MST3K FAQ -- MST3K Hits The Big Screen


Q: Whatever happened to the MST3K movie? Did it ever come out?
A: Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, from Gramercy Films, opened in "selected theaters" April 19, 1996, and played in "limited release" (a different set of about 30 theaters total each week) through most of that spring and summer.

Q: Has the movie been released on video?
A: MCA/Universal Home Video released it to rental outlets on October 1, 1996. It was released for retail sale on April 8, 1997.

Q: What about DVD?
A: A DVD of the film was released, but it is currently out of print.

Q: So I missed it when it was in movie theaters? Why didn't I know that it was out?
A: It may have played in a theater somewhere near you in the course of its run, but you probably weren't aware of it because there was so little advertising and promotion for the movie.

Q: Well, silly me! I foolishly expected that the movie would be released in theaters all over the country at the same time, and that Gramercy would promote it! WHAT WAS THE DEAL?
A: Calm down. BBI -- which had no control over how the movie was marketed -- was just as frustrated as the fans were with the way the film was released. Gramercy decided to market the movie as a "rock and roll" film -- that's the term they use to describe a movie that slowly goes from city to city, plays one-to-three weeks, depending on the money it brings in, and moves on.

Movie ad taken from the Netscape Home Page
Advertisement for MST3K: The Movie, as seen on the Netscape Home Page
Q: This movie seemed like a natural to play in every mall theater in the country! Why did Gramercy market it this way?
A: Your guess is as good as ours. But if you're interested in BBI's opinion, their guess is that it was the Pamela Lee movie "Barb Wire" -- another Gramercy film released at about the same time -- that did them in: Gramercy apparently could only support one film or the other, and decided Lee's boobfest was what America wanted, while the MST3K movie got short shrift.

Q: What's the movie like?
A: It's basically a big-screen version of the TV show.
Mike stars in it (not Joel). There are some differences from the TV show, however. There's an opening sequence that explains the concept to people who have never seen the show, two internal host segments (rather than three) and a closing segment. The host segments give us our first glimpses of other areas of the SOL, including Tom Servo's bedroom and "below decks." Frank is not in the movie, nor is Pearl.

Q: Were the sets for MST3K:The Movie different?
A: Yes! The SOL bridge set in the movie was a 360-degree set, allowing them to shoot Mike at different angles. The Deep 13 set also was a bit more elaborate than the Deep 13 set seen in the CC episodes. But in both cases, the sets retained the primitive, homemade quality fans have come to expect from the series.

Q: What movie did they riff on?
A: They chose Universal's 1954 sci-fi yawner, This Island Earth (TIE). TIE was heavily edited, however: The running time of the entire movie is less than TIE's original running time.

Q: Hey, I always thought TIE was a pretty good movie! Certainly it isn't in the same league as Manos and some of the other dreck MST has ripped up. Why riff on this sci-fi classic?
A: It seems to have been chosen precisely because it clearly is NOT as dreadful a movie as, say, Manos. Newcomers to the concept certainly could not put up with a truly horrible movie, so they chose one that was in color, visually exciting and sort of hokey, offering plenty of stuff to make fun of.

Q: Was the theme song in the movie?
A: Yes. A low-key, instrumental-only version (arranged by Billy Barber, who scored the film) can be heard under the opening credits. Another, more rockin', arrangement, recorded by Dave Alvin (formerly of The Blasters), can be heard under the closing credits. There was also a version of the Dave Alvin arrangement that included vocals, but that was only heard (in part) in the movie trailer and in the
screen saver made for the film's website. It was also played for the attendees at the second MST3K convention in 1996.

Q: I heard they were talking with Universal Pictures about doing a movie. What happened to that?
A: This is the product of all that talking. At the time, Universal was part-owner of Gramercy.

Q: I also heard a rumor about a movie deal with Paramount. Was that true?
A: Before talking to Universal, BBI did have some discussions with Paramount Pictures. What we understand is that Paramount would not give BBI as much control over the movie as BBI wanted, so BBI looked elsewhere. Ironically, BBI still found themselves out of control when they finally DID make a film.

Q: What was the critical reaction?
A: Reviews were relatively positive, including two thumbs up from Siskel & Ebert, and raves in Time, Entertainment Weekly, Details and in some newspapers. The majority of reviews seemed to fall into the "good to fair" range: two-and-a-half or three stars (out of four) being the most common ratings. There were also a few extremely negative reviews, especially among reviewers who professed admiration for "This Island Earth" and seemed to resent any mockery of it.

