Why Did Scott Pilgrim Tank?

The Expendables was the top grossing movie over the weekend, raking in $35 million, and beating out Eat Pray Love‘s $23.7 million. The Other Guys finished at third, with $18 million, followed by Inception at $11.4 million and, somewhat astonishingly, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World at $10.5 million. The results have caused some to scratch their heads, while others have reacted with the fury of an aging FOX News anchor just a few steak dinners short of a myocardial infarction.

Scott Pilgrim‘s box office failure over the weekend has little to do with Jeffrey Wells‘s deranged dichotomy of “the rank-and-file” warring with “the elite geek-dweeb set” — an impractical characterization that one expects from a paranoid schizophrenic looking for a few magic beans that will grow a tin foil vine. But it was evident from some of the film’s early reviews that the old reactionary guard — which included the hysterical Wells and the frumpy David Edelstein — were going to trash the movie for its audacious syntax — namely, the very visual language that allowed Kick-Ass to make nearly $20 million in its opening weekend back in April.

I don’t think the lackluster business had much to do with Michael Cera. But it’s worth observing that Cera has yet to prop up a phenomenally successful Hollywood movie on his presence alone. He’s found commercial success as a supporting character, although Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, a $10 million movie that grossed $33.5 million, might qualify as a modest success. But when one considers that Scott Pilgrim‘s budget was closer to $100 million, the decision to use Superbad/Juno momentum as a selling point wasn’t terribly wise. Cera, assuming audiences haven’t tired of him by now, will probably be just fine if he can figure out a way to reinvent his one-note Williamsburg hipster schtick and keep his acting roles confined to second bananas. The man lacks leading man gravitas, and now has the commercial track record to prove it.

On the other hand, it’s possible that Cera can’t entirely be blamed for Scott Pilgrim‘s failure. One only needs to look at the moronic marketing quacks who pushed this movie as if they were lame ducks. Not only did the film’s bright red poster do everything possible to occlude Cera’s presence in the movie, but it failed to communicate what the movie was about. The “epic of epic epicness” tagline tells someone in the dark nothing at all about Scott Pilgrim. And you have to wonder how much money some Universal wordsmith was paid to whip up such anti-commercial inanity.

The first big mistake made by Universal — and there were many — was in failing to market this as a quirky date movie that a young couple might agree upon. (Or perhaps not. Abigail Nussbaum has offered a provocative post suggesting that Scott Pilgrim is misogynistic.)

The second big mistake was in opening Scott Pilgrim during a weekend in which the audience division came down to gender lines. If you were a man, you were expected to see The Expendables. If you were a woman, you were expected to see Eat Pray Love. The Expendables Call to Arms trailer, released a good month before the movie, permitted enough time for these demographic lines to become fixed. And Universal, rather catastrophically, failed to create a Scott Pilgrim trailer that used the movie’s humor as a self-deprecatory selling point to avoid both movies. (I should also point out that, despite my numerous requests to attend a New York press screening, Universal publicists failed to respond by telephone or email. This is not something I can say about the people at Lionsgate, who were very quick to respond, extremely friendly and accommodating. Guess which film received a 1,400 word essay here.)

While it’s true that Scott Pilgrim received a big Comic-Con buzz, it’s very clear that this didn’t translate into mass moviegoers paying to see the flick. It’s also clear from both Scott Pilgrim and Kick-Ass‘s respective takes that a more daring comic book movie isn’t going to translate into an Iron Man 2-style box office bonanza, even as audiences have signaled their desire to be challenged by plot-heavy movies like Inception. A risk-taking comic book movie with a $20 million budget can certainly make a healthy profit, but it’s a harder sell at four or five times the budget. This weekend certainly isn’t the end of movies like Scott Pilgrim. Just don’t expect future movies of this type to have large budgets or originate from the studio system in a good long while. Indeed, had Scott Pilgrim not been up against two pandering movies, it might have attracted more of the crowd. But apparently there’s gold to be panned when you use the Internet to pigeonhole prospective moviegoers into predictable demographics.


  1. Umm, the biggest problem is that it appears to be targeting stupid people. (Epic of epic epicness doesn’t even hit on what passes for irony these days). They needed to do more than just reach out to the comicon crowd especially since the last flick to be lauded there – Kick Ass proved noting more than juvenile drivel.

  2. A few things here:
    So I loved Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. A lot. I’ve already seen it twice. I’m also a big fan of the comic book.

