Eight Ways “Snakes on a Plane” Changed Movies Forever

From crowdsourced ideas to viral marketing campaigns, Samuel L. Jackson's wild ride has proven to be eerily ahead of its time

August 18, 2021 11:00 am
samuel l. jackson in snakes on a plane
Samuel L. Jackson in a film ahead of its time
New Line Cinema

We originally wrote this in 2016, to celebrate a decade of “Snakes on a Plane.” We’ve updated the article five years later — and 15 years since the movie debuted — to reflect the larger influence the creation process of the movie has had on the film industry, which has been weirdly, surprisingly huge. See for yourself below.

Happy 15 years, Snakes on a Plane.

The ridiculous 2006 Samuel L. Jackson thriller was something of a disappointment during its initial run, earning only $34 million despite months of intense internet scrutiny leading up to its release. Story-wise, it was a tolerable B-movie (“All anyone really needs to know about this amusingly crude, honestly satisfying artifact is snakes + plane + Samuel L. Jackson” wrote the New York Times). I went opening night. We cheered. A few people dressed up and threw rubber snakes. Otherwise, it was forgettable.

But the power of Snakes came not from the movie itself, but everything that happened before and after its release. As a prognosticator for how movies are made today and the influence internet culture has on the film industry, it became a gold standard.

So let’s review the film’s legacy one decade out. It certainly goes beyond one motherfucking line.

The film was the first to “crowdsource” input from fans

Thanks to early fan reaction (of the negative ilk), the movie went through days of reshoots, added dialogue and switched from a tame PG-13 to a gorier R rating. “[Snakes] is theoretically the first Wikipedia-ised movie, created by the users themselves,” noted the Guardian right after the film’s release. Brian Finkelstein’s ridiculously popular SnakesOnABlog.com (a repository of all SOAP memes) landed the Georgetown law student an all-expenses-paid trip to the film’s Hollywood premiere alongside star Samuel L. Jackson, as well as a Q&A session with the star at San Diego Comic-Con. (That said, Finkelstein lost interest after the film’s release, let the site domain lapse and even forgot about the film’s five-year anniversary.)

Fast forward to 2021: After years of social media demand, Warner Bros. decides a #releasethesnydercut social media outcry warrants a new four-hour cut (and $70 million worth of extra filming/additional post-production) of Justice League, a middling superhero team-up movie from 2017 that originally saw director Zack Snyder exit the film before he could finish it due to personal reasons. The initial JL release, then overseen by replacement director Joss Whedon, lacked continuity and vision. Zack Snyder fans, meanwhile, got the movie they demanded.

It was one of the first great wellsprings of internet memes

Almost a year before the movie opened, a thread on the site Something Awful was created for Snakes… parody posters. Within a month, it had garnered 320 replies. Two months before the film hit movie screens, a mashup of Snakes and viral video “All your base are belong to us” garnered millions of views. Fans created fake posters, trailers, blogs, T-shirts (writer’s note: I bought one!), Urban Dictionary entries and endless video parodies. And all this before anyone had seen a second of the film.

It’s an important part of Samuel L. Jackson’s legacy

Jackson actually chose to star in the film based on its ridiculous title. “My agents have finally figured out that I’m going to do what I want,” he told Entertainment Weekly. ”Every now and then, I want to do a movie that isn’t ‘stretching my abilities.’ It’s that simple.” He also successfully challenged the producers after someone suggested a name change to the incredibly dull Pacific Air Flight 121 (“The stupidest damn thing I ever heard,” he told Time).

It gave us one of the best lines in movie history

A line supposedly created by a fan named Chris Rohan who had crafted his own R-rated audio trailer for Snakes on a Plane.

And then it gave us the worst edit in movie history

The terrible TV edit of Snakes (where “motherfucking” became “monkey fighter”) started its own Internet meme. Stephen Colbert used it as a punchline. And this was three years after the film.

The film shed light on the actual problem of motherfucking snakes on motherfucking planes

This seems to happen a lot.

It perfected targeted marketing

An AI program created by VariTalk utilized combinations of Samuel L. Jackson’s voice to make 1.5 million “personalized” calls to fans who signed up on the Snakes movie site. Imagine that: people willingly giving out their private info to a company just to receive a dumb marketing message.

A bit of a stretch, but you could say the film helped us get over 9/11

A fun movie about terror in the skies, less than five years after a horrible airborne terrorist attack? Some writers noticed. “Snakes on a Plane is less about surviving on airplanes than wresting control of them. In other words, it’s United 93 without the tears,” said Manohla Dargis of the New York Times. A book called Horror After 9/11 spent nearly a whole chapter (“Let’s Roll”) dissecting Snakes in a post-9/11 world and also comparing it to United 93.

Then again, maybe it was just a stupid film.

As critic Peter Bradshaw noted: “Not every plane-crisis film is a terrorism metaphor, or a reflection of the post-9/11 mindset … As Sigmund Freud once said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a film with the silly but entertaining title of Snakes on a Plane, is just a silly but entertaining film about snakes on a plane.”

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