So What Went Wrong with Jennifer's Body?

diablo_cody_tiff_jennifers.jpg

Aside from the relatively strong showing for Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, the past weekend comprised some of the stinkiest high-profile openings in recent memory. None were more aromatic than Jennifer's Body, which went from a highly anticipated horror comedy starring the Hottest Woman in the World™ to devastated studio also-ran in about a month flat. Its dearth of critical supporters (including A.O. Scott, Dana Stevens and yours truly) reflected its pathetic $6.8 million gross, even while the media interest from Toronto alone (not to mention its generally critic-proof genre creds) suggested something a little more bulletproof at the box office. How could it go so wrong? Let Movieline count the ways.

1. The distributor. 20th Century Fox's genre wing, Fox Atomic, had Jennifer's Body in the can by the time the mother ship shut it down last spring. Instead of offloading the film to Fox Searchlight, which nimbly maneuvered Diablo Cody's previous brainchild Juno to awards-season lucre in 2007, a decision was somehow reached to fill a gap in Big Fox's early fall slate with a quirky, gory, post-feminist horror romp starring Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried. Big mistake. You'd have to go back to The Devil Wears Prada to find an example of a Fox release that worked without a genuine male lead; you'd probably have to go back to Aliens to find a genre example of such that they pulled off successfully. In any case, it was a mismatch from the start, especially considering...

2. The marketing. Maybe I was looking in the wrong places, but I never saw a single TV spot, billboard, transit poster, lobby standee, or other promotional measure for Jennifer's Body anywhere in New York. I'm not sure how it went in Los Angeles or any of the other national markets where Body was playing on more than 2,700 screens, but for a film to command so much hype online yet be altogether hidden once people leave their desks seems like something of a lost opportunity. Particularly when people never seemed to know...

3. The release date. I was actually one of those people earlier this month, downplaying Body's poor tracking numbers in an argument with a peer who then reminded me, "But it opens Sept. 18!" That shut me up. On one hand, I appreciate Fox attempting to extract Body from the pre-Labor Day/post-New Year's genre ghetto. On the other, I don't think it's displaying too much of a lack of imagination to say that if this doesn't go in mid- to late-October, it doesn't go at all. Again, this is why studios leave specialty films to specialty distributors -- especially if you have one in-house (e.g. Warners/New Line's The Final Destination).

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Comments

  • Guy Whitey Corngood says:

    Nice post. I hope this is being passed around the Fox Atomic marketing department...oh wait.
    One advertising critique I would add is the atrocious TV spots. You might not have seen billboards for this movie, but the 30s and 15s were blanketed on TV, it seemed like. Only problem was the ads all made it look like a pretty run-of-the-mill horror (which I guess it ultimately turned out to be.)
    Considering "Juno" rode to a screenwriting Oscar on the back of its marketing campaign masterstroke, you'd think this film too would've been marketed more as quirky than scary. Lay people might not know Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman by name, but some touting of "FROM THE GUYS WHO BROUGHT YOU..." could've helped.
    But if you insist on going the horror marketing route, why they would choose to release it well over a month before Halloween is anyone's guess.

  • SaltySue says:

    What part of NY were you people in? I saw plenty of JB commercials and let us not forget there are other areas outside of NY who didn't want to see Jennifer's Body either.
    "Toss in weeks’ worth of press by the whip-tongued Fox.... Except for one massive problem: It all happened in Toronto..."
    Ms. Fox and Cody have been talking about this movie/lesbian kiss endlessly for much longer than a week. The Buzz was always there unfortunately nobody fell for it's cheap marketing ploys "come for Megan Fox's body/lesbian kiss stay for the story.
    Maybe this movie will make a comeback next week and jump to 3rd or 4th place, but I'm already sick of hearing people say "Don't worry it'll become a classic just like Heathers." Really???

  • Old No.7 says:

    Perhaps what would help Megan's box office appeal is if she adopted a six-pack of orphans.

