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Once Snakebitten, Twice Shy

We blogged earlier about how online buzz for Snakes on a Plane failed to translate into box-office success — in part because the buzz was perhaps manufactured. That film was released by New Line. Now comes word that Fox, the studio that released Borat, was scared off by what happened to Snakes. And so, while Borat also had gigantic pre-release buzz, Fox decided last weekend to not open the film too wide, instead putting it on a modest 837 screens.

But it turns out that Borat really did have an audience waiting for it. It opened to a huge $26 million, taking the No. 1 spot over Santa Clause 3, which opened on more than four times as many screens as Borat. Borat did great again this weekend, still holding the No. 1 spot even though its dollar-per-screen figure tumbled.

The success of the film has led a Borat fan site to berate Fox for being scared off from opening the film wide in the first place:

I bet you feel real stupid right about now. Think about how much money you just lost by dropping 1,700 theaters from the release … Anyone who knew anything about Borat knew it was not a crap piece like Snakes on a Plane. The comparison itself was insulting.

If Fox indeed scaled back its plan because of what happened with Snakes, this serves as yet another reminder of how dangerous it is to make assumptions when your sample set is 1. Just ask the people who wrote about Little Emily Oster (see end of article).