Snakes on a Plane (2006) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

The WTF Happened to This Horror Movie series looks at the Samuel L. Jackson / David R. Ellis cult classic Snakes on a Plane

The episode of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? covering Snakes on a Plane was Written and Narrated by Mike Holtz, Edited by Jaime Vasquez, Produced by Andrew Hatfield and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

When you go back and take a look at the movies that were released in 2006, you might think we were all high. I mean some of us were but regardless, everything was so over the top. Eli Roth’s Hostel was tearing off tourists’ clothes while slashing their Achilles’, The Hills Have Eyes remake was gnarly in every way and does anybody remember that really cool but super weird Paul Walker flick Running Scared? We were on some dark stuff back in the mid-2000s. It wasn’t just the horror and action genres, either. Comedies like Grandma’s Boy had a level of wildness to them that you don’t see these days. All of these were released before August of 2006 when the mother of all over-the-top egregious and slightly cheesy but kind of awesome movies was released unto the earth. Well, at least in name. A name that conjures all the curiosity in the world while simultaneously explaining itself perfectly. A name that alone sent the internet into a frenzy for months. Ladies and gentlemen, the verbal version of Ryan Gosling’s scorpion jacket in Drive. Today we’re talking about just WTF happened to Snakes on a Plane?

It all started in 1992 when University of Pittsburgh administrator David Dalessandro read a nature magazine about brown tree snakes finding their way onto World War II airplanes. As if those fighter pilots weren’t already having a bad day in the middle of a world war. Satanic Bob Ross just added a little happy snake in there to brighten up their day. Dalessandro then wrote the screenplay about a singular snake loose in a plane, giving it the forgettable title of Venom. Then, he watched James Cameron’s Aliens and decided that moderation was for cowards, adding many, many more snakes to the script. Still, many studios turned down the script until someone at MTV Paramount read it and said to themselves, “We made a movie called Pootie Tang. No one can stop us.” They teamed up with New Line and Snakes on a Plane was in business.

Speaking of New Line Cinema (who took over production), the original director hired for the project was Freddy Vs. Jason and Bride of Chucky director Ronny Yu. That’s when the infamous Samuel L. Jackson who had worked with Yu on a film called The 51st State heard about this and reached out to his friend. Jackson asked if he could be in the film and Yu, surprised, said “sure”. Yu then reached out to New Line who didn’t even believe their director that Samuel L. Jackson wanted to be in a movie called Snakes on a Plane. When in fact, the name was the only reason Jackson wanted to do the film at all. To the point that he signed on to the project far before a script or cast had been completed. Jackson is actually the only reason we’re not sitting here talking about a movie titled Pacific Flight 121 right now (and let’s be honest, we probably wouldn’t be). As Jackson tells it (while laughing) “They gave me the script, it said Pacific Flight 121, and I’m like what the f*ck is this? And they were like ‘Well, you know, we don’t want to give it away’…. and I’m like YOU EXACTLY WANT TO DO THAT. That’s why I’m here. I’m not here to do Pacific Flight 121. If that’s the name of the movie I quit!”. Finally, after leaking various things to a rabid internet fanbase who also demanded the film keep its amazing name, Jackson had his wish granted. Snakes on a Plane was here to stay… but the director wasn’t.

Samuel L. Jackson told a part of the tale, saying “Next thing I know, Ronny got fired. And they were like, “Well, you know Ronny’s not doing the movie now. We hope you are going to stay. I’m like ‘Hell yeah. I’m doing the movie. It’s Snakes on a Plane. I wanna do it.” The official reason given for the director and studio parting ways was budget and creative differences. But as Yu tells it, he wanted to off Samuel L. Jackson early in the film and the studio wasn’t having it. Yu said, “If you put Samuel L. Jackson in it, and you have Snakes on a Plane, who is the star of the show? Is it Samuel L. Jackson, or is it the snake? If you want Samuel L. Jackson to be the hero, then the snakes weren’t that important, because you knew at the end Samuel L. Jackson would save the day.” He continued, “ If I’m allowed the creative freedom, then I’ll do it a little differently with Samuel L. Jackson. I’ll make him more of a surprise for the audience. … He can be a cool guy, but kill off the cool guy, so people hate those snakes. Rather than have the normal hero come save the day, I think the audience wants to see something a little bit different, unpredictable.”

