Super 8, the much-anticipated summer blockbuster directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg, is betting its success on a "retro marketing" tactic the Jaws director used for many of his classic '70s and '80s "creature films": Namely, keeping many plot points — particularly about Super 8’s mysterious monster — under wraps. The strategy's worked in recent years (see 2008's Cloverfield), but early film-industry tracking predicts a soft, disappointing opening for Super 8, as low as $30 million. One poll revealed that less than two-thirds of respondents had even heard of it, and just one-third were interested in seeing it. (Compare that to 90 percent awareness of and almost 50 percent interest in last week's X-Men: First Class.) Super 8 is the "lone original" blockbuster opening this summer — in a year when 27 sequels are set for release — and there's a lot at stake in proving that fresh ideas are still worth producing. Is the film's secretiveness to blame for its poor outlook?
Yes, a big opening would be "miraculous": Spielberg's and Abrams' "penchant for secrecy" is absolutely to blame for the "surprising" disinterest in Super 8, says Claude Brodesser-Akner at New York, especially given the film's stellar reviews and Spielberg's massive popularity. Trailers for last summer's hit, Inception, showed eager audiences many of the film's "money shots," which "stoked their appetite." Maybe Spielberg and Abrams should have opened the doors a little wider.
"Is J.J. Abrams's Super 8 headed for box office disappointment?"
No, the mystery is wonderful: Abrams and Co. deserve credit, says S.T. Vanairsdale at Movieline, "for daring to let Super 8 succeed or fail on its own accord," without "resorting to the unhinged Hollywood stunts." Super 8 has the same thing going for it that E.T. did in 1982. Because the creature is kept a secret, audiences will actually be talking more about the movie after it opens than they did before its release. "Imagine! A film culture that subsists on whole films as opposed to micromanaged fragments of hype."
"What the box office skeptics are missing about Super 8"
Audience demands have changed since Spielberg's heyday: We've all been frustrated when a film's "best lines or visuals" are "spoiled" by trailers, says Mike Fleming at Deadline. But it's better to annoy viewers who are convinced to actually see your movie than to leave "potential audiences indifferent." You've got to grab people, or they'll pick one of many, many other options to fill their time. "It was a different world when Spielberg held everything secret." These days, audiences "have shorter attention spans."
"Soft tracking be damned! Studio saving J.J. Abrams' Super 8 plot secrets until Friday"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Sorry, GOP, tax cuts don't pay for themselves
- Pope Francis' American problem
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- Alien conspiracy theorists think the government is on the verge of spilling big secrets
- Why the Sony hack changes everything
- Are there dogs in heaven? Let's hope not.
Subscribe to the Week