Esoteric 3 1/2-hour Art Film Disappoints at Box Office: Experts Baffled

All Hollywood is a-twitter about Grindhouse failing to meet expectations.

Why did it fail? Critics loved it.  Audiences, such as they are, loved it.  I loved it (I want to see it again before I write anything about it — it’s quite an experience, but I can almost guarantee you it is not what you expect it will be).

(I got a phone call from a female friend, no fan of violence against women or cinematic esoterica, on opening night, imploring me to run, don’t walk, to see it immediately.)

Rodriguez, Tarantino and the Weinsteins offered audiences a feast: two full-length features, plus fake previews, for the price of a single ticket (I saw it at a matinee for six dollars.  Six dollars!)  The package is a cinematic marvel, the movies are great, there are all kinds of extra gewgaws that come with it (fake trailers, fake scratches on the prints, all manner of filmic in-jokes).  Why did people stay away?

I blame the marketing.  My wife and I saw a trailer for Grindhouse in front of a sold-out house for the opening night of 300.  In theory, it should have been the perfect house for the trailer: young, film-savvy couples hopped up on bloodlust.  But the trailer, in its rush to tell us all the things Grindhouse is, got very confusing.  It’s a movie called Grindhouse!  And it’s got a movie called Planet Terror in it!  And it’s got another movie called Death Proof in it!  And it’s some kind of homage to 70s explotation cinema!  And it’s directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino!  And it’s got all your favorite movie stars in it!  And there’s a woman with a machine-gun for a leg!  And there’s Kurt Russell driving a car!  And, and, and —

And I, there in the audience, who love both Rodriguez and Tarantino, should be the ideal audience for this movie, and indeed I have been waiting anxiously to see it, and yet by the time the trailer is done, I’m completely confused.  Is it a movie?  Is it two movies?  Is it three movies?  Is it some kind of anthology film, made up of several short movies?  Did Rodriguez and Tarantino collaborate on the movie, or did they each direct separate movies?  What the hell is it?  And you could feel it all around in the audience too, five hundred young filmgoers wanting to see this movie, but being utterly confused as to what the hell was just advertised.  And any time an audience sees an advertisement and responds by saying “What was that?” the movie is doomed.

Look at the poster above.  As far as being a spot-on parody of a sleazy drive-in double-feature poster from 1972, it’s perfect, beyond perfect.  As an advertisement for a $100 million product of mainstream American entertainment, it’s confusing as hell.  Two movies?  A double feature?  Is it a joke?  Is it for real?  Is it parody?  Of what?  What kind of movie is it?  They’re asking me for ten dollars (say Mr. and Ms. Moviegoer) — I want to know what it is.

This movie (these movies — wait, what is this?) was heavily marketed — here in LA, there were enormous cardboard displays, taking up whole sections of theater lobbies, in addition to the regular posters and displays, but the displays, like the trailer and the poster here, either tried to sell the entire package, confusingly, or else, even more bafflingly, tried to sell each movie as its own entity (there are bus-bench ads for Death Proof all over LA, making it look like Quentin Tarantino has a new movie out, but with no mention of the Grindhouse title).

On top of that, lest we forget, this is an art movie.  It’s part send-up, part critique, part sendup, part genre-mashup, all brilliant, but it is not straightforward commercial filmmaking.  Wild Hogs is straightforward commericial filmmaking (and, not coincidentally, easily marketable).  A 3 1/2-hour meditation on 30-year-old exploitation movies is not straightforward commercial filmmaking.  (It is also something of a workout, two vastly different features, with a lot of meta commentary laid on top of it — it’s both one movie and two movies at the same time, with a bunch of other stuff in there at once; not so easily taken in.) (I should also add — per the title of this blog — that neither of the features offered has a single, easily-identifiable protagonist.)

I commend Rodriguez for producing the project, I commend Tarantino for his contribution to it, I commend the Weinsteins for giving their artists full power in achieving their goals, I commend the whole project — it’s American filmmaking at it’s most daring and exciting.  But I am not surprised that audiences didn’t know what to think of it.