  • XxfillexX says:

    Very good post.
    You hit the nail on the head.
    Most of the 'big time' critics don't know anything about the teen comedy genre. They look at things from their old perspective and expect to be taken seriously by the younger generation. The problem was not with the writing or the cast. People are just really close-mided to what's 'in' with the younger gen.
    Was the movie what I expected? No. But it was still good nonetheless. It was a different kind of horror that was relatable to my younger tastes. Nowadays, people think they can pass off the dumbest comedies they could write (Epic Movie, Scary Movie 4, etc.) and the cheesiest horror films they could write for 'our generation' and expect us to bite... *cough* Sorority Row *cough*.
    Now when someone comes along and knows what young people are in to, they pass it off because it's so foreign and they're so old. Diablo is doing just fine and so are the people casting her projects. If I'm wanting to see the end, even if I could guess what it is, then I'd say it was a success, no matter what the box office says. Production screwed them on this one.

  • Brian says:

    I live in Dallas and only saw commercials in the week preceding the release. They were the 15 and 30 second spots mentioned above. They made JB look like another dumb teen horror movie. Some of my friends refused to see it because they had already wasted money on dumbass horror flicks like Final Destination, Halloween II, and Sorority Row.
    I see nearly every movie released and only saw the JB trailer before District 9. I did not see it in front of Halloween II, Final D, Sorority Row, or Whiteout. Hell, I didn't even see it in front of All About Steve, which is another Fox movie. No billboards, lobby standee displays in theaters, and not even many posters in theaters.
    JB was too smart for the people who were targeted by the marketing campaign (idiot teens) and yet the ads made it seem to dumb to the people the movie was written for (people who like dark comedy) so in the end it wasn't able to find much of an audience. That having been said, I saw it and liked it quite a bit, especially Amanda Seyfried's performance.

  • Erin says:

    "What part of NY were you people in?"
    I was going to say the same thing. I'm in Western NY, and I saw plenty of commercials for "JB".
    Let's not forget, DC still has "The United States of Tara", so unless that's cancelled at the end of the season, she won't have to worry about unemployment anytime soon. Doesn't she have another book coming out at some point as well?
    But a 'dearth' of good reviews? For every good review I read of this movie, I read two lukewarm ones. I may still go see it, though.

  • Lorin says:

    "Could it use a more knockout horror blow by the end? Sure it could. Could it be funnier? I guess so. But: That’s not the movie Cody and Kusama wanted to make."
    Man, I hate it when people set out to make a mediocre flick and everyone figures it out beforehand and stays away. This is no lost classic. Who are we crying for?

  • JM says:

    I'm in rural NC and saw spots quite a lot over the past month or two. I think there might have been a mismatch on the horror-comedy element of it (the promos seemed more all horror and little backstory). I don't think there was a problem in releasing a horror film before Halloween (didn't Final Destination already break $100 mil worldwide?). All the reviews I read were basically "Wow, Megan Fox can actually act". Not sure about why it did so bad. Here are some guesses though: Megan Fox would definitely appeal to the guy demographics but I think you'd have to give a good reason for girls to drag them into the theatre. Also, an R, so maybe missed with the high school age group (though FD was also R). Maybe those factors along with a lack of coherent positioning in their marketing campaign.

  • Michael Adams says:

    Good post, STV.
    In addition to the reasons cited, I'm saying fanboy backlash against a successful girl-writer has something to do with it. To this end, very positive reviews from established print critics were drowned out by website hatin'. Check Rottentomatoes and you'll see what I mean. Filter out the JoeBasementNews.com blurbs and it's a different picture of critical reaction.
    For the record, I saw it for Empire in Australia, before any of the US reviews had come through, and thought it was terrific. Smart, funny, sexy and scary on occasion. A definite four-star film.
    As for the dead September frame, it's being released in Australia on October 29 so perhaps it'll do better here. (If, of course, Fox don't send it straight to DVD on the back of its US take).

