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Kevin Smith explains why you didn't go see his movie Tusk

A still from Tusk.
A still from Tusk.
A24 films.
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Over the past two weeks, Tusk, the disturbing thriller about a mildly attractive human's forced descent into the world of pinnipeds, has netted a measly $1.4 million at the box office. Tusk wasn't a critical success either. It's hovering at 42 percent from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and it hasn't performed much better with the site's users (58 percent), who are generally kinder.

Seeing that no one was paying to see his "bad" movie,  Kevin Smith, Tusk's director, took to Twitter to plead for more people to see his movie at the theaters:

The question of why no one went to see a bad movie isn't exactly a mystery. But Smith is very much capable of making good movies (Clerks, Mallrats), and he has a pretty big following. In short: How could Tusk perform this poorly? Have people not forgiven Justin Long? Are people not entertained by the prospect of someone being turned into a walrus?

Smith actually has a pretty good idea of why Tusk has bombed, and he gave a thoughtful autopsy of Tusk's box office woes on Reddit on Monday. One of the reasons, he explained, was the distribution.

"The 600 screen release was way too ambitious," he wrote.  "If you're going to open on that many screens, you have to spend far more than we did to let people know there's a movie in theaters at all. We could have likely done close to the same opening number on half the amount of screens."

According to Box Office Mojo, Tusk averaged around $1,407 per screen on its opening weekend (September 19-21) and dropped to $651 in its second weekend. Smith's post is a fascinating look at the strategy of how wide a film is released.

The other part of the equation, is, well, Tusk is just weird ("weeeeeird" according to Smith). "It was always a midnight movie, not a mainstream movie," he wrote.

And perhaps there was just too much confidence that people would go and see a walrus-themed horror movie. The bright side, as Smith explains, is that the movie only cost $3 million to make and could make up the earnings-production gap in On Demand viewings.

What Smith doesn't want is for people to see Tusk's box office problems and have it be a signal to never be weird. Instead, he explains, Tusk's failure should be seen as a triumph.

"Don't be afraid to do weird stuff, so long as you do it cheaply and cover everyone's bets. Be bold. Be stupid," Smith wrote.  "People have been telling me I'm a failure and that I'm doing it all wrong for 20 years now. Never trust anybody when they tell you how your story goes. You know your story. You write your own story."

Smith has the upcoming movies Clerks III and Yoga Hosers slated for production and release in the next couple of years. He plans to close out the trilogy of Canadian-set films begun in Tusk and continuing in Yoga Hosers with Moose Jaws, which is literally Jaws with a moose. The spirit of the cinema lives on.

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