'Snakes' on Times Square

The movie all the bloggers have been buzzing about finally opens--but will it be a success?

NEW YORK--The people in line outside AMC's Empire Theater in Times Square on Thursday night looked like a mix of hacker conventioneers and mosh pit survivors from a Fall Out Boy concert: a little quirky, a little geeky, extremely enthusiastic and almost exclusively under the age of 30.

But they weren't waiting to hear music or . This was the opening night of the movie that wasn't supposed to be a blockbuster, "Snakes on a Plane." What had once been a relatively low-ranking action flick in New Line Cinema's 2006 lineup has become one of the most talked-about premieres of the summer.

If Sam Jackson thinks he's doing a movie called "Snakes on a Plane"...you're doing a movie called "Snakes on a Plane."
--Josh Friedman, screenwriter and blogger

A poll posted by Internet Movie Database ranked it as the most highly anticipated movie of August, easily beating recent box-office champ "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," with 30.5 percent of respondents citing "Snakes" as their must-see movie in August versus 21.7 percent who cited "Ricky Bobby."

"Snakes" leading man Samuel L. Jackson was cheered wildly as he made promotional appearances on talk shows ranging from NBC's "Today" show to Comedy Central's "The Daily Show." Yes, "Snakes on a Plane"--or "SoaP," as it's popularly truncated--is a genuine cult phenomenon.

And, as with so many things these days, we have the infamous Internet zeitgeist to thank for that.

"I am so pumped for this movie!" one young woman squealed. She and her friends had dressed for the occasion by draping rubber snakes around their necks. Another was decked out in an airline pilot's outfit. Still others had showed up in movie logo T-shirts, some homemade, some purchased from Internet fan sites.

Down the street at Madame Tussauds wax museum, grinning tourists of all ages jumped at the opportunity to be photographed with a life-size figure of Jackson that had been set up outside the Times Square landmark.

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Video: 'Snakes,' a test case
What brought folks to the movie opening in S.F.--typical movie hype or the clip posted on YouTube?

Unlike other viral Internet fads that seem to appear out of nowhere (who really started "O RLY?" anyway?), the "SoaP" phenomenon appears to have a concrete origin.

Experts on the subject--like Brian Finkelstein, a law student who runs a fan site called Snakes on a Blog--point to an otherwise innocuous blog called I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing, operated by "War of the Worlds" screenwriter Josh Friedman. A year ago, Friedman posted an entry about how he had recently turned down an opportunity to work on a New Line movie that had been called "Snakes on a Plane" and briefly renamed "Pacific Air 121" before returning to its working title at the request of leading man Jackson.

Thoroughly enamored by the movie's wacky title, Friedman wrote in the post, under the headline of "Snakes on a (expletive) Plane," that "if Sam Jackson thinks he's doing a movie called 'Snakes on a Plane'...you're doing a movie called 'Snakes on a Plane.'" He also suggested that the title had the potential to capture the popular imagination and emerge as a synonym for "what're you gonna do?" or "(expletive) happens." (Sample use: "Your laptop battery exploded? AOL is trying to dig up your backyard. Hey, man, snakes on a plane.")

"Everyone who read it had the same reaction that (Friedman) did," Finkelstein said in an interview.

Fans do "Snakes" dance
But even if the origin of a viral online fad is clear, the forces that propel it into public consciousness are complex and often mysterious. Like and Sen. Ted Stevens' speech, "SoaP" spread like wildfire.

Fake trailers popped up all over YouTube, many of them incorporating a sample line of dialogue proposed by Friedman and inspired by Jackson's previous work in over-the-top action movies: "I've had it with these (expletive) snakes on this (expletive) plane!"

Fans rolled out rap videos, T-shirts and artwork. And would-be obscure news stories about people actually finding snakes on planes were picked up by national news media.

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