    My first reaction is to rail at an unjust world that the Last Airbender made 70 million opening weekend and Scott Pilgrim made 10. My second reaction is the fact that reviews panned the former and lauded the latter makes me wonder what the function of reviewing is anymore, if people don’t seem to pay any attention to it.

    I’m sad to see Cera getting a lot of flack for this because I think he turned in a great performance. In fact, I think the whole cast was pitch-perfect.

    And the fact is, even if people aren’t running out to see this in the theatres, this movie has cult classic written all over it, and I think the real movie to compare this to is Moulin Rouge, which made only 13 million its opening weekend but has more than made its money back because of the loyal following it has inspired.

    So don’t count Pilgrim out yet.

  3. Saw it with my wife. We loved the movie. I didn’t stop smiling the whole time. And I wasn’t too impressed by the books.

    The video game is the romantic mythology of today. And Scott Pilgrim sees himself as this one-note video game (and sitcom) hero. I’ve known guys like this. They’d sit back after a breakupo and wonder what they needed to do in their relationship – relating more to the item or skill they needed to get, or guy they needed to defeat in order to “win” the girl’s heart. It’s a problem of gameplay, not a problem of maturity. Scott Pilgrim is about this same guy, and I totally got that. My wife totally got that.

    The movie is good. It’ll be remembered as a cult classic, but here’s a film that uses every aspect of itself for the betterment of characterization and story.

  4. The person who wrote this article must be part of Universal’s marketing team. Since you can;’t be honest about why this flick bombed, because it clearly hurts you to have to be honest about it, I’ll do it for you.

    EVERYBODY knew about this movie, so you can’t cop-out by saying, “It wasn’t marketed right.” Yes, it was!
    What is this movie about? a skinny loser who gets into 7 viideo-game style fights over a fugly chick. How did the marketing present it? As a skinny punk gtting into 7 video-game fights over a fugly chick.
    Using cheap rhetoric like, “but it was funny too!” means nothing. It looked funny all right. But not as in “ha-ha.”
    Unless you’re a devotee of the comic, who were clealy the only ones to see this crap, then you won’t like it. I remember seeing the trailer and thinking, “You must drool on yourself if you actually want to see this movie.”

    Look, the problem is the movie. It looks retarded and it is! It won’t make it’s money back. It cost upwards of 80 million and so far has only made 10. Internationally it won’t make a dime and DVD sales won’t amount to 70 million. At 20 dollars per Blu-Ray they’d have to sell 30 million copies to make that much and even then they have to split the take with the retailer and distributor, so make it 60 million instead.
    You really see this crapstorm of a movie moving 60 MILLION units? Tha’ts Avatar numbers and I think even the retards who like this movie will agree Scott Pilgrim ain’t Avatar! Wait, to the SP failthful it’s “BETTER than Avatar,” which proves how stupid they are.
    All your talk about SP will be a “cult hit,” and “make it’s money back on DVD.” That’s just the denial talking. This is the biggest box-office fiasco since Waterworld. Only Waterworld made more than 10 mil.

    Who can possibly –or could even want to– identify with a garage band loser who chases underage girls and decides to get into 7 meaningless fights? I’ve asked that question a hundred times the last 48 hours and haven’t gotten one answer. Now that right there ought to let you know that even the lovers of this crapfest can’t defend or even explain it.
    The geeks who salivated in anticipation of this movie may see their own pointless lives in it, and clearly saw it as a Hollywood validation of their existence (I can’t be such a total pointless waste-of-flesh, Hollywood made a movie about a pedophile, chump loser like me after all!) but general audiences puked at the prospect of this film.
    Even if you removed every other movie from the theaters except this one and let it run worldwide it STILL would have made only 10 mil. This wasn’t a matter of competition or marketing. It was a problem of a crappy movie that never should have even been made. Simple as that. Get over it.

    Instead of addressing the movie itself you hide behind excuses. The movie SUCKED! It looked stupid, and was stupid.
    NOBODY WANTS A STUPID MOVIE! If you want to make Iron Man/Batman money you have to take the material seriously.
    What do Kick-Ass, McGruber, The Losers and SP have in common? they were retarded movies and proud of it! Don’t try to treat this like some one-time thing. You;ve had four shots in four months and ALL of them have bombed. Not just underperformed, but BOMBED!

    You want to re-characterize these scholck-fests as “different” etc, but everybody else can clearly see them as what they are –STUPID!

