EDITORIAL: “Snow White and the Huntsman: How the Action Flick Defeated the Comedic Mirror Mirror”


Was it sheer coincidence? Perhaps a secret rivalry between major studios? Or maybe it was an industry-wide desire to exploit the growing fantasy genre? One can only guess why Hollywood decided to release two Snow White films within several months of each other in 2012. The lighthearted, comedic Mirror Mirror and the gritty, action-packed Snow White and the Huntsman both offered a unique spin on the classic Brothers Grimm tale. And while the source material was identical, the box office results were anything but. While Mirror was a financial disappointment upon its release in March, Huntsman debuted to impressive opening numbers this weekend. Which is the fairest adaptation of them all? Here’s why Mirror was a miss and Huntsman was a hit at the box office:

1. Violence wins with more audiences

It may be a depressing realization that we prefer gloom and doom over more upbeat fare in our entertainment but we’ll save the philosophical discussion for another day. Compare just the opening twenty seconds of the trailers for both movies and guess what American audiences would be more interested in.

Huntsman begins with an ominous voiceover and concludes with a soldier smashing an enemy into a million shards. There is much death and destruction to be expected here.

In contrast, the bright colors, gentle music and warm narration of Mirror Mirror’s trailer suggest that this is a much calmer retelling of Snow White. The kindness is appealing is but it also carries a bland, seen-it-before vibe. The movie appears devoid of excitement.

As expected, families turned out in droves for Mirror. Unfortunately, all other demographics were absent. The toned-down comedy failed to lure teenagers, adults, and men of all ages.

Huntsman saw a different result. Its audience was almost evenly split this weekend – 53% female, 47% male. Executives were expecting to open in the $40 million range. Huntsman surprised with a $56.2 million gross, which suggests that the turnout for both genders exceeded expectations. But wouldn’t females be turned off by all that violence? Wouldn’t males be turned off by the “adapted from a children’s story” element? Nope.

In a rare scenario, it actually appears likely that content played a role in the failure of one project and the success of another. Audiences both male and female just seemed to be more interested in the darker, violent retelling of a classic than the pacified, friendly one.

Any other explanations don’t seem to fit since the two flicks shared many common variables. Did below-average reviews doom Mirror Mirror? Unlikely, since Huntsman received identical scores. Did the staying power of a popular flick, like The Hunger Games, shatter Mirror’s chances? Unlikely again, since Huntsman had to compete with the staying power of Men In Black 3 and The Avengers, both of which performed well this weekend. Action was the key, and it shot Snow White and The Huntsman to the top.

2. A focus on the action instead of the cast

Isn’t it funny that a movie trailer about Snow White doesn’t even mention the actress playing her? Mirror Mirror made the mistake of putting many of its eggs in the Julia Roberts basket. She was supposed to be half the star of the show.

There’s no question Roberts was the actress of the 1990s. Her movies were so consistently successful that she could request $20 million per picture and receive it without argument. However, Roberts’ lack of roles in the previous decade has prevented a new generation of female audiences from discovering her. Past the boring comedy and the nostalgia of childhood fables, there was nothing in Mirror to lure anyone beside families. Marketing bet on Roberts to expand the reach but she didn’t carry the movie as well as she was expected to.

Snow White and The Huntsman avoided the mistake of banking too much on cast appeal and instead focused on the violence. Actresses Charlize Theron and Kristen Stewart were featured prominently in the trailer but not allowed to steal the attention from the action. The movie was presented not as a women’s flick or a children’s story but as a sword and sorcery adventure. In this case, playing it safe by appealing to the special effects and the destruction worked.

Written by: Boris Paskhaver

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  • Hello

    You do realize that Snow White and the Huntsman had an enormous promotional budget while Mirror Mirror’s was very small?  That’s the only difference.

  • Boris

    As a summer release, Snow White and the Huntsman definitely had a much higher promotional budget and that certainly played a role. However, Mirror Mirror’s $85 million production budget (some even report closer to $100 million) is not the kind that gets ignored by studios either.

    Snow White’s marketing was said to be in the “eight figure range” and if we follow the traditional 50% of production rule, that would put its marketing costs at around $85 million. Mirror Mirror would come in around $40-50 million. More money always makes a difference, I agree, but I don’t think the extra $30-40 million was the “only” reason.

    I still contend that no amount of marketing could have brought in the men for Mirror. It aimed for the kids and girls, it got them, but everyone else was lost.