Back in September, Kevin Smith (director of Zack and Miri Make a Porno and Clerks) made his heavily-anticipated dive into schlock horror with Tusk.
Tusk is the campy tale of a podcaster (played by Justin Long) who becomes the unlucky experiment of the walrus-obsessed Howard Howe (Michael Parks). Between a wonderfully weird setup and with Kevin Smith at the helm, the movie had everything going for it.
Smith is the lovable uncle of cult cinema; an avowed nerd with a devoted fan base that absorbs his stoner wisdom. Smith asked for a mere $3 million to make his goofy little horror project, which is barely enough to cover the catering on most of the comic book swashbucklers that dominated this summer’s box office.
Not to mention, in case you didn’t have the big cameo spoiled for you already, the movie also has Johnny Depp.
That’s right. Captain Jack Sparrow has a fairly substantial role in Tusk – albeit an uncredited one – as Justin Long’s would-be rescuer.
Sad to say, despite the massive #WalrusYes campaign to actually get the movie made, Tusk failed to make back even its paltry budget of $3 million, prompting Smith to shoot off on Twitter. He essentially begged his fans to support the project they were drooling over just a month before.
The result? No such luck.
Barely a month after its limited theatrical release, the movie has finally found a home on Amazon.
But how could one of Hollywood’s most adored directors – coupled with one of Hollywood’s biggest stars – fail to pull less money at the box office than Johnny Depp rakes in over a single year?
The answer is simple – some films make a better hashtag than they do a movie.
Kids these days simply don’t get drunk and go to the cinema looking for some quick thrills and cheap laughs like they used to.
Once upon a time, midnight movies were geek culture. The conventions that nerds gather at today are just grandchildren of the drive-ins from yesteryear. Rocky Horror Picture Show was the most crystallized example of a format that’s existed as long as movies were a thing: low budget, big heart, and a heaping dose of weird to draw the deviants.
This spirit still endures to this day. But thanks to online accessibility, these movies have become free.
Movie-goers are increasingly communicating strictly through YouTube and Twitter, and any movie that’s trying to tap into their interests is already fighting a losing battle. Of course we’ll pay to see Guardians of the Galaxy, because that’s something you literally cannot create (or watch) on Youtube.
But in this day and age, your silly camp project is going to live and die by social media. And it’s going to take more than walrus-themed insanity to get us to drive to a movie theater and pay for a ticket. Because cult-film directors have yet to master the formula for financial success, and perhaps they never will.
But that’s not to say they haven’t tried. Remember Snakes on a Plane?
The movie was originally going to be a run-of-the-mill spy thriller, featuring another bland super-cop fighting creative assassins mid-flight.
The movie undoubtedly became a pop-culture icon. There’s no one who won’t understand the quote, “I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!” Nonetheless, the movie’s performance at the box office was mediocre at best.
But that doesn’t happen with quality movies, right? Wrong.
Scott Pilgrim – the adaptation of the graphic novel by the same name – was an exceptional movie with Edgar Wright in the director’s chair (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and big names like Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman in front of the camera. The film itself is one of the most impressive (and true) adaptations out there.
Not to mention, it’s hilarious. But despite being awesome, Scott Pilgrim was a major flop.
It’s a sad pattern we see time and again with these bona fide nerd hits. But that’s not to say that cult-level films can’t be successful. As I mentioned before, Snakes on a Plane is a highly-quoted pop culture icon. With films that gather cult film acclaim, the problem clearly isn’t inability to gain an audience, but rather how these movies are being distributed.
Just look at Sharknado. It’s sequel, oh-so creatively named The Second One, was a TV movie that earned nearly four million viewers and all but broke Twitter. It took up all of the trending hashtag slots on Twitter at one point, earning more mentions than Miley did during her infamous VMAs performance.
Had either Sharknado film been released in theaters, who’s to say they wouldn’t have suffered the same fate as Tusk?
After all, Tusk is online now…and it seems to be doing alright.
Maybe these “flops” are just unlucky enough to be born before their time. Maybe Tusk is just proving what we already suspected – that it’s easier, cheaper, and sometimes better to get your geek fix from the privacy of your own cult basement.
Or hey, maybe Kevin Smith was right and all of us were wrong. Maybe someday Clerks III is going to be hanging in a museum right next to a sign that says “Works of Art That Changed the World”.