How well do you remember one of the biggest Syfy events of 2013? Yes, we know it was five years ago, but we're approaching the fifth anniversary of the launch of a franchise which can only be described as one of the most unexpected sensations. For those that don't remember, the original instalment of the Sharknado film series was first aired on the Syfy channel on July 11, 2013. The same film was also shown as a midnight screening as a one-night-only special screening in a few Regal Cinemas and NCM Fathom Events. That, however, was just the beginning. No one had the greatest of hope for the film but, then, whatever.
So what made this franchise such a success? The original airing and limited screenings didn't exactly set the channel alight with viewers and the attendance at the cinemas only earned around $200,000. Not exactly a stellar opening night for a film that was described by David Hinkley of the New York Daily News as follows; 'Sharknado is an hour and a half of your life that you'll never get back. And you won't want to.'
But hang on, the film subsequently had four sequels, and fifth is planned; the franchise has been licensed by a whole range of products manufacturers from t-shirts to key fobs. There is even a hugely successful online slot game using the Sharknado franchise. The creators of Sharknado clearly saw the online slot market as an area that they could embrace and who can blame them? The nature of the film fits perfectly with the fast-moving online slot, and the ocean blue theme is a great addition. Fans of the films will not be left disappointed as it features a few of the memorable quotes, such as ‘Sharks: I never saw that coming’. How can a film that was so badly received become such a success in such a range of industries? How did a franchise brand with such mediocre beginnings become so powerful and succeed the way it did?
The film itself tells the story of a freak cyclone hitting Los Angeles. The waterspouts somehow manage to suck up man-eating sharks from the ocean and then deposit them in seawater on the city streets - with the obvious ensuing mayhem as people get attacked and eaten by the sharks. The principal character, Fin (played by Ian Zeiring), an ex-surfer and bar owner, sets out with his friends to rescue his teenage daughter and his estranged wife. After much blood-curdling action with helicopters and bombs to destroy the waterspouts, Fin is eventually swallowed by a shark but fights his way out with a chainsaw. Messy, yes, but necessary as he also saves his friend who was swallowed whole a little earlier by the apparently non-biting or even chewing-his-food-properly shark species.
The saving of Fin's friend, however, doesn't mean to say that the sharks are incapable of biting people. The gore is frequent, and we see arms and legs being chewed off with unbelievably poor special effects. Perhaps this is the reason for the attention?
Clearly, there is a lot a material for the critics to get their teeth into (so to speak). 'Shamelessly brainless 90 minutes well-spent', 'fantastically cheesy lines combined with some humorous social commentary', 'there is, as they say, a fine line between stupid and clever, and this film twirls along it like a pro. Definitely worth a bite'.Betweenthe tongue in cheek and, yet, critical lines, there is the suggestion that they didn't altogether hate the film; something in it intrigued them.
The first airing pulled in no more than 1.4 million viewers - as the average new film on Syfy pulls in 1.5 viewers, it wasn't, again, a rip-roaring success on this front. The verdict from the Atlantic was that 'Sharknado devoured Twitter but scared away viewers'. But what made the film stand out and made the TV executives take notice, was the number of tweets that the programme generated. There is nothing new (even in 2013) of TV shows generating a huge amount of social media comment, but, for some reason, Sharknado stood out. Astonishingly the programme generated over 600,000 tweets. To put this into perspective, this is almost double the Game of Thrones Red Wedding episode. OK, so it was shown on a basic cable channel rather than a premium channel, but that amount of chatter is huge. What's even more surprising is, according to Nielsen (who count these things), is that the average age of original Syfy movie watchers is 52 - this isn't the usual demographic for Twitter users!
The connection between TV viewing and social media had been made in 2013, but its true significance as an indicator of awareness from watchers as to what they have been watching hadn't been truly realised. The Twitter storm that enveloped the film became a key moment for the social media tracking industry.
Whatever, the outcome of all the Twitter publicity was that the film was repeated on the Syfy channel on the 18th July. This time there were 1.89 million viewers. The third airing on the 27th of July garnered another 2.1 million viewers which set a record for the most-watched original film encore in Syfy history. The film was so on-trend that celebrities got in on the act - Cory Monteith, just before he died, sent his last ever tweet about the film. The film was subsequently shown in Australia, the United Kingdom (Syfy Channel on 7th of August), New Zealand and Germany. By August of the same year, the film studio which produced the film, The Asylum, announced that merchandise was going to be made available.
The rest is almost history - almost because it hasn't finished yet. There have been four sequels; Sharknado 2: The Scone One, Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, Sharknado: The 4th Awakens and Sharknado 5: Global Swarming. The final sequel is set to end the franchise and is set to be the maddest of them all. Fin, the lead character will be going back in time and, according to Syfy's synopsis the film is set to contain 'Nazis, dinosaurs, knights and… Noah's Ark'. Can you wait? We can't!
So, is this going to be the end of the franchise? Do we really believe that they are going to stop producing something so gloriously mad and such 'an awesome immersive thing' (James Poniewozik from TIME Magazine). We hope it will continue forever as has to be the best series of films that you can escape into which contains some 'bloody good fun'.