Syfy has long specialized in campy creature features. Who could forget seminal classics like Mongolian Death Worms and Sharktopus? Something about a bad movie that knows just how terrible it is, and then doubles down on this by trying to be even worse, resonates with a very specific audience. In 2013, Sharknado seemed like yet another drop in the bucket of patently insane ideas for straight-to-TV movies. But no one could have predicted the true insanity that would follow its TV debut that July.
According to a report from Wired, the premiere for Sharknado hauled in 1.5 million viewers, generating a whopping 5,000 Tweets per minute. It was not only watched; it was talked about everywhere. For whatever reason, a nation was enraptured by a B-movie about a tornado that was quite literally composed for sharks. Maybe it was Syfy’s “we made an awful movie on purpose and we’re very up front about that” approach. Or perhaps a country plagued by a host of complex, real problems just wanted to watch something that didn’t pretend to be anything more than what it was.
Whatever it was that brought millions into the fold, it was enough to get a sequel green-lit within days of Sharknado airing. Suddenly a campy creature feature had blown into a global phenomenon; the people wanted more homicidal sharks in tornados, and SyFy was going to give them just that. The aptly-named sequel Sharknado 2: The Second One was even bigger, with Wired estimating 3.9 million viewers to go along with 1 billion Twitter impressions. Just like that, the word “phenomenon” simply didn’t do it justice anymore.
Part of the appeal of Sharknado is its almost painful capacity for self-awareness. The movie know it’s bad. You know it’s bad. Everyone knows the movie knows it’s bad. It’s constantly winking at the audience, and practically seems in on the joke. But just like it is for every franchise, there’s a threshold for too much of a good thing. At what point does self-awareness simply become shameless pandering? We may have found that with the title of the third installment in the series: Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!
We’ve finally reached the point where it’s clear that SyFy is doing this less for a shamelessly bad yet entertaining B-movie, and more to market a brand. Sure, it’s a TV network with a successful property, and it has every right to capitalize on that. But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s crossed that line from being in on the joke with us to doubling down so hard on self-awareness that it’s reached a massive point of diminishing returns. Meanwhile, the rest of Hollywood is trying to get in on the joke too, with a laundry list of cameos for Oh Hell No! that includes Michele Bachmann, Ann Coulter, Mark Cuban, Jerry Springer, Chris Kirkpatrick, and Chris Jericho. Needless to say, the bandwagon is starting to feel a little crowded.
Back in 2013, no one would have guessed that the biggest problem with Sharknado was that too many would love it for what it was, bringing us to a sad juncture for Hollywood’s strangest franchise. There’s nothing more fun than a ridiculously awful movie about a shark tornado that knows exactly what it is. Before, SyFy’s sarcastic winking at us while a man chain-sawed out of the belly of a shark felt like it was involving everyone in the fun. Very quickly, it’s turning more into “guys, stop winking there’s a tornado of sharks and you don’t need this.” The decline of the bell curve though is in full effect, making the answer to the question of whether or not we’ll tune into Sharknado 3 very simple: Oh hell no.
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