Snakes on a Plane (2006) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

And so, the legend of these mother effin snakes on this mother effin plane continued without Ronny Yu. Yu was replaced by director David Ellis. A guy who had an insanely cool life before his unfortunate passing in 2013. A pro surfer turned stunt actor, turned stunt coordinator, and second unit director who cut his teeth as the official director on Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco. Ellis would then go on to direct Final Destination 2, and the underrated Chris Evans thriller Cellular, before Snakes on a Plane came his way in 2006. A project that might sound like a fun and easy breeze, until you actually think about the particulars of putting mother-effing snakes on the mother-effing airplane.

The concept would involve a 33 million dollar budget and the full construction of a two-story airplane built on a hydraulic system to provide a realistic turbulence effect. This led to all the actors spending their days working on the set, which was manually controlled, often shaking all over the place. Oh yeah, and a metric buttload of snakes. The film used over FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTY real-life snakes, with snake handler Jules Sylvester responsible for the little Satanic bastards. There were delusions of grandeur about using far more practical snakes for the film than they ended up using… eventually realizing the complications of this were just too much. The majority of the snakes we end up seeing on screen were a mix of animatronics and CGI but some of the snakes were indeed real, including a twenty-two-foot-long Burmese Python. By the beard of Zeus, there is no way you could have gotten me on that set. Much less if it were my very first film, such was the case for ole’ Tim Riggins of Friday Night Lights, Taylor Kitsch. Kitsch told Jimmy Kimmel years later that during his sex scene in the bathroom of the plane he was told to fall in the aisle dead. What they didn’t tell him was that they were dumping a box of live snakes out that would then be slithering all over his dead body while he was supposed to remain still. He freaked out and lost it as anyone not named Chuck Norris would but they apologized and all was well. Samuel L Jackson himself had a clause in his contract that made sure he would not be made to be within 25 feet of a live snake.

Producer Craig Berenson says Samuel L Jackson wasn’t the only one who didn’t want anywhere near the snakes, saying, “We would tell every actor that we were auditioning that there would be live snakes on the set. And some people would not come to audition”. But some folks did and now they were tasked with filling an entire airplane with folks who we’d have to be at least interested enough in to want to see die or feel bad for them when they did. And oh, did they die.

Snakes murder our cast members in a myriad of ways from being bit on their naughty parts to snakes slithering inside their orifices to wait… did I just say snakes slithering inside their orifices? Uh-huh. There’s also a disgusting “sucking out the poison” moment that will forever make that sound far less sexy than it did before you watch the scene take place, and one guy Brett Favre’s a chihuahua right into a snake’s mouth. All these events happened to and around a plethora of fun to watch folks that included actors David Koechner (basically as an even hornier version of his Anchorman character), Julianna Margulies, Rachel Blanchard, Kenan Thompson, Lin freakin’ Shaye is in this for some reason, along with Flex Alexander and Terry Chen. Bruce James plays an over-the-top flight attendant who has the pleasure of microwaving a snake on a microwave that if you pay attention has a “snake” setting on it. Because Snakes on a Plane.

There’s a whole subplot going on in Snakes on a Plane about a witness to a murder (played by Nathan Phillips or as I remember him, the shaved head dude from Wolf Creek) being transported by Samuel L. Jackson’s Neville Flynn to testify. The guy he’s about to testify against is the one who put all these snakes on board in the hopes they would kill everyone, including the witness. No one needed all that exposition, though. The title said it all. And those four little words are all it took to create a total internet sensation.

Snakes on a Plane (2006) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

When scriptwriter Josh Friedman’s blog post about being offered to write a movie called Snakes on a Plane went viral, the internet was immediately hooked. This all led to a Chuck Norris joke-type sensation where the masses were making all kinds of media based on just this simple idea. There were songs, parodies, short films, and jokes galore. The studio smartly capitalized on this craze through various contests and sweepstakes. The best part of it all came from something I remember doing at the time myself; On the now unfortunately defunct website “” you could sign up to have yourself, family members, friends or enemies receive a call from Samuel L. Jackson, yelling at you and marketing the film. If the person had a relatively common name and you entered in details such as where they worked their interests, and personality traits, it would then call them and leave a message with Samuel L Jackson personally dressing them down before reminding them to see Snakes on a Plane. This is Blair Witch Project-level marketing we need more marketing departments to put in the effort to duplicate. Hell, I’d settle for those little Batman Forever cups McDonald’s used to sell. Those things ruled.