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52 Responses to “Esoteric 3 1/2-hour Art Film Disappoints at Box Office: Experts Baffled”
  1. tamburlaine says:

    As Weinstein pointed out in some article, having opening weekend scheduled at Easter was a mistake. I agree — most people aren’t totally sold on seeing gratuitous (and fun!) blood and gore on the same day they’re meant to remember the gratuitous (but not fun, and meaningful to boot!) blood and gore involving Jesus. “Grindhouse” should have been a late May/early June release. Even a summer release would be more in keeping with the theme: It’s sweltering hot, school’s out, and all you want to do is grab a Coke and watch a kick-ass double fuckin’ feature.

    I saw it on Easter, but I’m also Jewish and a massive Tarantino fan. The theater at 7:30 PM had about 20 people in it. It’s too bad.

    As you mentioned, the marketing expected too much of the audience. I’m familiar with the grindhouse concept and the awesome-tastical nature of the cheesy double feature, but not a lot of people are, and fewer people are willing to learn. I think we all assumed that by having the name “TARANTINO” attached, an automatic interest would be generated and the film-goer would be open to experiencing what a film like “Grindhouse” has to offer. But, alas.
    I’m of the camp that believes this film should have counted on great sales through word-of-mouth as opposed to bing!bang!boom! marketing strategies. It’s a niche picture that would predictably get a bunch of die-hard Tarantino/Rodriguez fans opening weekend and then will eventually turn into a blockbuster in the following months as the Tarantinoans feverishly generate interest (as we are wont to do.) I have no idea WHY Weinstein and the media (that could easily be told to shut up) are allowing these stories to be printed that basically say “Grindhouse” was a failure when it’s only been out a week..!

    • Todd says:

      As far as I’m concerned, releasing a movie called Death Proof on Easter weekend is marketing perfection.

      I saw the picture (pictures?) on Easter as well, but the theater was packed, and totally into it. Of course, I was seeing it in Beverly Hills, where, it has been noted, the population is evenly split between Jews and godless heathens.

      • tamburlaine says:

        You’re right, it is marketing perfection. In concept. But “Grindhouse” has proven that good concepts can’t necessarily anticipate results. Boo.

        I’m still baffled as to why the press is going on about this film’s failure so much; I’ve read at least 15 articles about it. Why won’t they shut up and let the thing run its course? It’s getting attention now from the media only for being a disappointment its first weekend out. God knows the thing isn’t deserving of such treatment — it’s not like it’s “Waterworld” or something.

        I’m guessing that it’s because, ever since the colossal success of “Pulp Fiction”, people are obsessively eager to see Tarantino crash and burn.

        • Todd says:

          You’re close: people are obsessively eager to see the Weinsteins crash and burn. They’ve pissed off practically everyone in the industry over the past 20 years, and Hollywood loves to watch the downfall of a giant.

          I call bullshit. I’m one of the 10 million people the Weinsteins have pissed off over the years and I still cheer them on, because no other producers in Hollywood know more about movies than they do. The studios are being taken over by corporate suits who don’t understand movies, and worse, don’t like them, but Harvey and Bob understand movies to the marrow of their bones and still take chances like nobody’s business.

  2. craigjclark says:

    I saw this last weekend (and, indeed, wrote about it in my own LJ) and I’ve been telling all my friends to catch it before Harvey “Mr. Scissors” Weinstein can follow through on his threat to yank the film, bisect it and release each feature indepentedly. I was so pissed about having to pay two admissions for Kill Bill that I was thrilled to find out with Grindhouse I’d be getting two films for the price of one.

    I, too, saw the trailer for Grindhouse in front of 300, but I don’t remember too much of it because I deliberately don’t pay attention to trailers for movies I’m already interested in seeing. I’ve even walked out of the theater during a trailer just so I don’t have anything spoiled for me. (I did that for A History of Violence a couple times.)

