but there have also been studies support that common sense: The Journal of Consumer Research determined that ” too much hype can be detrimental.” And it’s not just about creating unrealistic expectations that a film can’t possibly live up to; it’s also about having those expectations crammed so hard down your throat that you will yourself not to like a movie out of spite. It’s not necessarily even the movie’s fault; Snakes on a Plane peaked about two weeks too early. If it had been released before the fatigue had set in, maybe there would’ve been a different box-office outcome.

It’s not always even the fault of marketing, either. If you go on a long road trip and listen to the same radio station for six consecutive hours, by the end of that road trip, there will likely be one or two radio jingles so lodged into your brain that you’ll refuse to buy a product based on principle. But most people don’t listen to one radio station for six consecutive hours. Nowadays, with DVRs, Netflix, ITunes, and streaming content online, a lot of people don’t even see television commercials much anymore. Marketing people saturate those airwaves in the hopes of reaching you once or twice; the people who get hit 50 or 60 times are outliers.

But if you’re reading this, chances are, you spend a lot of time on the Internet, and you may even read one or two other movie blogs. If that’s the case, there’s probably a lot of movies you’re completely sick of by the time they are released. We are part of the problem, of course. Every time we chase down a rumor, every time we report a bit of casting news, and every time we show you a trailer, you get closer to your own saturation point. We are trying to correct that to some degree by not focusing as much on trade minutia, by dumping a lot of it in a single trade post (Trade News that Will Razz Your Berries), and by not presenting every single goddamn trailer that comes out. We try to stick to a three-trailer max (teaser, theatrical, theatrical #2), and not bombard you with the special trailers, the TV Spots, and even the new Interactive trailers. We steered clear largely of the Inception marketing hype before that movie was released, in part because we knew that no one was reading it anyway because nobody wanted to be exposed to the hype. Indeed, as someone who reads a ton of movie sites, I generally stop reporting on something once I’ve grown sick of it, and that usually happens about three or four weeks before it’s released. For instance, have you seen any Scott Pilgrim coverage here over the last month? I was somewhat heartened to hear that many people had not even heard of The Other Guys before our review was released. I learned my lesson last year with (500) Days of Summer by managing to create a small backlash among our readers before it was even released.

The larger point is: Marketing hype, especially on the Internet, can often kill a movie, either by creating unrealistic expectations or by creating an oversaturation backlash. I knew, for instance, when I assigned Steven the review for Avatar that he was in a no-win situation: Too many people had made up their minds about the movie already, and whether he loved it or hated it, he’d either be accused of giving into the hype or unfairly rebelling against it (for the record, Steven’s probably one of the least susceptible to hype movie writers on the Internet). Either way, he’d get shredded, and the comments in that review suggested as much.

Dan’s got Scott Pilgrim, the latest entry into the marketing oversaturation backlash, and I suspect he’ll face a similar problem unless we’ve done our job better ahead of the film, which is to say: Make people aware of it, but not entirely kill the buzz. We haven’t covered it since June 17th and have only devoted five posts to it in the last year (though, the site is covered in Pilgrim ads) and track 65 Google results, compared to, say, the industry leader, Slashfilm, where there are 1,210 Google results or the fanboy site Ain’t It Cool where there are 3,780 results (undoubtedly, many of those mentions came in comments sections in unrelated or only tangentially related post, but still … it’s getting a fuckload of exposure). If you follow Twitter (where the movie has been a trending topic for awhile), or if you read five or six movie blogs, you’ve probably already developed a strong opinion of the Scott Pilgrim before you’ve even seen it. And in some instances, the more the cool kids prattle on about it, the less you want to be one of the cool kids, so you hate it already. It’s human nature (Down with the Cool Kids!). I understand the desire to champion a movie, but maybe the best way to do that is to gently nudge someone into a theater instead of shoving them in against their will.

But remember this: By Tuesday, it’ll probably all go away, and hopefully, by Wednesday, all you’ll be left with are the true impressions you had of the movie. That is, if the hype hasn’t scared you away from seeing it in the first place.

It’s not a new problem, of course. It’s happened many times over the last several years. And as marketing over-saturation backlash (MOB) goes, these are the ten worst offenders on the Internet. In some cases, the films lived up to expectations; in some cases, they didn’t. In other cases (Grindhouse, Watchmen, Kick-Ass, Snakes on a Plane), the hype prevented a lot of people from even seeing them at all (I’m excluding Inception because I honestly believe that most people who wanted to see it completely avoided the coverage). It’s funny, too, how the overpowering pre-release hype on Juno now feels relatively quaint.

10. Juno

9. Paranormal Activity

8. Kick Ass

7. Iron Man 2

6. Grindhouse

5. Avatar

4. Scott Pilgrim

3. Snakes on a Plane

2. Watchmen

1. Cloverfield

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.