  5. Kent: If by “everybody,” you mean people on the Internet, you’re probably right. But not even a million people have watched the Scott Pilgrim trailer on YouTube. In fact, when catching the movie myself, I observed a man — very much into his cell phone — laughing at the Old Spice Guy commercial. He hadn’t seen it. Never mind that the Old Spice Guy campaign was, for all of us who spend serious time on the Internet, was difficult to miss. But the point here being is that the cell phone guy hadn’t seen it before. The Internet doesn’t necessarily translate into regular people seeing the movie. But hey, maybe when smartphones become affordable for most of the public, that could change.

    And just to be clear. I don’t work for Universal. I enjoyed the film — particularly its visual inventiveness — but had problems with Cera in the lead as well as the script. (Edgar Wright’s a solid writer and the adaptation was fairly faithful, but he really needs Simon Pegg to help him out on script duties.) Hell, let me go out on a limb here. I do think that the old fogies who have discounted SCOTT PILGRIM are going to look as foolish as the old fogies who once dismissed BONNIE & CLYDE, SALO, or LAST TANGO IN PARIS I don’t know if the movie’s a classic, but whether you love it, hate it, or think it okay, you certainly can’t dismiss it if you have anything even close to an aesthetic appreciation. You can rail against the spastic comic book/video game movie all you want. But like it or not, it’s not going away. At least as long as people are willing to pay for it. And the more movies like this there are, the greater the possibilities for cinematic evolution.

  6. Ed: Right; when people look back — say, 10 years from now — I think they’ll see that SCOTT PILGRIM will turn out to be a very influential movie, from the standpoint of its visual storytelling style. Young filmmakers-to-be will love it, and will learn its lessons well.

    (I say this as someone who’s about 20 years older than the upper limit of the marketing demographic for this film. I’m sure there were plenty of cultural references I didn’t get, but I got enough of them. It’s damned fun and funny.)

  7. Seeing as you guys spend more time attacking Kent personally than attacking the points he made just proved him correct. As obnoxious as Kent is, he’s right. Scott Pilgrim didn’t appeal to the masses. The critics don’t mean anything. They never like the films the general audience wants to see. Fact. I disagree with Kent about Avatar. Avatar is also a pile of shit.

    Michael Cera is not. I repeat. IS NOT a lead actor. He is a supporting actor. He’d have more success if he just stuck with that. He’s pretty annoying and I have still not forgiven him for the overrated pretension fest that was Juno. Ugh. He is annoying. There is a reason there is a really popular video on YouTube of a montage of him just being punched in the face.

    Scott pilgrim will be a cult hit. Among the people who already liked the series. It is what it is. The studio wad really stupid in thinking this would ever ever beat a film with Stallone, statham, jet li and Bruce Willis. You SP stand are delusional to think that that would EVER happen. SP actually fell short of my expectations, too. I thought it’d be number three.

    I enjoy the butthurt from the SP stans. seriously. Lolling.

  8. Why, exactly, would this be a movie that couples would like to see together? Are you merely saying that advertisements could mislead people into thinking it’s couple-friendly?

    I also find it hard to believe that the comic or the movie are classics-in-waiting. The video game references are as hacky and obvious as, say, a movie parody of The Godfather or a novel’s Moby-Dick reference. Adding 20 years will make this more glaring rather than less.

  9. I really REALLy wanted this movie to do well alto i have never read a single comic from the series and i also have not seen the movie. My gramma was very sick and i have not been able to leave the house. That said, i really wanted it to be a hit because movies like this just dont come along very aoften and Edgar Wright is a very7 talented director. It breaks my heart really. I hope that Wright will still be able to make his style of hollywood movies even tho this tanked. It did get outstanding reviews across the board so that is hopefull. I will see this movie as soon as i can.

  10. Wow. Just wow.

    First, my reaction to this article: Pathetic. You’re trying to make Scott Pilgrim, a very amatuerish movie with a silly video-game style approach to a semi-psuedo-love story about a loser who plays in a band, dates underage chicks, cheats on both of them, and ultimately ends up with the girl somehow intelligent, funny, and oh-so-clever.

    The movie itself was not FUNNY nor intelligent. The main actor, the guy who played Scott Pilgrim, is extremely talented and very funny to watch and listen to. However, his dialogue SUCKED. He made the movie work simply because he’s a character actor who knows how to keep the sarcastic silly role going for the duration.

    The second person that made this movie watchable was the asian girl. Other than that, sorry, third and 4th rate actors filling up the rest of the roles. Not fun to watch, not at any level.