    The way I see it, Grindhouse is the kind of movie that was never going to reach a mainstream audience anyway, so why did they spend so much money on it? They would have been better off emulating the low-budget films they were paying tribute to — then the low box office wouldn’t have mattered so much.

    • Todd says:

      The movies were cheap by Hollywood standards, but not by the standards of the movies they were emulating, and I think that was a conscious decision. It’s one thing to love bad movies, it’s something else again to deliberately make one and expect people to enjoy it. For 3 1/2 hours. Grindhouse walks this line well: the movies had to be the best bad movies ever made, to both stand as quality entertainment and wink at the audience, invite them in on the joke.

      • craigjclark says:

        My prediction: Grindhouse is going to have a long and fruitful life on video, straight to which films of this ilk are generally released these days. I will cherish that I got to see them at the cineplex, though.

  3. rennameeks says:

    I saw this opening night and loved it (naturally). However, I “got” the concept that the filmmakers (all of them, not just the main two, as the faux trailers had guest directors) were going for. Anyone who hadn’t had a crash course in what the heck a “grindhouse” film was beforehand was going to have a hard time wrapping their head around it (them?). IMO, *that* is what the ad campaign should have focused on: explaining what the hell people were paying to see.

    The whole situation is made even more confusing when you consider that Kill Bill also contained many elements of grindhouse cinema. To the average moviegoer, it might just be a new style for Tarantino. Then again, with stories like this going around, who can think much of the average moviegoer’s intelligence? Didn’t they at LEAST notice the name of the movie they were going to see?

    Craig, I completely agree that the film(s) should have been marketed to the lower-budget audience. I also have to point out that unlike Kill Bill, Planet Terror and Death Proof are already going to be released as separate movies overseas. Why? Because other countries wouldn’t be able to “get” the concept of grindhouse cinema. I guess the Weinsteins expected more from the American audience. At any rate, their scissors shouldn’t be feared in this case, since the movies are already scheduled to appear in both forms on the DVD (together in Grindhouse and as separate entities).

    At any rate, Kill Bill‘s situation was completely different: it was one movie being artificially divided in two, rather than two movies being separated from each other again. Of course, there’s the same underlying principle behind the repackaging in both cases: it’s not what the filmmakers wanted.

    All things considered, I’m glad I saw Grindhouse with an audience that seemed to “get” it. Everyone in the theater laughed at the “missing” reel and didn’t seem to be bothered by the jump in the plot.

    • Todd says:

      IMO, *that* is what the ad campaign should have focused on: explaining what the hell people were paying to see.

      Exactly. Look at a studio like Disney. You may love or hate their movies, but there is not one that comes out and your response to the promotional materials is “Huh?”

      Simple branding: Grindhouse. Not Grindhouse, a double feature with two separate movies and a bunch of other stuff in it. It’s either a single cinematic experience or it isn’t. And I would argue that it is, although I also think that the movies would be better served by watching them one at a time. If only for issues of bladder control.

      My trailer for the movie:

      Grindhouse, then a rush of images: woman with machine-gun leg, zombies attacking restaurant, cars chase on a country road, Danny Trejo with his machete, Nazi werewolves, haunted house, serial killer. Grindhouse. People would “get” it — it’s a big, sprawling, exciting, silly, all-over-the-place sendup/tribute to exploitation cinema. At the end, to seal the deal, mention that it’s directed by Rodriguez and Tarantino. But don’t tell the stories of both movies, and mention the trailers, and try to include it all in a different package — it’s too much for the audience to take in.

      Everyone in the theater laughed at the “missing” reel and didn’t seem to be bothered by the jump in the plot.

      At my showing, everyone howled with laughter at the first missing reel, and then howled in protest at the second one — even though the second one was a much better joke.

      • craigjclark says:

        The thing about the second missing reel is that there was actually a warning before Death Proof started that there was a possibility that it would be missing one.

