Why are Cyberthrillers like ''Hackers'' and ''Virtuosity'' tanking at the box office?


Falling Trend: Cyberthrillers

Trend Pinnacle: Last year’s Disclosure, with Demi Moore, and 1995’s The Net, with Sandra Bullock, turned bytes into bucks by earning $82.9 million and $47.7 million, respectively (though, considering the marquee power of post-Speed Bullock and post-Indecent Proposal Moore, the flicks should have downloaded more). A foreshadowing that the trend was waning fast came in May when Johnny Mnemonic stalled at a paltry $19 million, despite the attraction of star Keanu Reeves.

Latest Misstep: The floppy disk Hackers earned a mere $3.2 million its opening weekend and has been summarily exiled to eighth place on box office charts, grossing $5.8 million to date. Hackers follows in the footsteps of another cyberdud, Virtuosity, starring Denzel Washington, which took in only $23.2 million.

Next Step: The buzz is bleak on Ralph Fiennes’ sci-fi thriller Strange Days, which opens wide Oct. 13.

Perceived Problem: With 20 million people on the Internet, why can’t studios get gearheads away from their computers long enough for their screensavers to kick in? Because Hollywood just doesn’t get it. Think WarGames. The starless 1983 proto-hacker flick raked in $74.4 million back when the info highway was a mere horse-and-buggy dirt path, thanks to a tight script, a gripping plot, and an engaging newcomer named Matthew Broderick.

Advice: Stop depending on technology alone. ”There’s nothing magical about an Internet connection to a movie,” says Neal Stephenson, author of the cyberthriller Snow Crash (which has been optioned by Paramount). ”Such movies succeed [because] they have interesting story lines and present a fresh visual take. If they are just formulaic thrillers, then naturally they’ll tank.”


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  • Iain Softley