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The Real Reason The Meg Feasted at the Box Office

Late last week, it seemed as though the very expensive, very Stathamy underwater thriller The Meg was on its way to becoming a dead shark. Even though the film—an adaptation of the 1997 novel by Steve Alten—had an online fanbase more than twenty years old, most predictions pointed toward a relatively low opening weekend at the box office. For a movie with a megalodon-sized $150 million estimated budget, this was ominous news. So were the The Meg‘s mostly meh reviews.

By Sunday night, however, the movie had become one of the year’s few Hollywood surprise stories, making $45 million in one of the highest debuts of the year. That turnout helped obliterate the weekend’s other long-in-the-works thriller: Slender Man, the adaptation(?) of a nearly ten-year-old meme that originated in the world of web-borne urban legends known as “creepypasta.” Slender Man earned far less than The Meg, making about $10 million. That was better than expected for a barely marketed schlock thriller. But it will likely disappear from theaters soon, considering its damning D- grade on audience-reaction tracker CinemaScore is any indication. To get an idea of how uniquely calamitous that is, consider that 2015’s Fantastic Four—a movie that actually ends with this scene—wound up a mere C- score.

Both The Meg and Slender Man are, in their own ways, “internet movies,” a hazy descriptor that can be applied to any film with a uniquely nutty pre-release relationship with the web. Internet movies tend to fall within two categories: The majority are films like The Meg, which was embraced online in the weeks or months (or even decades) before its arrival. A film like Slender Man is far rarer, as it works in reverse,

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