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Snakes on a Plane - Viral Marketing at its Best

Every so often a movie will come along that is destined for greatness -- be it through powerful imagery, an engaging plot or a stellar cast. Occasionally, though, just occasionally, comes a movie whose success is based not on cast or plot (whose plot, in fact, is purely incidental to its popularity) but on simple viral marketing. Snakes on a Plane is such a movie.

For those of you who have yet to come across this particular title, Snakes on a Plane is an R-rated action/horror vehicle starring Samuel L Jackson. The plot, as we have come to expect from action movies, is basic and untaxing. Jackson's FBI agent is escorting a witness on a flight from Hawaii to California to testify in a high-profile court case. Meanwhile, an assassin smuggles a crate filled with over 500 snakes onto the flight. Terror ensues. Simple.

Now, in the greatest traditions of Hollywood a movie such as Snakes on a Plane should probably have vanished with little comment somewhere in the middle of the usual pile of mindless late summer action flicks. Perhaps it would have done well in the rental market, but it had little hope of becoming a blockbuster in theaters.

However, this particular movie has one special quality -- a quality that saw it elevated from obscurity and gave it a vast fan following as much as a year before its release. This movie, you see, had a title that simply demanded comment - a working title so ridiculous that it begged parody and satire.

And that's just what it was - a working title. Studios usually give their productions a basic descriptive title before the marketers come up with something better. ET: The Extraterrestrial, for example, was titled variously A Boy's Life, ET and Me and Night Skies before assuming the name we know and love. The working title of Snakes on a Plane was, in fact, changed to the more generic Pacific Air Flight 121 before Jackson and droves of Internet fans insisted the original title be restored.

And therein lies the magic. With nothing more than a working title and a vague plot summary this movie became an Internet phenomenon -- generating a slew of fan blogs, videos, songs, parodies and praise before even a single frame of the movie has been seen. In the viral marketing style of The Blair Witch Project, the success of this low budget horror project is based more on myth than fact: the Internet (and, more specifically, the blogosphere) built hype, anticipation and excitement with greater success than any expensive marketing could possibly achieve.

Understandably, New Line Cinema took this surprising good fortune and ran with it, acceding to the demands of an eager public. They even went so far as to reshoot several scenes to raise the movie rating from a PG-13 to an R - including the addition of a line of dialog fans demanded following the release of a fake audio trailer: "I want these motherf***ing snakes off the motherf***ing plane!" They essentially remade the movie to cater to the enormous, anonymous audience who made it famous.

With all the hype surrounding Snakes on a Plane New Line is onto a clear winner. Since the movie has become, sight unseen, a massive cult hit it doesn't matter in the slightest whether the movie is actually any good. In fact, it would probably take more at the box office if it were resoundingly, jaw-droppingly awful. The viral aspects of the Internet spreading news of its dreadfulness would only serve to drive more fans to the ticket booths, all ready and more than willing to take part in this full-length in-joke.

And that's the point, you see. That's the reason Snakes on a Plane has become so well loved -- we don't expect it to be serious. We don't expect it to be enlightening, intelligent or valuable. We just expect to see snakes. On a plane.

At the end of the day, what else is there to say?

About the Author: As an industry analyst and keen fan of movie marketing, James Shenton can often be found pondering the dominance of clever marketing over genuine acting talent in turning average films into box office gold. For more articles and info on how to download DVD movies, wander over to

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