Today marks the 10th anniversary of the release Napoleon Dynamite, 2004's little movie that could, but in an age when we all rush to celebrate the passage of time, internet nostalgia is showing its strain.
Though Napoleon Dynamite was something of a phenomenon when it emerged, no one really seems to care. Meredith Blake of the Los Angeles Times tweeted: "Sorry, Internet. Try as you might, but you are not going to make me feel nostalgic for Napoleon Dynamite." The statue Fox erected in honor of the film was deemed "creepy" by The A.V. Club. (It is creepy.) Sure, there are commemorative pieces. BuzzFeed has an interview with director Jared Hess and star Jon Heder. The Huffington Post has a look back, but it wasn't entirely adulatory. Author Lauren Duca notes how how the "innate catchiness" of cult films can become "bloated with mass appeal."
By all accounts, the 10th anniversary of Napoleon Dynamite should be an Internet sensation. The movie, made for only $400,000, was a genuine surprise success when it came out in 2004, grossing $44.5 million. Thanks to a sly marketing campaign — it was engineered to become a cult classic — the movie made by Brigham Young University grads became a little-movie-that-could. There was merchandise galore. The town where the movie was filmed — Preston, Idaho — attempted to turn the movie's popularity into tourism bucks.
Napoleon Dynamite nostalgia should appeal to millennial internet denizens, who might remember having their own "Vote for Pedro" t-shirts. But compare its Internet bonafides with another film that just celebrated its 10th anniversary: Mean Girls. A Google Trends search, shows that interest over the past year for Napoleon pales in comparison to searches for Mean Girls. Even this past week, 10 years from when the movie first opened in limited release, searches for Mean Girls have engulfed searches for Napoleon Dynamite. (The movie expanded wide in August.)
Meanwhile, searching for Napoleon Dynamite on BuzzFeed, that lord of internet nostalgia, turns up a mere 228 results, while Mean Girls turns up around 7,560. Now Mean Girls and Napoleon Dynamite are not hits in quite the same ways. Mean Girls had almost double the box office intake of Napoleon Dynamite. Whereas the cast members of Mean Girls have only gotten more famous as time has passed, Heder and Hess (who co-wrote the movie with his wife Jerusha) have fallen into relative obscurity. And it's not like Napoleon wasn't always an acquired taste. Napoleon Dynamite has been extremely popular on Netflix, but is also such a polarizing movie that it vexed those trying to perfect the company's recommendation engine, as Clive Thompson explained in a 2008 New York Times Magazine article. Even in 2005 Napoleon was starting to wear thin, the Boston Globe's Joanna Weiss reported. "But there are a few reports, from suburbia, of early-stage 'Napoleon'-fatigue," she wrote. "Julie Waxman, a 16-year-old from Easton, said a friend broke up with his girlfriend because she wouldn't stop quoting the movie. Dan Reis, a 17-year-old from Stoughton, sighed that the joke 'gets played out after a while.'"
The Internet perhaps over-commemorates, but celebration for Napoleon Dynamite has been relatively muted. That, to many, is probably a good thing. We're not all as blindly nostalgic as we'd like to think.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.