Adam Sandler’s new movie Pixels will leave a lot of people wondering how this movie even exists. What kind of a universe allows such a travesty to happen? But Pixels came about because a short film went super-viral. And here are nine other films that were greenlit purely thanks to internet manias.
There are definitely a lot of movie directors who’ve gotten their break in Hollywood after making viral videos—Dan Blank, who’s directing the upcoming Invisible, broke in after making the viral sushi-chefs-vs-sea-monster video Monster Roll. Daniel “Hash” Hashimoto got picked up by UTA after he made those Action Kid videos. Both Maze Runner director Wes Ball and 47 Ronin director Carl Rinsch got their start directing viral videos. But here are actual movies that got made due to memes.
1) Bad Ass
Like one other item on this list, Bad Ass isn’t strictly speaking science fiction, fantasy or horror—but it also illustrates how much we’re living in a surreal future. There was a video called “AC Transit Bus Fight,” which is just what it sounds like. And this video of two men fighting on the bus became bizarrely popular. So of course, it was made into a film, in which Danny Trejo plays a Vietnam veteran who has to seek justice, after he discovers that a local drug lord (Charles S. Dutton) killed his best friend over a flash drive that had proof that the Mayor (Ron Perlman) wanted to drill oil wells in Trejo’s inner-city neighborhood. Many people speculated that this film was a hoax, but it actually exists, and has had two sequels already.
This is sort of a weird one. This horror movie about a killer emoticon is inspired by ChatRoulette, 4Chan, and a bunch of other stuff, and it was made by a YouTube sketch comedy producer. It’s basically aiming to capitalize on a whole lot of internet memes. In Smiley, the eponymous killer will appear if someone goes on an anonymous chat server (based on ChatRoulette) and types “I did it for the lulz” three times. But then once you summon the killer with the smiley-face, you’ll never get rid of him. Not even Keith David can save you.
3) Safety Not Guaranteed
OK, this is sort of a gimme. In case you missed it, there was a magazine ad that purported to be from a time traveler, seeking someone else to join the adventure. And, as director Colin Trevorrow told io9, he and writer Derek Connolly tracked down the writer of the ad and optioned it as a movie.
4) That Awkward Moment
Here’s the other one that’s not science fiction or fantasy—but still, kind of odd. “That Awkward Moment” was an internet meme that you probably missed. But Hollywood seized on it, and turned it into a lukewarm rom-com starring Zac Efron and two of the Fantastic Four. The movie was a huge social media sensation.
5) Kevin Tancharoen’s Mortal Kombat
This one is sad... Kevin Tancharoen directed Mortal Kombat: Rebirth, an online short film that was so brilliant, it took the entire internet by storm. This led to a webseries called Mortal Kombat: Legacy—and then Tancharoen was hired to direct a big-screen Mortal Kombat film. This really seemed to be happening for a while, but then Tancharoen announced he was off the project. We’re still bummed. At least Tancharoen has kept busy directing episodes of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, the show his sister Maurissa Tancharoen produces.
Ryan Reynolds was very definite at the most recent Comic-Con: This movie would not have gotten the go-ahead if it wasn’t for that leaked test footage that blew up the entire internet. Deadpool had been in limbo for years, and seemed likely to stay there forever, until the studio saw the insane reaction to the leak.
7) Grumpy Cat
We called the news of a Grumpy Cat movie “a harbinger of the apocalypse.” In the end, the film about the internet’s favorite disgruntled feline turned out to be a TV movie, with Aubrey Plaza providing the voice of Grumpy Cat. And there’s a drinking game?
8) Lights Out
There are approximately 500 short films that have gone viral and then gotten picked up as full-length movies by film studios. Just recently, there were Sundays and The Leviathan. What’s slightly different about Lights Out—which was a short horror film about a monster that only appears when the lights are out—is that it’s already in production. The full-length movie will star Teresa Palmer, with David Sandberg (who directed the viral short) directing, and James Wan producing for New Line.
9) Neill Blomkamp’s Alien 5
This appears to be actually happening—Blomkamp keeps talking it up, and Sigourney Weaver seems to think she’ll actually be starring in it soon. Basically, the District 9 director posted some concept art from the Alien movie he wanted to make on Instagram. This concept art went super-viral, and suddenly Fox decided to go ahead and let Blomkamp make his movie, which seems to invalidate some of the post-Aliens movies. Fingers crossed this is actually going to happen!
Bonus: How the Hampsters Saved Winter
This one is sort of iffy, since nobody seems to have actually seen this movie. But apparently, they made a movie of the Hamster Dance?
Bonus #2: The Raven
This viral short video was so popular, it was greenlit as a “scifi conspiracy thriller,” starring Liam Hemsworth. Production was supposed to begin in the summer of 2013. Then Hemsworth dropped out and was reportedly set to be replaced by Gerard Butler. But this movie never actually got off the ground.
Bonus #3: Snakes on a Plane
It’s inaccurate to say that Snakes on a Plane was greenlit because its title became a viral sensation. But the studio definitely seemed to get more excited about this film once its title became a huge internet meme, and Snakes would have looked very different (and might not have been so over-the-top) if the internet hadn’t embraced it so much during production.
Bonus #4: Teddy Bear
This one doesn’t quite earn the use of the word “greenlit,” since the movie has never gotten as far as having a director or a screenwriter. But the picture of a teddy bear with a tiny wooden sword defending a young girl from a huge monster became a massive internet meme, and then it was put into development, with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson producing and possibly planning to star in the film. The massive box office performance of Ted reportedly helped encourage the studio to believe in this film—but maybe the performance of Ted 2 has made them think twice?
Bonus #5: The Bringing
This horror movie, which had first Nicolas Winding Refn and then Jeremy Lovering mooted as possible directors, is based on the real-life case of Elisa Lam, who was found dead in the water tanks on the roof of the Cecil Hotel in L.A.—a big part of the film’s appeal was the fact that video footage of Lam’s strange behavior in the hotel elevator prior to her death went viral. But there’s been no word on this film in a while, and it may not actually be happening.