On March 9, 2007 the world watched as Zack Snyder’s first foray into the visual spectacle he would come to be known for exploded to a $70 million opening weekend, beating out the John Travolta comedy Wild Hogs as well as flying past David Fincher’s Zodiac.
The film would last 3 weeks at number 1.
300 would finish it’s reign with $456 million worldwide off of a meager budget of $65 million.
Before then, Snyder has been praised for Dawn of the Dead; but the visionary historical-fantasy would make the young director a household name- lining him up for WATCHMEN which would open only two years later .
As long as readers have been on the internet, it’s easy to recall 300 being one of the youngest and possibly first ‘memes’ to spawn from film in the internet culture, with Leonidas’ mighty “This is Sparta!” yell becoming one of the most popular materials to parody in the very early YouTube days.
Beyond silly YouTube videos, 300 was a bonafide cultural phenomenon.
Football teams around the world, macho men, film students, everyone wanted in on the movie’s craze.
Featured in parodies for Robot Chicken, Saturday Night Live, and even the 2007 MTV Movie Awards with the spoof “United 300”.
Michigan State University’s athletic teams, “The Spartans”, would have the “What is your profession?” quote chanted by the student body at events.
A piece published by The L.A. Times Deborah Netburn went into more detail on “What Made ‘300’ A Hit?”.
Before 300, movies and social media weren’t a mutual exclusive thing as they are now. In 2015, any film or video-game has multiple Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook accounts to promote interaction with the audience both before and after they leave the theater. This notion was relatively unheard of, or rarely used, before Warner Brothers struck social media gold:
The marketing folks also took full advantage of MySpace. There was of course the requisite MySpace page for the film (now standard for all movies) — featuring a ferocious looking muscle man in a metal helmet plus tons of video clips, wallpapers and links to the film’s official website. But the stroke of genius came when the studio sponsored a feature upgrade to the site that told users they could store 300 photos on their profile thanks to the movie “300.” (Previously the limit had been 12). That started Jan. 2 and was incredibly popular with teens. The result was billions of ad impressions and 8 million viewings of the trailer. Is it any wonder that the 52% of the people who saw “300” were under 25?
Was it the Myspace, or was it the Iraq War? Famously and unsurprisingly the graphic novel adaptation drew comparisons from the left-wing, right-wing, and about every other wing. Was Leonidas a stand-in for President George W. Bush, or was he Xerxes? Was Xerxes Osama Bin Laden? Well not according to Iran, who famously declared 300 as the United State’s declaration of war on Irani culture.
Javad Shamaqdari, a cultural advisor to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said it was “plundering Iran’s historic past and insulting this civilization”. […] Daily newspaper Ayandeh-No carried the headline “Hollywood Declares War on Iranians”. The paper said “ seeks to tell people that Iran, which is in the Axis of Evil now, has for long been the source of evil and modern Iranians’ ancestors are the ugly murderous dumb savages you see in 300.”
Could another key factor in the film’s success have been it’s men and women? Beyond sex appeal and the slow-motion sex scenes of course. The film gave us Lena Headey’s Queen Gorgo, whom you can read more about in our character spotlight on her, here. Snyder gave a female just as strong and heroic as the macho-man main characters, a gender equality angle that was sorely lacking in that time frame of film.
Since the film though, nothing has come close to replicating it’s significance (Immortals) or it’s success (The Legend of Hercules). In fact no historical ‘epic’ since 300 has even really been made; but why is that? What made Zack Snyder’s sophomore outing so memorable?
“Frank [Miller]’s book, 300 is a beautiful book, it’s a graphic novel- its a piece of beautiful art . You look at it and it’s like every frame is a beautiful painting, and for me it was like, how can I make that into a movie? Not make it into a ‘Hollywood’ version of the movie; but how do I make that…live?”
Snyder is a man that directs from the heart, and a man that a studio can put incredible faith into. After the failure of TROY and Alexander, the idea of a sweeping historical film was thought to be Box Office poison; but the one thing those films didn’t have? Sure Wolfgang Peterson and Oliver Stone can direct a movie; but could they sell one?
Numbers don’t lie, and neither does the American culture. A film, the little engine that cold, sold on Snyder’s commitment to the source material, and his desire to bring something truly to life, not just ‘adapt’ it to life.
An aesthetic that could not be copied or rivaled with, 8 years later, 300 is still just as impressive as it was then.