        Oh, here’s something else about Death Proof: In the grand tradition of exploitation films getting re-released under different names, another title flashed on the screeen briefly before it was artlessly replaced by the generic Death Proof title card. I suspect I may have to wait for the DVD to come out to see what the “original” title was, but has anyone else even mentioned this?

        • Todd says:

          I was in my local cinephile video store, perusing the “70s car-crash” movie section, and came across a movie called Thunder Alley (directed by Richard Rush) with a font identical to the one glimpsed in Death Proof. I was able to read the word “thunder” before the title disappeared, but I couldn’t tell you what the rest of it was.

          • craigjclark says:

            Guess I’ll have to wait on video for that.

            Another thing that I appreciated about the way Grindhouse was put together: Both films were uniquely presented. Planet Terror looked like a print that was on its last legs with all the scratches, skipped frames and surface noise. Death Proof looked a lot cleaner, but the reels were poorly spliced together, resulting in the stutter effect that used to be common when theaters had two projectors trading off reels. With Planet Terror, you suspect it’s missing a reel because it either got destroyed or an enterprising young projectionist stole it to use as masturbation fodder. With Death Proof, you suspect it’s missing because the person who put the reels together simply forgot it.

        • rennameeks says:

          The thing about the second missing reel is that there was actually a warning before Death Proof started that there was a possibility that it would be missing one.

          There was definitely a warning before Planet Terror. I don’t recall the one before Death Proof.

          • craigjclark says:

            I don’t know if this happened at your screening or not, but at the one I attended an employee of the theater came out to explain that there would be things like scratches and reels missing and that those were part of the viewing experience. I don’t remember a warning before Planet Terror other than that verbal one.

            • rennameeks says:

              Nope, we had no verbal warning. I guess we were expected to be an intelligent moviegoing crowd.

              Amusing side note: at my theater, there was a line for Blades of Glory right next to the one for Grindhouse. The latter took up three rows while the former only took one….and there was no one waiting in it. It could just be a coincidence of timing, but somehow, I don’t think so. However, based on the widespread press and box office numbers, this was the exception not the rule.

      • rennameeks says:

        Yes, these two trailers are a bit on the confusing side. Why explain the plots of both movies? Just hype the overall package as a trip back in time with TWO movies. The plots of each shouldn’t matter.

        Amusingly, there is a “create your own trailer” section on the Grindhouse website.

        Everyone in the theater laughed at the “missing” reel and didn’t seem to be bothered by the jump in the plot.

        At my showing, everyone howled with laughter at the first missing reel, and then howled in protest at the second one — even though the second one was a much better joke.

        Really? I thought it was too predictable, too “done.” Of course, I’m not a guy and couldn’t really care less about whether we saw the lap dance or not. 😛 Humor really is in the eye of the beholder.

        The missing reel was completely unexpected – we jump from the sex scene to the restaurant being on fire. ON FIRE. How the FUCK did *THAT* happen??? We’ll never know – whatever happened was in the “missing reel.” What I like about this jump is what I like about Snakes on a Plane – we already know the conventions of the genre, so we don’t need everything spoonfed to us. We know damned well that El Wray is going to turn out to be some hotshot with a past, so why waste time explaining his backstory in detail? We know that all of the survivors were going to end up teaming up, so why justify how they came to be gathered together in the same place? And really, we don’t need to know why the building is on fire – it makes things harder for the heroes, so we can accept it.

        To each their own, of course. 🙂

        • Todd says:

          Cutting back to the building on fire was brilliant and put the movie into a whole different league. By the missing reel in Death Proof being a better joke I meant that it ties in with Stuntman Mike’s emasculation problems. The whole movie is about a man who uses his car as an extension of his penis, and gets his clock thoroughly cleaned by the vengeful ladies in the third act, and the idea that his lapdance scene is the “missing reel” has a psychological aspect that the Planet Terror missing reel does not. The first time it’s a hoot, the second time it underscores a facet of character. Also, I would argue that Death Proof is, formally anyway, utterly about the dashing of expectations. Everything you think is going to happen in Death Proof doesn’t, and what does happen is a complete surprise. Planet Terror is a riotous good time, but Death Proof is something much sneakier and daring.

