New Line Cinema's much-talked-about Snakes on a Plane seemed a sure hit. And while it did hit the No. 1 slot in box office rankings this past weekend, it raked in lower sales than most expected. What gives? Had the public "had it with these [bleepity-bleepin'] snakes on this [bleepity-bleepin'] plane" before the movie even came out?

Supposedly New Line, a unit of Time Warner (NYSE:TWX), had a perfect thing going with this blatantly B-grade movie starring Samuel L. Jackson: viral Internet marketing that it didn't have to foster, a media company's fondest dream. Fans helped create the movie, too: Internet fans convinced the filmmakers to add certain elements, not the least of which was elevating the movie's violence and language so that it would have an R rating instead of the milder PG-13.

Given Snakes on a Plane's box office take of a mere $15.3 million on opening weekend (including Thursday sales), lots of people are wondering what went wrong. Although it seems clear that the movie will break even -- word is its production budget was about $35 million -- folks had estimated the movie would take in $30 million to $40 million in its opening weekend. Indeed, CNET (NASDAQ:CNET) had dubbed it the most highly anticipated movie of August.

I can't help but flash back to another cultish August release, two years ago: Alien Vs. Predator, from News Corp.'s (NYSE:NWS) Twentieth Century Fox studio. (No kidding, I really did write about it.) That movie raked in $38.3 million on its opening weekend. Not only did it lack a big star like Jackson, it had strict niche appeal: horror/sci-fi movie fanatics, video game fans, and graphic novel junkies.

My point is that you'd think Snakes on a Plane would fare better two years later, considering the niche-busting hype. Off the Internet, Jackson appeared on the Today show (on General Electric's (NYSE:GE) and Vivendi's (NYSE:V) NBC), as well as Viacom's (NYSE:VIA) popular offering, The Daily Show, on Comedy Central to pump up the movie.

I've seen some theories floating around; for example, lack of TV trailers, or the fact that there was no advance screening for critics. My original theory was that maybe word of mouth backfired once people actually saw the movie, but critics gave it mixed reviews, so that doesn't seem to be the case.

There are a few other possibilities. Maybe some thought the movie would disappoint even their own low expectations (the movie's main attraction was always the fact that it was a campy B-movie, aiming for the "so bad it's good" genre) and decided that wasn't worth $10 admission. The most ironic possibility would be if the same geeky masses who hyped the movie decided to watch lower quality (but free) pirated copies being passed along through file-sharing services.

Why all the worry? For one thing, investors are certainly keeping a close eye on what variables help or hinder media companies in these days when disruptive influences are increasingly affecting the industry and the way it markets its products. I personally suspect Snakes on a Plane might keep up momentum in subsequent weekends better than many other movies have this summer, but it certainly would be ironic if a film that was so highly influenced by -- and even partially built by -- fans turns out to be severely lacking in audience.

CNET is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. To find out what other companies David Gardner and his team of analysts have recommended for the service, click here for a 30-day free trial. Time Warner is a Stock Advisor recommendation.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.