    Second, KENT may have been a bit harsh in his criticism of your article, but his points are well taken, well thought out, and comes to the same conclusion I did: THe reason the movie tanked is because people didn’t really care about watching a movie about a kid who falls in love with a semi-ok-girl for no apparent reason. Plus, the movie just looks and feels strange.

    Third, why a video-game motif throughout? Was there any rhyme or reason to it? Is Scott Pilgrim a video game that we’re all a part of or just a story with a video game theme? I still haven’t figured that out… nor do I care to. It just doesn’t make any sense.

    Finally, I can’t say I completely hated the movie, but again, the reason is solely for the main actor and the asian actor. They both have charm, both have talent, and know how to make a role work, even if it’s meaningless and lacks taste, flavor or a point.

    This movie has no flavor, no point, no purpose, doesn’t ulimately lead anyone to change their views, doesn’t make you think about your decisions in life… unless you happen to have a spare life to use once you get killed and make a stupid decision.

    Sorry, the movie plain sucked, and anyone who thinks otherwise is either 14 years old or didn’t watch the movie yet.

  11. Ok, So I’ve read the article, I’ve read the comments and this is all precisely why the movie didn’t do well. Some people knew about it via the comic, some people never heard of it, and some people just out and out assumed it to be stupid(and others were flat out retarded and went to see the expendables). In my opinion SPVTW was a good movie, it wasn’t great but it was entertaining and precisely what I needed at the time.

    Now it does bear repeating that Michael Cera is NOT a lead actor. He lacks most if not all of the characteristics of a lead character and would serve a better purpose as a target practice dummy. That being said, it wasn’t he but the ensemble that carried this movie. The human element infused with a campy video game feel. If your argument is that video games are for kids, then you need to get your ass to the retirement home….quick.

    Video games are the new social medium, and are seeing people from 2 – 90 playing them. Be it on a cell phone, console, PC, facebook, or what have you. This film used very stylistic video game aesthetics to wrap around a pretty decent love story, and more so one of the emotional baggage one carries from one relationship to the next. Manifesting the emotional baggage in the physical form of 7 “evil” ex’s.

    If you don’t get that much, then you shouldn’t even think about reviewing a movie…EVER. So all of you that say this was a stupid movie…prove it. Or at least try watching it without your prejudices intact, and at the very least provide useful commentary and state your opinion as such, since your opinion will never be FACT.

  12. Wow.

    The two of you literally have no flavor do you? Do you enjoy being another sheep amongst a sea of uninteresting overdone mush? How old are the two of you 40+? Are you both angry at the world? All of these questions came to mind when I trudged through your inane reasons behind your opinions.

    Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World was original and fun. I’ve seen most of the large grossing movies of our time, and all of them follow a formulaic approach to film making. This movie threw everything out the door, and took a fresh approach. An approach the two of you cannot seem to grasp. You could always go and watch another Marvel film, or better yet a Transformer film.

    I firmly understand that the film industry has to go through a series of hoops to produce a high grossing movie. These hoops are generated by a sea of mindless drones who wouldn’t know quality of it hit them on the forehead. To say that a low grossing movie is stupid, or uninteresting because the money generated by said movie isn’t as big as some high-budget mindless drivel is asinine. I find all of ‘Kent’s’ points moot due to this fact. He is going off the rationale that the masses make everything right. Does that mean that infanticide done by Eskimos is right because the culture as a whole agrees on it? NO! You have to take this argument from an individualist perspective and not paint it with a brush lined in the dollar votes of the masses. Because those same masses can make mistakes.

    Get a grip. The two of you sound completely closed minded and jaded with the film industry. Try and open your minds and step outside the box for once.

  13. Seriously. Just ignore Kent and Mr. Honestly Opinionated, or at least see them for what they are — closed-minded dudes with internet connections. I mean, I want to rail on them, but the self-parodic nature of their statements sort of speaks for itself. Am I wrong here? [Colorful language of disgust] [Statement of how perfect my opinion is because I said so] [Avatar is the paragon of modern filmmaking] — this is basically what I’m getting from all that. Oh, and [ridiculously all-encompassing undermining of all who don’t agree with me] as well as [final statement that no one could possibly be qualified enough to disagree with my all-powerful mind.]

