The figure, which included $1.4 million from late-night screenings Thursday, was good enough to capture the top spot in an otherwise lackluster frame.
Executives at Time Warner's New Line said pre-release tracking for "Snakes," starring Samuel L. Jackson and some 500 real and digitally created snakes, indicated the movie would net in the mid-teens, which turned out to be accurate. But executives were hoping for more, especially after nearly a year's worth of internet buzz and the raft of free publicity that surrounded it.
"There was so much inflated hype," David Tuckerman, New Line's president of distribution, said yesterday. "We thought we'd do better."
With most Hollywood studios exploring the web as a way to reach coveted young audiences, it's unlikely the disappointing "Snakes" results will dissuade anyone from trying to build online attention for their movies.
New Line had stoked the "Snakes" fever for months, throwing open the door for fans to create their own artwork, videos, music and more, using what's usually closely guarded intellectual property. Fans took the bait, starting a groundswell of interest in the movie long before it launched.
The film's website has attracted more than 3 million unique visitors, while fan-created Snakes on a Blog has attracted half a million.
Over the top
The producers of the over-the-top movie even called fans "co-creators" because their rabid interest sparked five additional days of filming, amped up the action from PG-13 to R-rated edginess and contributed the now-infamous line from Mr. Jackson: "I've had it with these motherf---in' snakes on this motherf---in' plane!"
The box office receipts for "Snakes" might confirm what some industry marketers already suspected: There's no real way to equate internet chatter with consumers' intent to see a movie.
"It was very risky and very audacious for New Line to let the audience become part of the filmmaking process, and I commend them for that," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co. "But just because people are very aware of the movie doesn't necessarily mean they have a desire to see it. It shows that there's no direct correlation between all that online buzz and ticket sales."
Array of advertising
The studio unleashed an array of advertising around the movie -- traditional print, TV and radio, Mr. Tuckerman said, and did not rely wholly on web buzz to propel audiences into theaters. He thinks the modestly budgeted movie, which cost less than $40 million to produce, will have a robust life via DVD, pay TV and other ancillary revenue streams.
"We'll make money on this movie," Mr. Tuckerman said.
There was some indication as early as Friday that the movie's launch would be a bit subdued. "Snakes" pulled in $1.4 million in 2,200 theaters for its 10 p.m. and midnight screenings. Other summer fare such as Warner Bros.' "Superman Returns" made nearly three times that much. "Snakes" expanded on Friday to 3,555 theaters.
Even though Mr. Dergarabedian predicts a steep drop in its second-weekend box office, he said genre films like "Snakes" are among the few that are able to draw young audiences away from other entertainment and into the multiplex.
"People really like the communal experience of seeing a horror movie in a crowded theater," he said.
Not for everyone
But "Snakes" is a concept that isn't for everyone, he said. "The hype was bigger than the movie."
The other wide-opening movie in the top five was Universal's "Accepted," which came in fourth with $10.1 million. Otherwise, audiences chose holdovers such as Sony's "Talladega Nights," Paramount's "World Trade Center" and Disney's "Step Up," according to box-office-statistics firm Exhibitor Relations Co.
Meanwhile, one of the biggest hits of the summer -- and the year -- "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," crossed the $400 million mark. It's the seventh film in box-office history to cross that threshold domestically. "Talladega Nights," starring Will Ferrell as a Nascar driver, has accumulated $114.6 million.
Box office revenues are up about 7% so far this year, Exhibitor Relations figures show, and attendance has increased 3.7% from 2005.