Non-repeatable Phenomenon

fortune-favors-the-bold-virgilI recently wrote a post about the Sharknado trilogy and what it takes to make a fun monster movie. But what elevated Sharknado above its contemporaries – such classics as Two-Headed Shark Attack and Mega-Piranha? The answer is a Hollywood term called a “non-repeatable phenomenon”.

How it translates to non-industry people is “we have no freaking clue why this one took off and we haven’t managed to duplicate the success of it yet”.

Everybody knows what a movie formula is. Most blockbusters follow it with a checklist. Series like Fast and Furious and James Bond have refined it to a “T”. Audiences liked what they saw the first time, and the movies producers reproduced it with only enough chances to keep it from being identical. Series are vital for movie studios, which is why if a movie does even slightly well, you can be the next year you are going to see the same title with a number after it.

But then you have the weird ones, the movies nobody expected to make a splash. The quiet ones like My Big Fat Greek Wedding and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel which left producers scratching their heads, counting the box office take, and asking “how can we do that again?”

The truth is, most of the time they can’t. The movie hit with audiences because of a combination of actor chemistry, an entertaining story, the phase of the moon and whether or not anything else was in the news cycle. MBFGW owes its success to the word of mouth of people who wandered into a quiet theatre instead of one filled with explosions and fell in love with a Greek girl and her overbearing family. TBEMH came out with a star-studded line-up that appealed to the often-ignored 50+ demographic. (They did make a sequel to TBEMH; lightning did not strike twice.)

Then there was Sharknado. Nobody still has any clue why Sharknado hit like it did. Social media had a lot to do with it. It got picked up on Twitter and took off. Not because, unlike my previous examples, it was a beautiful, brilliant story but because it was So. Freaking. Bad. But bad in an entertaining way. It was exactly what people needed on that particular Thursday night.

It was not the first shark-monster movie, nor has it been the last but something about it has fans loving it. There is just something that the imitators don’t have. And the producers didn’t stray too far for the sequels. They not only hit all the checkboxes, they hit them with nuclear weapons and had no shame doing it. People watched to be entertained but also so they could mock it relentlessly. That is part of the movie’s appeal. In this case it work.

Sharknado 3: Oh, hell no! aired two weeks ago. The producers littered the commercial breaks with ads for Lavalantula. Instead of sharks and tornados, they are trying to replicate Sharknado’s success with volcanoes and tarantulas. It was entertaining enough for what it was, but there was no spark of originality. They tried to plug different monsters and heroes into the same script and while we were dumb enough to watch and enjoy the original, we weren’t fooled again. Sharknado is the definition of a non-repeatable phenomenon.

Unless you’re talking about other sharknados.