Machete Killed: Why Rodriguez's Exploitation Movie Failed To Find An Audience

By Josh Tyler 2010-09-05 23:20:53discussion comments
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Machete Killed: Why Rodriguez's Exploitation Movie Failed To Find An Audience image
In an era with international markets and DVD sales, no movie with a marketing campaign behind it and which only cost $25 million to make will ever be considered a flop; even if that movie is Machete and it only managed to earn $11.3 million its opening weekend. That's slightly less money than was earned by Grindhouse, the movie it's a spinoff from, which is considered a flop, but only because it cost more to make and only because The Weinstein Company still hasn't given it a proper DVD release to suck the marrow off our fanboy bones.

So Machete will probably break even, but the truth is that $11 million dollars and a #3 opening means that, earnings aside, it really hasn't found an audience.  Machete may earn a profit, yet it's far from a hit, and it's certainly not the success people were hoping it would be.  At least it should have surpassed Grindhouse, and if it couldn't do that, then something's gone a little bit wrong.

I for one, think Machete deserved to find a bigger audience.  Any  movie this completely nuts deserved to be seen.  Anything this insane deserves to have people buying tickets, if only because it contains things you'll never see anywhere else.  But whether or not it's good, isn't what we're here to talk about. What the movie's fans are going to be left wondering is why they had so little company in line, when they showed up and bought their tickets.

As the holiday weekend winds down the industry is going to start coming up with explanations.  Most pundits are likely to blame the movie's R-rating.  That's Hollywood's default setting these days, their excuse for shoehorning everything into a PG-13.  I don't buy it.  Too many R-rated movies have made too much money for that to make any sense.  It's not the rating and it's not the violence, the horror genre is more violent, popular and profitable than ever.  Violence and gore sells, and that's a fact.

Machete was never going to be a $100 million dollar opener but $20 million shouldn't have been out of reach.  $11 million is barely enough to qualify it for future cult status and the movie's per-screen average was lower than that of the generally awful film Takers, now in its second week of release.   Worse Machete's take has been dropping as the weekend progresses.  It started out the weekend at number one on Friday and ended up in third on Sunday. An R-rating and a lot of insanity doesn't explain why Machete's audience has been slowly slipping.  Here are four things which do:

Machete box office
Machete Took Sides
Back in April when the debate over immigration policy here in America started heating up after a controversial law was passed in Arizona, director Robert Rodriguez decided to take sides by releasing this overtly political teaser trailer for Machete in which the film came out against the measures being passed.  At the time some polls said those measures were, and continue to be, supported by as many as 50 – 70% of Americans.  In essence, what Machete did, was alienate 70% of its audience, in one fell swoop. 

Machete continued to take sides, right up until the movie's release this weekend.  Part of its marketing plan included releasing all sorts of politically charged, anti-border control clips.  Whether this was meant to be tongue-in-cheek or not is debatable, but the fact remains that by doing so, the movie automatically cut out at least half of its potential audience before a single reel of the film ever unspooled by taking a very firm, public stance on a divisive issue which many people have incredibly strong feelings and opinions about. Effectively Machete came out and said “this is a movie for people who disagree with Arizona's immigration laws” and so, even though some of them might have enjoyed it had they seen it, everyone else stayed away.

Machete box office
Fox Tried To Court Latinos With Stereotypes
It may be that the movie's distributor, Fox, hoped to combat the film's propensity for taking sides politically by courting our nation's large Latino population. Deadline seems to think so, and they say the studio made huge ad buys on Spanish language television, radio, and in Spanish language newspapers.  They cite as an example of Fox's commitment to marketing the movie to the Latin community with cast's arrival at the premiere “in low-riders”.  So apparently Fox's idea of marketing the movie to Latin people was reducing them to one big, low-rider club stereotype.  You can't blame them really. That's actually in line with the movie's philosophy, which doesn't really see any distinction between illegal immigrants and American citizens of Mexican descent.  Machete literally throws them all together into one big wife-beater wearing group; puts them in garishly painted low riders, and sends them gleefully rampaging around Texas to murder people, take down the government, and hand it over to Mexico so they can make marijuana tacos, while talking with thick accents. 

