We know exactly what's coming with all the superhero movies and sequelsfilling up the multiplexes this summer, which is why a film like Super 8 stands out. You likely won't be seeing anything else like Super 8 this summer, which is probably why it topped our list of the most anticipated summer movies. But what does all this uncertainty mean for its box-office chances?
Every year seems to have at lease one of these pictures—a movie that gets hyped up based solely on originality and some big names behind the camera. But that doesn't necessarily guarantee success: Last year, that uber-hyped film was Inception, a film that cleaned up to the tune of $292 million and eight Oscar nominations. But Inception isn't the only template by which to judge Super 8. In fact, other than both films having highly respected directors (Christopher Nolan for the former, J.J. Abrams for the latter), it appears they have little in common. Super 8 is a period film that features kid actors, appears to have little action and, you know, may or may not feature aliens or monsters.
So with nothing but one or two names (if even that in some cases) to go on, how does a film like this succeed? Let's take a look at some of the more famous (and infamous) cases of a mysterious film trying to break through at the box office to find out:
The Blair Witch Project Remember this one? In 1999, a little horror film made for just $60,000 took the box office by storm and earned a total of $248 million during its run. What's most remarkable isn't even the profits necessarily, but rather how the hype machine turned what should have been an art-house film into a bonafide blockbuster. The average moviegoer didn't know what they were going to see, but they had to go see it. As a result (and perhaps this is the reason the film is so forgotten), the majority of people hated it. They were duped, frankly. This film wasn't meant for mass consumption, but an opportunity was presented to the filmmakers, and they capitalized. Good for them.
Cloverfield This is probably the most apt comparison for Super 8 because it's also an Abrams property (he produced it) and the main marketing focus here was also mysterious with a presumed monster of some kind. The brilliance of the Cloverfield campaign shouldn't be dismissed because the film made "only" $80 million. The trailers were eerie, the film's title was puzzling, and Abrams and company saturated the web with Cloverfield everything. Ultimately, the film was a disappointment for some. What started out as a must-see ended up performing respectably. The lesson to be learned here relates to longevity. It's one thing to get people to come out opening weekend. It's another thing to build something that's got legs, and that's where Cloverfield failed.
Snakes on a Plane Speaking of failure, let's venture back to the wonderful summer of 2006. Samuel L. Jackson was starring in the best-titled film of the year—Snakes on a Plane. Clearly, the folks behind this one weren't taking the mystery route. They knew their film was something of a joke, so they embraced it and rode that joke to an unprecedented wave of Internet hype. What happened next was kind of spectacular—nobody came. The film was a total flop, earning just $13 million its opening weekend, and only $34 million total. The buzz was there. It just couldn't be translated into actual tickets sold, no matter how many hilarious profanity-laden tirades Jackson had in the film.
Paranormal Activity In 2009, another "Blair Witch"-style horror movie reinvented Internet movie marketing. The Paranormal Activity strategy: Withhold. They rolled out their film slowly and waited for people to demand that it come to a certain city before they brought it there. And the trailers served that purpose brilliantly. By showing packed theaters of people being scared out of their minds, they created a must-see event no one expected. And it worked to the tune of $108 million.
So which route will Super 8 take? I'll leave that to the Box Office Wizard to determine, but what I can say for sure is that I'll be there opening weekend. Super 8 is one of the most promising films of the year, and if it comes through on just a fraction of its potential, it'll be a winner. And who knows—if enough people eat it up, maybe we'll see a Super 9 in 2013 (just kidding ... I hope).