It was the incredibly crass, brilliantly stupid title that sank its fangs into the internet and wouldn’t let go: Snakes On A Plane. Directed by the late David R. Ellis, a stuntman turned director, and starring a never louder Samuel L. Jackson, the airborne, serpent-heavy thriller finally reached theaters on August 18, 2006, after months of inescapable online hype. The film turned a modest profit on its not-inconsiderable $33 million budget, but it was considered a disappointment when judged against New Line Cinema’s sky-high expectations. The studio had been banking on the deafening internet buzz and had even tailored the film to meet fan’s expectations, necessitating five days of reshoots. Now that the film is a decade old, it is time to reflect on what Snakes On A Plane achieved and failed to achieve in 2006, as well as what the film’s lasting impact on popular culture may have been. For better or worse, the movie’s legacy is more than just one famous line of dialogue.
Over at The Daily Dot, Miles Klee affectionately portrays Snakes On A Plane as a movie that was ahead of its time, declaring it “the first film to become a full-fledged meme.” Klee tells the story of how the infamous, on-the-nose title incited the imagination of the internet, especially when users learned that the volatile, profanity-prone Jackson was attached to the project. There was a hue and cry online when New Line nearly wussed out and changed the title to Pacific Air Flight 121, a move to which Jackson himself also objected.
Not only did the title remain Snakes On A Plane, however, but New Line arguably also overcompensated by adding nudity, profanity, and drug use to the film in order to earn an R rating. Before this, Ellis had been making a less campy, PG-13-rated action thriller. In the theatrical cut of the movie, Jackson’s most famous line (“I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on a motherfucking plane!”) came not from the original screenplay but was instead inspired by a fan trailer. With all this fan service, why wasn’t the film a bigger hit? “We just weren’t ready,” Klee alibis. Social media and video-sharing platforms were still in their infancy back then, he argues.
Brian Formo sees things a little differently. In a piece for Collider, he tells the same story as Klee but draws another conclusion. Snakes On A Plane, he says, is a cautionary tale about Hollywood executives listening to fanboys instead of writers and directors. It set a bad example that the industry is still following. That discordant mishmash of tones in Suicide Squad, for example? Blame Snakes On A Plane. Fans don’t always know best, and they might not be leading Hollywood in wise directions.