          I’ve read some threads on line that suggest that Death Proof is told in reverse order, that (SPOILER ALERT!) Stuntman Mike gets pounded by the ladies first, then gives up drinking, heals the scar on his face from Rosario’s boot, paints the skull on his new Nova and goes after the girls in Austin. Any thoughts on that?

          And hey, which theater did you see it at?

          • Todd says:

            In fact, let me go further. Tarantino (and many others) have discussed the pornographic nature of slasher films, where the killing of women are a substitute for sex, and the gorgeous beheading (or whatever) is the equivalent of porn’s “money shot,” meaning, that’s what the punters came to see. By taking out the “missing reel” where he does, Tarantino both acknowledges and critiques the genre he’s working in, keeps the sexual tension tense while undermining the audience’s desires. He’s telling you — yes, I know you came here to see women get screwed/killed, well guess what? I’m not going to show you the first, and I’m going to make it so that when we get to the second, you won’t want to see it any more! And then in Act III (or IV?) he so thoroughly “un-cools” his serial killer that it’s impossible to be scared of him any more, he’s just pathetic and disgraceful. Brilliant stuff.

          • rennameeks says:

            Definitely agreed that the cut in Death Proof has a deeper meaning. I hadn’t read it that way because the same thing could have been accomplished without the announcement of the scene being missing. However, the fact that attention was called to the scene’s absence gives it that extra kick.

            I don’t think that Death Proof is told in anything other than chronological order. Tarantino’s always signaled to his audience in SOME way that the story is being told in a different order and there was no indication of that in Death Proof. Besides, there’s no reason for him to have done so – Tarantino always has a thematic reason for telling a story out of order and there didn’t seem to be one here. If the story had happened in that order, then there *would* have been a scar or some sort of indication that the second half was why it had all happened.

            The very fact that Death Proof is told in order is unusual for Tarantino, but beyond that (and taking Kill Bill into consideration), it felt like a typical Tarantino outing. To me, at least, Planet Terror better captured the feeling of grindhouse cinema. That’s not to say that Death Proof isn’t a good movie – it just didn’t seem to fit in with the first feature and the trailers. It’s got too much of Quentin’s personal mark on it. Again, that’s far from being a bad thing…it’s just not quite what Grindhouse was pitched as in the ads.

            The lovely theaters at Century City were my venue of choice. Completely the wrong setting for the authenticity of Grindhouse, but I was willing to make that sacrifice. Where did you go?

          • yetra says:

            That’s a very fun and interesting theory! I doubt it would actually be true, but I think it works very well when looked at in that way. Out of curiosity, on your second viewing, did you happen to notice if he had a scar in the second half?

            Other thoughts:

            While the marketing could have been simpler, I think it would have been even harder to get people into the theaters for a 3+ hour film without stating up front that you would be seeing two features. Perhaps a more explanatory title: A Grindhouse Tribute Double Feature: Planet Terror by RR and Death Proof by QT. Followed by less confusing trailerness. And yeah, opening easter weekend, with blades of glory as competition, not such a great idea. The target audiences for those two films are too similar (20 something movie goers).

            I think it is a shame that they’ll be splitting it up for oversees. I think foreign audiences would be much more able to appreciate and tolerate the tone and length of this film than your average american would be.

            As for the film title we saw at the beginning, wasn’t it the same title of the movie that the stunt women referenced, and which was the main source material tarantino was paying a tribute to? That was my assumption.

            Anyhow, I totally loved it, but then I’m a film geek who appreciates crazy batshit sex and violence fun, tarantino dialogue, and film references. My boyfriend, who loves tarantino, enjoyed it as well, but had pretty intense back pain after, probably partially from the length of sitting, but mostly from being so damn tense for so long. I think there’s a reason most horror/grindhouse films were short. The body can’t be subjected to that much clenching for that long.

