Why Is 'Black Swan' Such a Hit?

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Black Swan, that lurid ballerina psycho-thriller that plays conspicuously like The Wrestler, is now on track to earn more than $100 million in domestic box office receipts. Pretty impressive, especially considering the dark subject material, positioning as art-house award-season fodder, limited screen release, and dreary overall year for movie attendance. But this title apparently has staying power, and it's not solely because of a major studio push (Hello, FOX Searchlight), a director on a hot streak (Darren Aronofsky), or the singular qualities of the dueling white and black swans (Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis).

Courtesy of The Los Angeles Times' Steven Zeitchik and Ben Fritz, who decide to figure out the phenomenon, here are four ways Black Swan managed to become a pop-culture sensation:

  • It Went Viral Weeks Before Release The striking imagery of Portman in full swan regalia quickly circulated on YouTube immediately after the trailer's release. 48 hours later, as the Time's reports, it had been viewed 3 million times and how-to tutorials showing how "girls could make up their faces to resemble Portman's character" created a solid awareness for the film. Screenwriter Mark Heyman told the Times he "knew something was afoot" when he saw Black Swan halloween costumes "six weeks before the movie was even released."
  • It Appealed To a Diverse Crowd  When was the last time that horror and ballet fans (along with cinema aficionados) convened on a title that could plausibly satisfy them all? Consider this LA Time's crowd-report and try to think of another title that could attract such an audience:
Nas Moinee, 23, had come for the dancing and the costumes and was dreading the film's scares. Peter Garcia, a longhaired, ball-cap-wearing 12-year-old attending with his mother, said he was looking forward to jumping out of his seat at the movie's spooky scenes.And while Shawna Joplin, 28, had bought a ticket because she heard about a bravura performance from star Natalie Portman, her companion, Greg Richmond, 32, came because his friends told him about an explicit sex scene between Portman and costar Mila Kunis.
  • It Didn't Need to Add Humor Just For Levity  Many critics didn't like Aronofsky's "uncompromising" vision. However, it might have served him well with moviegoers tired of "one-size-fits-all" blockbusters. "In a season when even dramas such as The King's Speech and The Fighter are leavened with humor, Black Swan stands out for its unrelenting intensity," Fritz and Zeitchik observe. And, fingers crossed, "it even raises the question of whether there's a larger audience for original, unpredictable films than the studios may believe."
  • And, Sure, It Might Just Resemble Inception  If you thought comparisons to The Wrestler were a stretch, Zeitchik and Fritz do make the inevitable comparison to one of last Summer's most-anticipated mindbenders: "Although [Inception] cost hundreds of millions more than "Black Swan" to make and market, it too was driven by a passionate fan base, and drew many casual filmgoers who wanted to see what the fuss was all about. (Aronofsky actually showed Black Swan to Nolan after it was completed.)"

[H/T: The Smart Set]

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.