Obviously it's not meant to be taken seriously, and it's just a ridiculous exploitation movie, but perhaps being lumped into a big bunch of angry, offensive stereotypes both by the movie's marketing and by the actual movie didn't really appeal to the Hispanic community Fox was so desperately courting.  Is that a surprise to anyone?  Fox wasn't marketing the movie to Latinos, they were marketing the movie to the only two people in the world who still aren't sick of the song “Low Rider” by War.

Machete box office
Grindhouse Was Chopped Up And Sold For Parts
Machete is a spin-off of a movie nobody saw, so it can't be a surprise that no one showed up to see the spin-off.  Except, it shouldn't have mattered that Grindhouse flopped theatrically, because the Tarantino/Rodriguez fueled Death Proof/Planet Terror double feature was such an insane amount of fun that it seemed guaranteed to become a cult classic almost the instant it hit DVD.  That never happened and it's not because the few people who saw it didn't want to buy it and spread it around to their friends.  It never happened because the company which owns it, never released it on home video.  At least not properly anyway.  Grindhouse was never actually released on DVD as Grindhouse

Instead The Weinstein Company chopped it up and sold it for spare parts, releasing Death Proof and Planet Terror as separate movies without any of the insanely cool fake trailers with made them so much fun (Note: TWC is finally getting its act together and releasing it as one, complete set this October. More details here).  One of those fake trailers, incidentally, was Machete, and it was the only fake trailer to actually make it into the DVD release.  But Grindhouse was meant to be seen as Grindhouse and there is just no point buying it or watching it or sharing it with your friends until it's released as one, full presentation in one DVD set.  So Grindhouse never became the cult hit it could have and should have been and so Machete is based on a movie no one saw and if anyone in the mainstream has heard of it at all they're probably wondering why someone would spin-off a movie from a flop no one cares about, and decided to avoid Machete altogether.

Machete box office
Americans Don't Go To Movies On Labor Day Weekend
Machete had a lot working against it, but in the end, this is probably all that really mattered. Simply put, there aren't many worse times to release a movie than Labor Day Weekend. Except perhaps Easter which is, coincidentally, when Grindhouse was released (and flopped).  The simple truth is that people just don't go to the movies on Labor Day.  They go outside, they go camping, they go to the lake, they drink beer on their porch.  The highest grossing Labor Day Weekend movie of all time is Halloween which only made $30.5 million in 2007.  But second place all time only made $20 million and even Machete's anemic $11 million take is enough to earn it thirteenth place on the all time Labor Day earners list. 

People just don't see movies on Labor Day weekend and if they do see movies, history suggests that they see horror movies (3 of the top 5 Labor Day earners are horror movies), not insanely violent, political charged exploitation movies starring B-movie actors leading illegal immigrants to rise up, take out Mexican Steven Seagal and overthrow the Texas government.  Why do that when you can sit in the backyard and eat hot dogs?  The closest most people got to watching Machete this weekend was by pulling a Dos Equis out of the cooler next to the folding chair on their porch

The disheartening thing about Machete's weekend is that most weren't expecting much from it and the film still managed to underachieve.  Experts had it pegged for around a $16 million opening at it wasn't able to do even that.  With dwindling interest throughout the weekend odds are it'll vanish from theaters nearly as fast as Grindhouse did, but unlike the still not properly on DVD Grindhouse, there's hope for cult status.

Machete has no future in movie theaters but since Fox knows how to handle home video it's easy to imagine it living on in Blu-ray players, the way the first Machete fake trailer has lived on the internet being replayed over and over on YouTube.  Machete was originally going to be a direct-to-dvd movie and with such modest budgetary needs, maybe home video will also be the perfect place for the already proposed sequels, MACHETE KILLS and MACHETE KILLS AGAIN.
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