            • Todd says:

              Stuntman Mike’s scar is intact and in place — there is no indication that we’ve gone back in time. Which means that Death Proof is alone among Tarantino movies, the only one that does not futz with time.

              This means that Stuntman Mike was — gasp! — lying when he said to Hippie Chick that he was a teetotaler, since he carries a bottle of whiskey in his glove compartment (I wonder if the glove compartment is “death proof” — or if the “proof” of the whiskey is what Tarantino is referring to. Maybe the whole movie is really about alcoholism. That might sound weird, but people do spend an awful lot of time in the movie getting drunk.)

              There is, however, a more serious continuity problem with Death Proof, which is that it’s taking place as the world is ending. That is, the death of Jungle Julie is mentioned on Fergie’s radio during Planet Terror — meaning that the second half of Death Proof takes place as the world is being ravaged by zombie attacks. And yet in rural Tennessee, things go on as normal as ever — hicks sell used cars and film companies make cheerleader movies.

              The “original title” of Death Proof is Thunder Bolt; the movie with the white Challenger (Challenger — perfect) that the women talk about is Vanishing Point.

              I think the way to get people to show up for a 3 1/2 hour movie is to not mention that it’s 3 1/2 hours long. I think that their impulse to show people how much movie they were getting (and Grindhouse is a hugely generous offering by any stretch) backfired in this case — their target audience has never even been to a double feature.

              It is a shame that they’ll be split up overseas (and probably on DVD — the better to exploit the market), but for now I count myself blessed to have such a bounty of cinema in the theaters.

              • rennameeks says:

                “It is a shame that they’ll be split up overseas (and probably on DVD — the better to exploit the market), but for now I count myself blessed to have such a bounty of cinema in the theaters.”

                As far as I’ve heard, both the combined version and the separate versions will be in the same DVD package. I’m liking the trend of including the original theatrical version on DVDs in addition to the “souped up” version. Sure, the cost gets upped, but for the purists, it’s a great option.

                • Todd says:

                  Where did you hear that? I’ve heard the opposite, that the Weinsteins are stressing that audiences will only be able to see Grindhouse in this form in theaters, the better to sell this difficult, unwieldly package. Remember, these are the people who have yet to issue Kill Bill in its intended form, despite the clamor for it.

                  • rennameeks says:

                    I had heard from my brother, who had worked the junket for Grindhouse, which is where he’d heard it. That was before the advertising campaign for Grindhouse had been deemed a failure, so that information’s validity might have taken a nosedive.

        • craigjclark says:

          We know damned well that El Wray is going to turn out to be some hotshot with a past, so why waste time explaining his backstory in detail?

          Exactly. I loved the line that Michael Biehn’s character says to him right afterwards: “Oh, and thanks for telling me about that thing.” Really rubbed it in the audience’s face.

  4. themacguffin says:

    I sent the early trailers around to my friends and they all came back to me with “is this real?” “there is no way this is a movie”, they all thought it was a parody ad.

    Maybe the generation they were aiming at stayed home and rented Netflix while the generation that frequents the theatres went to see that Blades Of Glory crap?

  5. teamwak says:

    I may get pilloried for this, but I think the whole project looks a bit silly! I think I started to lose faith when the photo of a girl with a machinegun instead of a leg. Zombies…fine, leg-gun…pain, balance, infection, re-coil? Nah, dont buy it! And an evil stunt driver mowing down girls…Hmmm.

    I worry that QT is beginning to suffer from cool-for-cools-sake syndrome. Its cool because he says it is. I dunno. I think I have more faith in RR as a filmmaker.

    As much as I love Pulp Fiction, I only ever thought Kill Bill was a four star movie, never a five.

    I think I will wait for the DVD and see if I was wrong. Your glowing reviews may make me think again.

    • Todd says:

      I think the whole project looks a bit silly!

      But that’s the problem — it does look silly!