    I would just like to add that my opinion of this movie is that it took the attempts to truly create entertainment that isn’t forced into a box, and did it right. Sure, they made poor choices along the way – I liked the cast, but a more well-liked main character could have been affordable. The super-hype of the Expendables certainly should have been a message to the staff to move a week either way — was there anything out those weeks? Anyway, this movie, while apparently not for some, (and my restraint in not being unmercifully insulting here is quite strained) it takes a look into the kind of people who can separate themselves from their problems to the point where they ignore/forget about them until they are literally being attacked by their issues. The two (Scott and Ramona) both end up facing their issues with others/themselves, and overcoming them. Also I thought the choice of him “dating” the high school girl was a great way to point out that he had hit rock bottom.

    Side note — Ramona is indie/scene eye-candy, your pointedly bland and traditionalist perspectives on beauty/everything (sorry, couldn’t help it) could probably have found more appeal in Envy, correct?

    also I’m not normally one to rant on the internet. How am I doing, Kent?

  14. Just for the record: through the end of its run in October, the movie made just shy of $45m (32m domestic and 13m foreign). Also net production costs were closer to $60m after tax rebates and such. So during it’s release it made close to 3/4 of it’s cost, not 1/8. With DVD sales it’s not outlandish to think it would break even. Not a hit, but not a Waterworld either.

  15. I found it more than a little funny that so many people hailed this movie as creative and argued that the people who didn’t like it were just closed minded: they didn’t like the movie for a very legitimate reason: it’s overly dramatic, not particularly interesting, and really silly (I thought the video game fighting was just bizarre). When I saw the preview in theaters I cringed at how ridiculous it looked… It seemed like some pink haired middle schoolers had written and produced it. It’s really no surprise to me that it failed, and finding something ridiculous isn’t being close minded, it’s finding something ridiculous.

  16. Watching this with friends, I actually felt embarrassed for purchasing a ticket. It was that bad. When something is so ridiculous that YOU feel embarrassed for having witnessed it, you know more time could have been spent on casting, rewriting the scripting, and refining production.

    Unfortunately some of the mature content precluded SP from being targeted at less mature audiences–and that is the problem. It had no target audience and that is why it’s only success will be to break even (eventually).

  17. Well I can safely say that I enjoyed the movie thoroughly. However, I watched it on DVD and did not go to the movies. All I really knew about the movie before it was released t DVD was from the Posters that showed Micheal Cera’s head down playing a guitar. I had no idea what the movie was about. I like video games fights, and a quirky sense of humor but my only exposure to Scott Pilgrim was from that poster. Also, you shouldn’t go easy on Micheal Cera, I don’t like the guy. He did a good job in the movie, but I couldn’t imagine watching a film with him in it that I would like. I guess I got pleasantly surprised.

  18. […] mainstream audiences reject The Green Hornet this weekend (as they did last summer with the more distinctive and less compromising Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), then the New Geek influence may at long last signal its death knell. About fucking time. No […]

  19. I was the exact demographic for this movie aside from the fact that I never had an interest in the books, and I thought it was drivel. I play video games, love ’em, but I am absolutely sick and tired of video game references as though it was “cute”, “wacky”, or “innovative”. It just comes across as immature and honestly the video game culture is so intrenched in parroting itself back in a closed loop that I can hardly stand it anymore. Whoop de do, yet another zelda-treasure-chest-opening reference and yet another enemies-drop-coins-on-defeat and the millionth goddamn 1-up reference. Only the 1000th time someone’s made these jokes and acted like it was the most hilarious, original idea anyone’s ever come up with. It’s plain aggravating.

    I’m tired of the stupid jokes, Michael Cera is probably the most annoying actor to me, and I plain disliked the Scott Pilgrim character. I know the point of the movie is to take some spineless loser slacker and turn him into something even remotely worthwhile through some trials and tribulations, but honestly I have NO time for spineless losers. I have no interest in finally seeing them get a clue. That character doesn’t resonate with me whatsoever. I don’t enjoy raging exes, I don’t enjoy Ramona who sits around and waits for a loser, so on and so forth. It was just juvenile through and through.

    I guess that’s why it resonates with the video game culture. As much as I hate the painting of all of us being couch-ridden mouth-breathers with no social skills, honestly it’s true for more of us than the general populace. And a lot of us have terrible senses of humor, and are racist, and are misogynistic. We’re a self-contained bubble in many cases and never learn because we’re surrounded by the same. No wonder we as a culture are expected to resonate with this movie. No wonder nobody else wanted anything to do with it.

  20. The movie went to shit because it was just a jumble of clusterfuck and nerd culture references mashed together. Nothing more.

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