Ed Driscoll

Why Snakes "R" DOA

Michael Medved writes that the subpar performance of Snakes On A Plane is a textbook example of his theory on R movie ratings in action. It makes particular sense given the audience that the producers should have been aiming for: the proverbial teenage male summer movie crowd:

According to many accounts, the producers of “Snakes” originally intended to make their film a PG-13 rated romp—a B-picture, shamelessly silly tale about slithering critters released in mid flight across the Pacific in order to bring down the plane and kill a key witness against a gangland kingpin. In fact, almost everything about the project suggested that it would squeeze box-office dollars out of boys between the ages of 12-and-15 like a giant boa constrictor — but then the internet activists insisted on more racy content and an “R” rating, and the producers inexplicably followed their lead. The filmmakers went back for several days of new material— including a scene of pot-smoking and steamy, bare-breasted sex in an airplane bathroom, and Samuel L. Jackson’s notorious line: “Enough is Enough! I’ve had it with these mother%#@! snakes on this [email protected]#%! plane!”

They thereby got the R-rating they wanted, and lost the youthful audience they needed. As long ago as 1992, my book HOLLYWOOD VS. AMERICA included a groundbreaking study that showed that an R-rating hurts box office performance– and makes it much less likely for adults-only fare to recoup its investment. More than a dozen major studies (by distinguished universities and savvy marketing firms) since my initial argument have all confirmed the phenomenon I observed: G, PG, and PG-13 films reliably and substantially outperform R – films at the box office.

The harsh rating (demanded by the bloggers and cultists who helped determine the final shape of the film) probably proved particularly punishing for this particular movie.

In other words, had Hollywood kept the film at PG or PG-13, it would have attracted its target audience in droves–but add the R-rating, and it means that teenage boys need to be accompanied by an adult–and I don’t know about you, but the idea of mashing-up a gross-out horror movie with an otherwise non-descript air disaster movie gives me two big reasons to skip this film. (I worry enough as it is these days whenever I fly.)

Ace sounds like he agrees entirely with Medved’s take, in language that we’re censoring for our own typical PG-ish demographic:

Basically, Snakes On A Plane was juiced up with nudity and violence to satisfy a demographic — fourteen year old boys — who may see the movie, but they can’t actually buy tickets for it, so their ticket sales go not to SOAP’s tally but to some random PG movie that just happened to be playing at the same time.

To quote Otter from Delta House: Hollywood, you f***ed up. You trusted us.

Well, not all of us–I suspect I’m enjoying the film’s post-mortems far more than I would the movie itself.