By Louis Allred

I chose to do this story because, within the span of last week, I saw both films. The specific concept for this article was originally as follows:

Vampires Suck made $2 million more opening weekend than Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. What is wrong with America?”

Having yet to see Scott Pilgrim at the time the concept was floated to the staff, I thought it would be a valid comparison. Two movies, both theoretically aimed at youth, premiered within a week of each other. One was the heavily-hyped toast of Comic-Con, the recipient of mostly positive reviews and endorsements, promoted like mad on the strength of its buzz. The other was Vampires Suck. The hope was that Pilgrim would, if not dominate the box office, at least play strong against its competition, and that Vampires would crumble and fail.

However, the box office results provided a different conclusion. Pilgrim opened in 5th at approximately $10 million, well under even Universal’s modest expectations, then lost 50% the next weekend to sit in 10th place. Vampires opened in 2nd place with $12 million (admittedly, the competition was less fierce then), and, though it had a slightly more precipitous fall this past weekend, has made more by its second weekend than Pilgrim has mustered in three weekends. So, the question “What is wrong with America?” is tempting.

However, two things happened that caused me to question this comparison. First, I saw Scott Pilgrim. Fun movie, well-done, few problems on my end, but the audience for it wasn’t the same (more on that momentarily). Secondly, I talked to my niece-in-law, a demographically average 13-year-old, the next day. I mentioned that I had seen Pilgrim, and her immediate reaction was, “Eew! No, that looks stupid.”

“It’s fun,” I said, and my wife backed me up. “It’s a great movie.”

“No,” NIL persisted, “It looks stupid. I don’t wanna see it. I wanna see Vampires Suck, though.”

As I pondered the original comparison, I realized very quickly that it wasn’t a fair one to make. Qualitatively, the outrage that Scott Pilgrim did worse than Vampires Suck since the first is so much better is understandable. I agree wholeheartedly. But, we all know that the best films rarely make box-office champs; not everything aligns like it did for The Dark Knight.

I think the most significant wrinkle in comparing the two films arises from the audience for each. Simply put, the films are serving two different crowds. Vampires Suck clearly caters to a younger teen audience, even if it’s not explicitly doing so on paper. My niece-in-law’s desire to see it illustrates this, as well as the fact that of the few people in the theatre when I saw it, the two teen girls seated behind me were having a ball with the film. The jokes in the movie aren’t the most sophisticated, so it seems like a teen audience would gravitate toward it more.

However, I don’t believe Scott Pilgrim is intended for that teen audience. On a recent NPR podcast I listened to, while discussing the film, one of the panelists stated that the movie was really geared toward him (early-30s geek type who loves comics), and I agree. People may initially think Pilgrim plays to the teens because of its videogame aesthetic, but the games it apes aren’t the same ones teens today are playing; they’re the 8- and 16-bit games of my youth (late 80s / early 90s). It plays more to the nostalgia for Nintendo and Sega than the current design of Xbox and PS3 games.

Another complication with the comparison involves the accessibility of the source material. Scott Pilgrim is based on a lesser-known (before the film’s promotion) graphic novel series. Few people outside of the comics scene were aware of the original books, and describing the novels to someone who doesn’t know about them might be challenging. That may have been an issue with Watchmen: I’ve heard talk of people who went simply because it seemed like it was an action movie about superheroes, and left disappointed (or sometimes disgusted). Those who read (or at least knew of) the original graphic novel understood it was a lot deeper and, at times, more challenging than that, but again, few people outside the comics scene may have known that.

Vampires Suck, on the other hand, is a much simpler discussion: “a parody of Twilight.” You have two built-in audiences there (aversions to Seltzer and Friedberg aside): those who love Twilight, and those who hate it. This is not to say that a popular movie can’t come from an esoteric source, but it often helps if the audience is aware of a source in advance (Batman, Transformers, etc).

Ultimately, the question of “What’s wrong with America?” in terms of people seeing Vampires Suck over Scott Pilgrim is the same question that’s been asked time and again, amongst all artistic mediums. There are always movies that people should see that don’t make waves with the popular audience, and there are terrible movies that score big with the public. Same with books, same with music, same with television, and so on. But, with Scott Pilgrim, I think the deck was stacked against it more than people initially thought. It was a radically different aesthetic than the public was used to, aimed at a very specific niche audience. Also, it seems clear that the Comic-Con crowd is not the wide sample of America the studios sometimes think it is, and examples of this misunderstanding keep showing up (e.g. Watchmen and Kick-Ass).

This is not a value judgment against Scott Pilgrim: it’s a fun movie that tries something new, and succeeds for the most part. I wish more people would see it. But, owing to hesitance about the film that I’ve personally heard, it’s just a harder nut for America to crack. Vampires Suck, though it isn’t a blockbuster (or a good film), and was obviously tossed off quickly and on the cheap, is just a simpler concept for the general public to digest. It cast a wider net, and the market responded. Are fans of Scott Pilgrim (or good films) pleased? No. But it’s not the first battle purveyors of quality have lost, and certainly won’t be the last.