Snakes on the internet, too?

The movie “Snakes on a Plane” had enormous internet buzz before being released , but fizzled at the box office.

This has led to a great deal of discussion in both the traditional media and online about what does or does not make internet buzz translate into commercial success.

One reasonable answer to that question may be that when the buzz is faked/manufactured, commercial success will not follow.

Was the buzz around “Snakes on a Plane” artificially manipulated by people involved with the movie? Economist Cyril Morong, who teaches at San Antonio College, thinks the answer to that question may be “yes.” He has assembled some data to try to make his point.

What follows is his analysis, in the form of an email he sent to me and consented to have me post here on the blog.

From Cyril:

Over at the Internet Movie Database (IMBD), you can rate a movie from 1 to 10 with 10 being the best. One commentor said it was strange how the percentage of people giving the movie [Snakes on a Plane] 10 out of 10 was much, much higher than the percentage of people giving it 9 out of 10 (65.7% vs. 9.2%). They suggested that this was a big dropoff and maybe something was not quite kosher about the ratings (maybe a bunch of phony 10 out of 10 votes were cast).

So I looked at the other top box office movies for Friday and for the whole year to see how they did (from a website called “The Numbers”). Here are their ratios in terms of what % of the voters gave it 10 and what % gave it 9. “Snakes” is very unusual, with the 10% being about 7 times higher than the 9%. The first number is what % gave the movie 10 and the number after the / is what % gave in 9.

Snakes on a Plane 65.7/9.2
Invincible 28.4/13.5
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby 20.9/11.2
Beerfest 33.4/14.2
Idlewild 30.7/9.4
Accepted 27.3/10.2
Step Up 39.2/7
Little Miss Sunshine 52.7/25.3
World Trade Center 31.2/13.3
Barnyard 17.0/5.3
Superman Returns 28.2/15.2
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest 34.5/15
Cars 32.6/18.7
X-Men 21.8/13.1
Da Vinci Code 19.2/8.9
Ice Age 19.5/10.8
Over the Hedge 20.8/14.5
Click 34.3/12.7
Mission: Impossible 15.9/11.1
The Devil Wears Prada 20.6/14.0

Notice that the 10% to 9% ratio is usually around 2 to 3, sometimes even less. So “Snakes” is unusual. I am not sure if it statistically significant, though. But it would not surprise me.

Also, I found the rating given to each of these movies by the “top 1000 voters.” I guess those are the people who vote the most. The top 1000 only gave “Snakes” a 5.9. That dropoff of 2.0 is large, but not the largest. But given that 7.9 is normally a very good rating, and 5.9 not too good, it is interesting.

Below are how these movies did overall and then with the top 1000 voters. The number in parantheses is how many votes. Notice that “Little Miss Sunshine” also drops off quite a bit. Alot of movies drop off by less than 1 going to the top 1000 voters.

Snakes on a Plane 7.9 (19,072)-5.9(49)
Invincible 7 (356)-7.8 (5)
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby 6.6 (7329)-6.0 (49)
Beerfest 6.8 (613)-6.8 (8)
Idlewild 5.7(192)-no votes from top 1000 voters
Accepted 6.2 (1187)-3.9(13)
Step Up 4.8 (1953)-3.4 (18)
Little Miss Sunshine 8.4 (5193)-6.0(45)
World Trade Center 7.1(4587)-6.8(39)
Barnyard 4.5 (546)-3.3(15)
Superman Returns 7.1 (36575)-6.4(179)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest 7.3/10 (44,012)-6.7 (185)
Cars 7.7 (11,435)-7.0 (106)
X-Men 7.0 (37,669)-6.8 (226)
Da Vinci Code 6.5 (38,383)-5.8(186)
Ice Age 6.9 (11,672)-6.3(117)
Over the Hedge 7.2 (6,584) 6.7(93)
Click 6.9 (8,905)-5.3 (56)
Mission: Impossible 6.8(21,591)-6.2(161)
The Devil Wears Prada 7.0 (5,598)-6.2(48)

I wouldn’t say this is a smoking gun, although it is suggestive that something is amiss. Hat’s off to Cyril for going out and getting the data to test an interesting hypothesis. Do any other blog readers have ideas about how to figure out whether the buzz for Snakes may not be exactly what it seems?

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  1. zbicyclist says:

    OK, it’s a blog analysis, but still there should be some standards. Note that if the movie is rated a “10″ by 65.7% of the voters, there are only 34.3% left. If 9.2% rated it a “9″, that’s 9.2/34.3 = 26% of those remaining.

    Similar numbers of “9″ voters as a percent of “not 10″ voters — for Invincible (19%) or Talladega (14%) — show that these movied had even more of a “dropoff”.

    That’s not surprising — if there are bunch of people rating a movie “10″, one would expect a higher than normal level of “9″‘s because the overall rating is so high.

    It may well be that the voting was manipulated, but the “dropoff” analysis doesn’t show it.