      And in truth, it is silly. Outside of the “Grindhouse” concept, it’s arguable as to whether either of the features would stand up to the other works of their respective directors.

      I had no trouble accepting Rose McGowan’s leg, except that there’s no indication as to how she actually gets the thing to fire. It just seems to fire itself. So as a lover of automatic weapons, I had a huge problem with the movie.

      • craigjclark says:

        Outside of the “Grindhouse” concept, it’s arguable as to whether either of the features would stand up to the other works of their respective directors.

        I’m not so sure about that one. After Planet Terror, I felt like I could have walked out of the theater at that moment and been completely satisfied. Maybe that’s because Rodriguez isn’t saddled with the same “cinematic voice of his generation” tag that Tarantino is (and which, it appears, he is rapidly losing).

      • teamwak says:

        Isnt it funny that no one has a problem with a town turning into crazed zombies, but get the mechanics of a machine gun wrong, and it stands out as a sore thumb.

        PS. There was a great anecdote from Hitchcock about your friend Jessica Tandy from The Birds. He shouted out to her across the set “If that bird tries to go up your skirt, grab it with both hands. Because a bird in the hand”. Lol. Gotta love the guy!

        • greyaenigma says:

          RE: Your Brains

          We need more zombies standing up for zombie right and zombie mechanics:

          “Zombies do not need just brains, we need many things. Livers, for example. Sometimes just a jawbone. Other times we’ll need need your eyes. Your luscious, tasty eyes.”

        • popebuck1 says:

          Donald Westlake once said that 90% of his “fan mail” came from people pointing out his errors about two topics: cars and guns. People who are into those two topics are (a) highly technical-minded, and (b) obsessive about performance details. So they tend to really resent any factual errors, however small, in dealing with their pet obsessions.

  6. curt_holman says:

    I don’t think I ever heard the term “grindhouse” before Quentin Tarantino started talking up ‘Kill Bill,’ although I certainly knew the concept. (And I was born in the 1960s.)

    I’m fascinated by the question as to why the audience who made 300 and Ghost Rider huge hits didn’t turn out for Grindhouse, which they would probably love. I think the irony/homage thing is part of it — if there’s some ambiguity as to whether it’s a “real” film experience, I think they could care less. It’s like the way the blogosphere was so stoked about Snakes on a Plane but the usual opening weekend ticket buyers (many of which, I would imagine, are in their teens and 20s) couldn’t care less.

  7. thebitterguy says:

    Wow. I hadn’t really thought about it like that. I was wondering why it did so poorly (seriously, it made like Serenity money), but I always thought it had been clearly listed as a double feature of old-timey movies, two for one price.

    There was a trailer that even started with a definition of what Grindhouse was, and mentioned that it would be a double bill, and listed Rodriguez presents planet Terror and Tarantino presents Death Proof.

    • Todd says:

      But, see, that’s too much information. You can call “the movie” Grindhouse, and you can say it’s a double feature, but to say it’s a movie titled Grindhouse and it’s also two separate movies called Planet Terror and Death Proof, and maybe it’s a spoof and maybe it’s for real and maybe it’a an I-don’t-know-what pushes it too far into the “not worth risking my ten dollars” area.

  8. greyaenigma says:

    It’s all my fault. I meant to see it this weekend, but ran out of time. I’ll send my personal apologies to the directors.

    The best I can figure is that people equate old with bad. But there were clearly enough explosions and car crashes. I jut don’t know. Maybe there wasn’t enough advertising outside of LA. Only first heard about it — from a movie critic just a few weeks before it opened. Maybe these sorts of movies need more time to build momentum.

  9. The initial reports were that “Grindhouse” did well on the coasts but poorly in the South and Midwest. I think terminology may be the problem. Had the film been named “Drive-In,” you probably would have seen the opposite result. I mean, I live in the South. If I weren’t obsessive about exploitation movies, I wouldn’t know what a “grindhouse” was. We didn’t have grindhouses. We had drive-ins.

