David Bordwell's website on cinema   click for CV




Perplexing Plots: Popular Storytelling and the Poetics of Murder

On the History of Film Style pdf online

Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling

Film Art: An Introduction

Christopher Nolan: A Labyrinth of Linkages pdf online

Pandora’s Digital Box: Films, Files, and the Future of Movies pdf online

Planet Hong Kong, second edition pdf online

The Way Hollywood Tells It pdf online

Poetics of Cinema pdf online

Figures Traced In Light

Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema pdf online

Exporting Entertainment: America in the World Film Market 1907–1934 pdf online


Hou Hsiao-hsien: A new video lecture!

CinemaScope: The Modern Miracle You See Without Glasses

How Motion Pictures Became the Movies

Constructive editing in Pickpocket: A video essay


Rex Stout: Logomachizing

Lessons with Bazin: Six Paths to a Poetics

A Celestial Cinémathèque? or, Film Archives and Me: A Semi-Personal History

Shklovsky and His “Monument to a Scientific Error”

Murder Culture: Adventures in 1940s Suspense

The Viewer’s Share: Models of Mind in Explaining Film

Common Sense + Film Theory = Common-Sense Film Theory?

Mad Detective: Doubling Down

The Classical Hollywood Cinema Twenty-Five Years Along

Nordisk and the Tableau Aesthetic

William Cameron Menzies: One Forceful, Impressive Idea

Another Shaw Production: Anamorphic Adventures in Hong Kong

Paolo Gioli’s Vertical Cinema

(Re)Discovering Charles Dekeukeleire

Doing Film History

The Hook: Scene Transitions in Classical Cinema

Anatomy of the Action Picture

Hearing Voices

Preface, Croatian edition, On the History of Film Style

Slavoj Žižek: Say Anything

Film and the Historical Return

Studying Cinema


Book Reports

Observations on film art

Borat Make Benefit Glorious Multinational of Murdoch

Saturday | November 11, 2006   open printable version open printable version

Kristin here–

For some reason, the November 10 issue of Entertainment Weekly ran a story right up front in their “Newsnotes” section as to whether Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan would be a success based on its internet hype. By the time the magazine showed up in our mailbox early the week after the November 3 release, the film had spectacularly won the weekend. Won it despite being in only 837 theaters. Won it with an average $31,607 per screen average for a total weekend haul of $26,455,463. By the way, shortly before the release, Fox actually reduced the number of planned theaters, wary about the film’s dubious chances. (I swear I said at the time, what are they thinking?)

The film predicted by Variety to win the weekend,, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause came in a respectable second on 3,458 screens, averaged $5,640 and totaled $19,504,038. Flushed Away was not far behind, on 3,707 screen, averaging $5,075 and totaling $18,814,323. It seems fairly obvious that the two family-oriented films split that audience, while the considerable non-family-oriented audience had one obvious choice.

This film was hyped to an extent that few $18 million movies are. A clip was posted on YouTube shortly before the release, as the EW article points out, and chat, photos, and reviews filled the internet. EW’s question was this: Would Borat suffer the fate of Snakes on a Plane? That film caused huge amounts of buzz in cyberspace but reaped somewhat disappointing ticket sales for a horror-thriller. The film’s worldwide box-office, $59,377,419 on a reported budget of $33 million, wasn’t great, but it wasn’t disastrous, either. I suspect DVD sales will be much higher and put the film in the black.

The semi-failure of Snakes has led to speculation, as in EW’s article, that maybe the internet isn’t as powerful a means of publicizing films as the studios hoped. Borat’s success demonstrates that we just plain don’t know yet. Probably in some cases, yes, in some cases, no—just as with other forms of publicity. EW assigns grades to films’ trailers. Maybe someday they’ll do the same for internet campaigns.

Sure, Borat was all over the internet, but it was also all over the other media. You had to be living in a lighthouse on Easter Island if you wanted to miss all the PR. Sasha Baron Cohen himself was everywhere, including the sidewalk in front of the White House, promoting the film. He wisely appeared as Borat rather than as himself, giving people beyond his relatively small existing fan base a vivid hint of what they could expect from the film. The hype fed upon itself as the regular print and broadcast media began to treat the film as news precisely because it was becoming ubiquitous—and because the colorful Cohen/Borat made for great infotainment.

Even as I was drafting this entry, boxofficemojo.com posted the estimates for the Friday-night box-office figures. Not surprisingly, the top three films of last weekend look set to become the top three films of this weekend. Borat’s percentage of drop between weekends will probably be pretty low, a sign of a film with good word-of-mouth in addition to hype. “Borat on a Plane?” EW asks. Clearly not.

I’m interested in the relationship between online interest and the success of films. When I say “online interest,” I mostly mean the many fan-created sites and chatroom discussion that range far beyond a studio’s own campaign in cyberspace. In The Frodo Franchise, I’ve got two chapters on the relationship of The Lord of the Rings to the online publicity, from official to highly unofficial. There the internet clearly made a difference and boosted the film’s success, for a variety of reasons. But for other films without a built-in fan base that break out and generate widespread interest in cyberspace—The Blair Witch Project being the most obvious exception—the case is not so clear.

The contrasting cases of Borat and Snakes on a Plane are fascinating, and I’m planning to write more about the subject when the DVD of the latter comes out on January 2 (complete with a “Snakes on a Blog” supplement). I’ll explore why the two met such different fates despite the apparent similarity of the build-up on the internet.

Comments are closed.

David Bordwell
top of page

have comments about the state of this website? go here