Q: How did the film do at the box office?
A: Pretty well, considering the constraints put on it by Gramercy. In the first weekend, it made more than twice as much per theater as the movie that ranked number one that weekend, as MSTies from all over traveled hundreds of miles, in some cases, to see it. Ticket sales plummeted the second weekend, and in the weeks that followed it did steady but slowly decreasing business. We tracked the film's progress on Variety's weekly Top 60 Movies chart, and here are the numbers Variety gave for the first eleven weeks:

Week Rank Box Office (US$) Change from Previous Week Per-screen Average (US$) Theaters This Week (#) Total Box Office (US$) Days in Release (#)
Week 1 28 206,328 X 7,936 26 206,328 3
Week 2 33 110,620 -46% 4,097 27 367,471 10
Week 3 43 75,392 -32% 2,900 26 475,718 17
Week 4 45 64,338 -15% 2,145 30 561,398 24
Week 5 47 57,812 -10% 1,652 35 651,654 31
Week 6 50 77,070 -4% 2,083 37 751,478 39
Week 7 55 32,417 -42% 1,046 31 798,034 45
Week 8 54 26,308 -19% 940 28 843,129 52
Week 9* 64 16,194 -38% 623 26 872,737 59
Week 10 59 16,842 +4% 674 25 902,994 66
Week 11 54 17,427 +3% 758 23 930,694 73
* the movie fell off the list this week. The "Box Office" figure is a reasonable guess. The "Total
Box Office" figure is a wild guess

The movie dropped out of the Top 60 list permanently after week 11 (which was at the end of June). The movie officially closed on August 22, 1996, having made a grand total of $1,007,306, according to the fine folks at

Q: Did the movie break even or make a profit?
A: No. But Gramercy has only itself to blame.

Q: I hear the suits at Gramercy did a lot of meddling. What happened?
A: Skittish Gramercy executives cut and rewrote some riffs, which may explain why -- as many MSTies noticed -- the movie has fewer of the really obscure references that make the TV series so delightful. One example: When "Scrotor" the bug-eyed monster first appears, the original riff was "Bootsy Collins!" This was changed in the movie to "Leona Helmsley!" reportedly because the Gramercy executives had never heard of Bootsy Collins. (The irony of a bunch of white guys from Minnesota trying to explain Bootsy Collins to supposedly hip L.A. movie executives did not go unnoticed by BBI.)
The same nervousness about the movie on the part of Gramercy executives led to the film being subjected to the appalling "focus group" process (riotously parodied in a host segment of episode 704- THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN; at the second convention Jim Mallon said those host segments were very much like the real thing, and were BBI's way of expressing their anger at the infuriating process).
For reasons BBI did not understand, Gramercy asked BBI to create a "story arc" within the host segments of the film. Grudgingly, BBI complied (though they felt it wasn't necessary). But when focus groups complained the film was too long, an entire host segment was cut, and the ending host segment completely reshot, utterly demolishing the very story arc Gramercy had asked BBI to create. (Which is why, in the finished film, you see Crow pick up a chain saw in Tom's bedroom, but nothing more is made of it. In the original ending, Crow returns to his ditch below decks and uses the chain saw in another escape attempt.)
At the ConventioCon, Bridget Jones expressed her exasperation over reading focus group comments from, for example, "the popular girl from high school. The handwriting had big looping letters and i's dotted with hearts, saying: 'I just didn't think it was funny!' This was the sort of people they were listening to," Jones said with annoyance. In the cut host segment (which was shown in public for perhaps the only time ever at the 1996 ConventioCon), Mike and bots retreat to the SOL's "storm shelter" during a meteor shower, and when the air is cut off, the bots race heroically (and hilariously) to save their pal Mike from asphyxiation.

Q: What's the likelihood of a "director's cut" version with those scenes restored?
A: Not very likely at all. BBI says that Universal would have spend money to make the rough footage of deleted scenes usable, and that there is zero interest at Universal for spending another dime on this movie.

Q: What's the likelihood of a sequel?
A: That's not going to happen. 

Q: I hear there's some sort of tribute to Frank in the movie. Where is it?
A: Watch the next-to-last door in the door sequence: That face in the middle is a familiar one -- you can tell by the spitcurl. This was added as a salute to Frank by set designer Jef Maynard.