    • Todd says:

      Back in the 70s, there was a movie called Movie Movie directed by Stanley Donen and starring George C. Scott, that was the Grindhouse of its day, a brilliant send-up/homage to a bygone era of B-pictures. It too was a double feature with fake trailers in between, and it too died a lonely death at the box office. There’s something about the format that confuses people, if only in narrative terms. You go to a movie, you expect a complete experience: premise, development, crisis, denoument. The fact that you get two, no matter how good the movies are or how generous the servings, makes it unwieldly and weird. And then when you look at the movies contained in Grindhouse, with their meta-film commentary and their continual dashing of expectations, it’s hardly surprising that some people were put off by the package.

      • craigjclark says:

        I’m glad I’m not the only person who remembers Movie Movie. (I saw it in college during a class.) Of course, that one clocks in at 105 minutes, so at least Donen and company knew to keep things brief. (And from what I remember, the boxing story with Harry Hamlin was pretty funny.)

      • Anonymous says:


        Saw the trailer. Saw the overindulgence. Just didn’t care.

  10. mr_noy says:

    I was lucky enough to see a sold-out showing of Grindhouse at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. The audience is film savvy and the Drafthouse regularly screens exploitation flicks and double features. It shouldn’t have an effect on a film, but frankly people get a kick out of seeing their city portrayed on the big screen. It’s the whole “I can see my house” phenomenon. Adding to the coolness was the actual working prop sign for The Bone Shack flickering above our heads as we waited in line. Oh, and beer “and, I don’t mean just like a paper cup, I’m talking about a glass of beer.” In short, the perfect audience. The perfect venue. I had a great time.

    That being said, I’m not surprised that other people might have been confused or turned-off by the film. That communal experience with that group in that environment is a large part of what made the movie for me. Had I seen it alone in a sterile multi-plex with a small audience who were unfamiliar with this type of filmmaking I’m not sure that I would have enjoyed it as much.

    • Todd says:

      Austin is a great town. I was lucky enough to work on Rodriguez’s The Faculty for a week or so back in the day, and he struck me as, quite simply, the coolest guy in show business. As in a cucumber. He would be in his office in the middle of pre-production with all manner of crises boiling all around him, and he would just sit there and play his electric guitar and nod at the various panicked department heads and their problems. Then he would drop everything when a member of his family dropped by. I see what’s coming out of Austin now and think maybe I moved to the wrong city.

      • mr_noy says:

        Austin is a great town, but I don’t think it’s quite the arts mecca people would like to think it is in spite of the presence of a few industry players. Still, there’s no shortage of enthusiastic talented people trying to get things done. Over the past 10 years I’ve worked on a number of live theater projects and independent shorts and features but have never made a living doing it. Virtually every creative person I know needs to have a dayjob or goes for long stretches between paying gigs.

        I think people from LA and New York like the laid back vibe (and lower housing costs) but while there may not be as much competition down here, there’s not as many opportunities either. The warm weather and lower cost of living attracts a lot of out of towners which has helped raise Austin’s national profile and attract industry. Alas, the price of progress is that housing prices have risen sky high (although it must look like a steal to East/West Coasters). That’s had a negative impact on a lot of local artists and arts institutions who were once able to eke out some kind of living.

        All whining aside, if you had to live in the reddest of red states, the oasis of blue that is Austin would be the ideal choice. Apropos of nothing, I was browsing through my local video store the other day and I saw a VHS copy of your one man show “Living in Flames”. Alas, I no longer own a VCR.

        • Todd says:

          Wow — if there’s one place I would imagine one could find a copy of Living in Flames, it would be at a video store in Austin.

  11. mikeyed says:

    I still haven’t seen it cause I don’t have the extra cash lying around yet to do so. I keep on buying cds, food, and/or coffee.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I’m going a second time

    Today, I and about 50 other people went to a 2:30 matinee in a theater that holds about 400. It restored my will to live.
    But I still can’t talk anyone else into going.