Red Riding Hood: Marketing Fail?

Red Riding Hood movie poster 2011Catherine Hardwicke’s version of the Grimm fairy tale opened this week to what pundits are calling a “soft” box office of $14.1 million.

From Box Office Mojo:

Faring not much better than last weekend’s fairy tale revamp Beastly, Red Riding Hood mustered an estimated $14.1 million on close to 3,500 screens at 3,030 locations, which was lower than The Brothers Grimm’s debut but above average for a werewolf movie. Its estimated attendance wasn’t much better than Cursed’s. Werewolves (sans vampires) haven’t been terribly popular at the box office, so it was always unlikely that Red Riding Hood would replicate the success of the two movies that inspired it: Twilight (despite being from the same director, Catherine Hardwicke) and Alice in Wonderland. The marketing campaign for Red Riding Hood, which received a profuse push on Thursday’s American Idol, focused on a barrage of different taglines (“It wants her,” “The truth will tear her apart,” etc.) and the mystery of who the wolf was, yet it didn’t show the wolf nor provide the context for why people should care. Distributor Warner Bros.’ research showed that 64 percent of Red Riding Hood’s audience was female, and 56 percent was under 25 years old.

It’s intriguing that everyone seems to be dubbing Red Riding Hood a “werewolf” movie – it’s not. Yes, there’s a werewolf in it, but it’s framed (and stunningly shot by Mandy Walker) as more of a love story set in a magical realm. As a modern execution of a fairy tale, it’s spot on: the wooden houses in the forest, the red cloak, the snow-covered haystacks, the too-tight britches of the hunky male leads are all beautifully realised if fantasy is your thing. The casting is great too – Amanda Seyfried’s fragile near-ethereal beauty provides the central core around which other characters revolve. Julie Christie is the sinister, fur-twirling grandmother who lives outside the village for reasons best known to herself. Virginia Madsen plays Red’s Mom as vaguely slutty, regretting some of the bad decisions made in her past that come back to haunt her as her youngest daughter reaches adulthood. It’s about female relationships, the family ties that bind, and the moment when a young woman must finally break free of all that if she is to be true to herself. It does what every movie should do as a bare minimum, which is transport you to a different realm for a couple of hours.

It’s odd that Warner Brothers, after giving a cursory nod to the Twilight audience (“From the director of Twilight” is on the poster), seemed so determined to position this as a PG-13 horror movie/mystery. Surely it would have made more sense to emphasise the fantasy and magic aspect, and aim this at the Harry Potter crowd? Apart from a couple of heaving bosom moments, and some severed hands, there is nothing too scary in here, and younger, Disney-jaded kids could really enjoy this kind of story-telling. Warner Bros could have called it something other than “Red Riding Hood” too – at least they left off the “Little”.

A fairy tale with dark undertones: surely that can find an audience? These stories have been around for hundreds of years and have in-built branding. The studios are going to have to figure out how to market this genre successfully as there are two versions of Snow White on the horizon, and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is currently in production. It comes down to the studios lacking practice in selling non-fluff to females. That audience is there, and will turn out in droves as they did for Twilight, but they have to be nurtured and respected for their loyalty, just like the fanboys.

Weekend Report – Box Office Mojo