  • np says:

    "Maybe I was looking in the wrong places, but I never saw a single TV spot, billboard, transit poster, lobby standee, or other promotional measure for Jennifer’s Body anywhere in New York."
    Srsly. All I see are those fucking Surrogates posters _everywhere_ in the subway system. Hate them and refuse to see the movie just because of the oversaturation.

  • Michael Adams says:

    My robot stand-in with the bad wig is going to Surrogates for me.

  • Brian says:

    I'd like to think, as Michael Adams does, that angry fanboy "critics" helped wreck JB. However, if you go to Rotten Tomatoes, the total score for JB is 43%, but if you look at top critics only the score drops to 38%. Established critics liked the movie less that the basement dwellers.

  • Bill says:

    What a clueless article. I love how when the "it" people fail like they often do - it ends up being blamed on everyone else.
    You want to know why this bombed? The producers, i.e. Reitman, Cody and Fox all bought into their own hype. And they are not all that.
    They also treated the audience with total disdain. Cody and Kusama ran around telling people this film was for girls. Which should have been good since young women are the core audience for horror films and they make up about 2/3's of the audience on most scarefests. But then they cast Megan Fox who girls can't stand, they made a film that wasn't scary which is why girls go to the horror flicks in the first place and then they acted like they were somehow finally giving the "girls" what they really need as if they were their Mom's serving up nutritious food.
    Did it ever dawn on Cody and Kusama that young women go to see the Final Destination flicks, Saw and Hostel exactly because those films deliver the scares that horror fans want from a film instead of acting like these fans are somehow a gullible bunch of lemmings that go to films simply because that's what the studios give them? I don't think so.
    Well, now they know and so do the folks at Summit who crapped out with a similar film in Sorority Row and the Weinstein's found out from the failure of Halloween 2.
    But the biggest problem was actually that lots of people did see Juno and most of them didn't think it was very good. They thought the dialog was strained and not that funny and having seen Juno they weren't about to be fooled again.
    Look for Derby Girl and Up In The Air to underperform as well despite much better reviews. Both films are getting those "not an entirely satisfying film" type of reviews so don't expect much in terms of legs once people start viewing both movies in the multiplex.

  • guyver says:

    Great post. This is an intelligent, interesting movie that was presented in a completely offputting way. Where do these commenters get this idea that the audience was treated with disdain by the filmmakers? Because they imagined people might enjoy a non-run-of-the-mill horror movie? All you people cheering the boxoffice letdown of Jennifer's Body and valorizing mediocrity are bumming me out. Love it or hate it, this is a smart, unique movie.
    One other boxoffice factor: when I went on Saturday night, there were two large groups of I assume high school freshmen and sophomores in front of me in line who bought tickets for "Meatballs." Guess who I saw in the Jennifer's Body cinema? Such are the perils of the R-rating.

  • william says:

    I can't believe nobody else has mentioned this as being a reason that the movie has failed: people are just plain sick of seeing, hearing and reading Megan Fox EVERYWHERE.
    The girl has only made like 3 films in as many years, but somehow manages to squeeze herself into every single form of media out there. You cannot escape her, whether it's at the magazine stands or passing by channels on TV and so on.
    I think people just finally got sick of so much "Megan Fox" oversaturation by this point. Her publicist/manager should be very wary about how fickle the American public can be, and if the public gets tired of someone shamelessly promoting themselves everywhere nonstop, they will stop paying attention to them.
    Also as someone else correctly pointed out above, nobody fell for the cheap trick involving teasers of Megan Fox showing parts of her boobs or having a kiss with another girl. This seemed like a cheap attempt to try and bring people into the theater, as if the producers were thinking "Just show a little bit of Megan Fox T&A and those idiots will come in like lambs to slaughter". Nobody bought that, and it was frankly insulting for someone to think that by just showing Megan Fox's body every guy out there will stupidly gravitate to the movie. Also everyone knows that there's never going to be any Megan Fox nudity, so why tease like it's going to happen.

  • Yes they do.But there really is not a standardized way of measuring the cleaning effectivness.(except for the room size) I would check out consumer reports "archives" and get the most recent tests on them,for comparison.

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