It was moments like this that were really spearheaded by Samuel L Jackson because he understood what the studio had on their hands in a way they didn’t. Jackson would say of the film repeatedly “It was the kind of movie I would have gone to see when I was a kid” and “I feel sorry for all those people that are going through that whole trip of ‘Why would Samuel Jackson do something like this’ and ‘it’s lowbrow’. It’s a movie. People go to movies on Saturday to get away from the war in Iraq and taxes and elections news and pedophiles online and just go and have some fun and I like doing movies that are fun.” Mother-bleeped-er. I added that last part. Sorry. Roger Ebert was one of those people at the time and had criticized the movie before it even released, leading to director David Ellis joining Jackson in saying “to Hell with what critics think”, responding “It’s not important at all. Look at the films that have been released this summer. I haven’t seen a good review yet. There’s huge box office (for those movies, as SOAP hadn’t been released yet). I think Ebert knows nothing about this movie. He’s not in the demographic that’s following this stuff on the internet so for him to speak out about it before even seeing it…..(shrugs)

The pair would instead lean into what their now-viral audience was wanting, even going back for re-shoots to add some of their requests into the film including the famous line. A line that would end up being one of the top 100 greatest movie lines of all time by Premier in 2007. In the TV version years later, it would be hilariously changed to “I have had it with these monkey-fighting snakes on this Monday-to-Friday plane!”.

Samuel L. Jackson said of the online audience “They started talking about amping up the violence and the language and everything else in the film that we kept saying while we were shooting it that they should be doing anyway. And that was another fan-based suggestion that worked out great.” Armed with the online fans’ winds at their back, New Line ordered five additional days of reshoots and in the process had the rating changed from a PG-13 to an R-rating to suit their newfound audience. But would it pay off at the box office? It certainly seemed like it at the time and other studios were watching to see if this was the new model for movie marketing. When asked if Snakes on a Plane was about to be the template for Hollywood marketing going forward, his response was “Hollywood is going to wait and see what happens with Snakes on a Plane. I think if we have the success that some people are predicting, I think that it would and should.

It didn’t hurt that the band Cobra Starship’s banger of a new song on the soundtrack titled “Snakes on a Plane (Bring It)” hit #32 on Billboards Modern Rock Tracks charts. The film also received tons of fan songs and movie-inspired songs from artists via its multiple contests and marketing popularity, a four hundred-and-five-page novelization adding lore to the film, comic books, and a soundtrack that also included songs from Panic! At the Disco, Fall Out Boy and more. The hype was there. The movie was in the can. All the world was watching and it seemed like a surefire hit was about to change movie marketing forever. Until it didn’t.

Snakes on a Plane (2006) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

After all the fanfare, the expected opening weekend box office haul was between 20 and 30 million based on industry analysts’ projections. Snakes on a Plane instead made 15 million on its opening weekend and dropped more than fifty percent in week two, bringing in just 6.4 million and a total of 62 million worldwide when it was all said and done. Though this may not have been deemed a failure otherwise, in the case of Snakes on a Plane, New Line expected a much brighter return leading Robert Shaye to call the movie a “dud”.

Snakes on a Plane was officially one of the earliest reminders that the internet is the internet and the real world is the real world. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t all have fun! And if you’re gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough. Trust me, I know. We can smell our own.

Snakes on a Plane did surprisingly well with critics, sitting at a 69% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this writing. And let’s all hope it stays there because that’s hilarious.

Do you know what’s not hilarious? During one particular showing of Snakes on a Plane in Arizona, some fan, or as I like to call them, complete and total asshole, released two live diamondback rattlesnakes into their dark theater. And left. Somehow, nobody was bitten and a snake wrangler was called to collect the snakes peacefully. Join me in hoping that guy has something really inconvenient happen to him today, wherever he is. Box office be damned, Snakes on a Plane is a far bigger part of the pop culture of the world today than anyone probably ever thought it could be. A marketing phenomenon and an example of how fun it can be to let your hair down and not take yourself so seriously. Laugh a little! Turn your brain off! Get your *Bleeped* bitten off by a snake! Or whatever. I think most of us are just glad this movie exists… and what more can a movie ask for? And that my friends is just WTF Happened to Snakes on a Plane. Thanks for watching!

A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To see more, head over to our JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.