    The second set of data is more suggestive of manipulation. Note that the number of “Top 1000 voters” rating Snakes was 49 – practically the same number as rated “The Devil wears Pravda”, “Click”, “Little Miss Sunshine”, and “Talladega”. Yet the number of total votes is much larger for “Snakes” than for these other movies.

    So, “Snakes” gets more total votes, and this plethora of votes is much more positive — that’s a better case for “buzz marketing”.

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  2. zbicyclist says:

    OK, it’s a blog analysis, but still there should be some standards. Note that if the movie is rated a “10″ by 65.7% of the voters, there are only 34.3% left. If 9.2% rated it a “9″, that’s 9.2/34.3 = 26% of those remaining.

    Similar numbers of “9″ voters as a percent of “not 10″ voters — for Invincible (19%) or Talladega (14%) — show that these movied had even more of a “dropoff”.

    That’s not surprising — if there are bunch of people rating a movie “10″, one would expect a higher than normal level of “9″‘s because the overall rating is so high.

    It may well be that the voting was manipulated, but the “dropoff” analysis doesn’t show it.

    The second set of data is more suggestive of manipulation. Note that the number of “Top 1000 voters” rating Snakes was 49 – practically the same number as rated “The Devil wears Pravda”, “Click”, “Little Miss Sunshine”, and “Talladega”. Yet the number of total votes is much larger for “Snakes” than for these other movies.

    So, “Snakes” gets more total votes, and this plethora of votes is much more positive — that’s a better case for “buzz marketing”.

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  3. sppeterson says:

    I think the Snakes rating is more indiciative of human psychology than corporate cleverness.

    The reason it got all the internet hype is the concept — and no matter how good or bad the film was, the concept would still be there. Moreover, these people excited about the concept are already on the internet, and thus more likely to vote on IMDB, and just throw down a 10 vote. Geek-friendly films tend to do well on IMDB, especially in the first week. V for Vendetta received very high ratings on IMDB then lowered somewhat over the following weeks — much like Snakes on a Plane. Even more arty films like Little Miss Sunshine have some geek appeal due to their indie cred.

    Finally, IMDB registers over 12,000 votes fo 10 for Snakes — that seems like an awful lot of paychecks for the studio to cut without someone blabbing somewhere on the internet that they got paid for voting.

    One thing that woudl be interesting is if we could find out how many of those 10 votes came from people who hadn’t even seen the film, or how many of those votes came from people who have only voted just once on IMDB.

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  4. sppeterson says:

    I think the Snakes rating is more indiciative of human psychology than corporate cleverness.

    The reason it got all the internet hype is the concept — and no matter how good or bad the film was, the concept would still be there. Moreover, these people excited about the concept are already on the internet, and thus more likely to vote on IMDB, and just throw down a 10 vote. Geek-friendly films tend to do well on IMDB, especially in the first week. V for Vendetta received very high ratings on IMDB then lowered somewhat over the following weeks — much like Snakes on a Plane. Even more arty films like Little Miss Sunshine have some geek appeal due to their indie cred.

    Finally, IMDB registers over 12,000 votes fo 10 for Snakes — that seems like an awful lot of paychecks for the studio to cut without someone blabbing somewhere on the internet that they got paid for voting.

    One thing that woudl be interesting is if we could find out how many of those 10 votes came from people who hadn’t even seen the film, or how many of those votes came from people who have only voted just once on IMDB.

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  5. trueenuff says:

    Um, the internet buzz was about how ridiculous the movie was, and how the premise was outlandish, not necessarily about how the movie seemed fun, interesting, or worthwhile. A large part of the buzz also just constituted of people quoting what has become the catch-phrase from the movie “there’s motherf-ing snakes on this motherf-ing plane”

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  6. trueenuff says:

    Um, the internet buzz was about how ridiculous the movie was, and how the premise was outlandish, not necessarily about how the movie seemed fun, interesting, or worthwhile. A large part of the buzz also just constituted of people quoting what has become the catch-phrase from the movie “there’s motherf-ing snakes on this motherf-ing plane”

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  7. rdolivaw says:

    I agree with the last couple of replies. It has to do with the specific nature of this buzz. I mean, this movie was about snakes, and they were on a plane! Snakes on a freaking plane! With Samuel L!

    It doesn’t get any better than that. This movie doesn’t deserve 8 out of 10, 9 out of 10, even a 10 out of 10 is just an expression for the unexpressible, when you’re dealing with Snakes on a Freaking Plane.

    Hopefully it’s clear what happened now.

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  8. rdolivaw says:

    I agree with the last couple of replies. It has to do with the specific nature of this buzz. I mean, this movie was about snakes, and they were on a plane! Snakes on a freaking plane! With Samuel L!

    It doesn’t get any better than that. This movie doesn’t deserve 8 out of 10, 9 out of 10, even a 10 out of 10 is just an expression for the unexpressible, when you’re dealing with Snakes on a Freaking Plane.

    Hopefully it’s clear what happened now.

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