Lionsgate announced yesterday that Kick Ass “proved dominant across all revenue channels this past week.” The film debuted in the number one position in DVD and Blu-ray sales – as well as the top movie download on iTunes since its release August 3rd.

The critical success of Kick-Ass hinted at the potential for excellent performance in home entertainment sales. While it wasn’t a huge surprise, for many of us, it offers a welcome sense of validation. Those of us who believed in the film’s potential for ‘cult’ success were rewarded with quantifiable proof this week.

Last April, there was much ado about nothing with regard to the film’s “failure at the box office.” In fact, the film was only a “failure” when measured against the inflated projections for opening weekend numbers – numbers that were based on perceived “audience awareness.” What these projections failed to consider was that the perceived awareness was isolated to a powerful, but segmented, fraction of the population at large – meaning an improper sampling. The blogosphere often becomes a self-cannibalizing entity and the response to Kick Ass illustrates that trend beautifully.

There was (an understandable) fan boy and girl fervor in anticipation of the film. One which lead credence to the notion that Kick Ass would strike it big opening weekend – and by big I mean projections forecast a $35 million open weekend – for a film that cost $25 million to make.

There was also an enormous influx of trailers, videos, and other marketing materials prior to the release of the film – a tactic that could have backfired, positioning the audience to rail against a film – as a result of overexposure. When the film failed to perform as projected, the blogosphere (unsurprisingly) jumped at the opportunity to write a bunch of snarky articles outlining the film’s financial shortcomings. To put that in perspective – remember the film cost $25 million and went on to make $96 million worldwide.

Here is what those projections failed to account for:

  1. As mentioned, the “audience awareness” sampling came from a community predisposed to be aware of, and interested in, a film like Kick Ass – as well as its source material. Without a recognizable name attached, or broader brand appeal, that awareness wasn’t representative of the general movie-going audience.
  2. Much of the target audience for Kick Ass was not old enough to take themselves to an R (hard R) rated movie, and this film is not an easy sell to parents. “Oh yes mom, can I please go see this film that features an adorable mass murdering twelve year old who makes liberal use of the ‘C’ word? Yep, it’s the very one Roger Ebert called ‘morally reprehensible’!”
  3. How hopelessly square Americans really can be (this feeds off of number two on the list). Now, don’t misunderstand, I like Roger Ebert. I don’t always agree with him, but I like him. However he asked in his review if his response to Kick Ass made him “hopelessly square.” My response is – yes, yes it does.
  4. Misinterpretation or rejection of the film’s central characters and story lines. Again this is a follow-up to number three on the list. I will use Mr. Ebert as the singular representative to a broad stick in the mud reaction to the film.

Many felt that the film was morally bereft due to its depiction of an exquisitely violent little girl. Emphasis on little girl. I contend that Hit Girl’s gender played a powerful subconscious role in some people’s negative reactions to her. Further, people felt that the film lacked a broader social message. To that I would ask: What kind of message would you like? A lie? Would you like to be told that good triumphs over evil every time and all is really simple and neat in the end?

I would follow those questions up with another: Is a film under an obligation to deliver a standard ‘moral of the story’ which is easily digestible by all? An idea already broadly accepted that adds nothing new to our cultural discussion? Or can it not simply be tons of fun and wickedly entertaining? I did myself the favor of steering clear of all the videos released for Kick Ass prior to its open. As a result I was both delighted and surprised with Chloe Moretz. I found Hit Girl’s action sequences alone enough to justify a trip to the movies.

However, I would argue that the film does in fact have a moral and societal message. A very simple message perhaps, but a clear one imbued in every moment of the movie. The message is this: You, even you, ordinary, non special “regular Joe” you who is just like ordinary, “regular Joe,” non special me can do something – so why don’t you? Why do you, do we instead just sit back and watch?

We see this in the character of Kick Ass himself. This perspective is clearly laid out in his “YouTube treatises,” but can also be seen in everything he tries, fails and succeeds at doing throughout the film. We see this theme play with Nick Cage as the  hilariously overzealous Big Daddy – crazy, but committed. We see this in Kick Ass’s love interest Katie who takes the more traditional social action route. We particularly see this in the character of the “bystander” who watches, but does nothing – and is eventually shot for it.

What Kick Ass does so beautifully is set itself up as a film that is going to be the “anti-comic book” movie, the one that breaks all the rules – and pokes fun at the accepted tropes of the genre. Then at a certain point (around the time of Big Daddy’s confrontation with his ex-partner) the film takes a turn and fulfills every aspect of a standard comic book tale. Kick Ass tells you it is making this turn by visually propelling us into the comic book world of Big Daddy’s creation. This is some fun and outstanding filmmaking.

Kick Ass felt like a film that was destined to be misunderstood in its initial release and then appreciated by a large cult audience as time progressed. The kids who could not get their parents to take them to the movie can now buy the DVD. Those who balk at $10 in the theater seem okay with $15 spent on the more permanent DVD or $25 for a Blu-ray.

“Word of mouth” has had a real chance to spread to the general population. Many “non-traditional” films have followed this same trajectory to cult film success. Some notable selections include; Blade Runner, Office Space, Fight Club, TV series would include Firefly, Freaks and Geeks and Arrested Development.

What do you think the future holds for Kick-Ass?

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