By Eric Kelsey
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Three weeks after its premiere, "Sharknado" is still raining down great whites and hammerheads for the U.S. cable television network Syfy - and even splashing them across movie screens.
The campy, low-budget TV disaster movie about a hurricane that unleashes an aerial shark attack on Los Angeles has proven that a B-movie can still be a big cult winner, especially when social media acts as its marketing machine.
"You can't replicate something like this, you can't force-feed it - it just sort of happens," director Anthony C. Ferrante said ahead of special midnight "Sharknado" showings in 200 U.S. theaters on Friday.
Syfy already has ordered a "Sharknado" sequel and although the film is not yet a month old, it is drawing comparisons to "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," the 1975 cult classic that has made its mark as a midnight feature.
"Sharknado's" debut on July 11 drew an audience of about 1.4 million - slightly under Syfy's average for made-for-TV films - but it generated a significant 5,000 tweets per minute at its peak.
Top-shelf tweeters included "Rosemary's Baby" actress Mia Farrow, "The King of Queens" actor Patton Oswalt and "30 Rock" actor Judah Friedlander, who each enjoy large Twitter followings.
"The irony is that I thought we'd probably get the horror fans but the best we could hope for is the midnight cult following just because it was so strange and then it blew up," Ferrante said.
The film, which stars former B-list actors Ian Ziering and Tara Reid, has its lead characters attempt to save Los Angeles from "sharknados" with chainsaws and bombs as the killer fish eat their friends and destroy landmarks such as the Hollywood sign.
"Sharknado" also has attracted larger audiences in subsequent re-broadcasts, including 1.9 million on July 18 and 2.1 million on July 27.
'THIS GENERATION'S ROCKY HORROR'
"What is unusual is to have the second airing (with) more (viewers) than the first," said Horizon Media analyst Brad Adgate. "That never happens to that extent - 2.1 million isn't something that an original movie can do on Syfy."
Syfy, a unit of NBC Universal's Comcast Corp, produces about 20 films annually, including titles such as "Dinocroc vs. Supergator" and "Piranhaconda," at about $1.5 million per film.
Although "Sharknado" might not add much to Syfy's bottom line aside from some DVD sales and on-demand Internet streaming, it has been a publicity coup for the network, Adgate said.
"It put them in the mindset of viewers for what kind of movies they put on, this tongue-in-cheek, hokey type of movies," he said.
"It started in social media but it was also in the mainstream media. That's what really propelled it to become a cult classic. Maybe it's this generation's 'Rocky Horror Picture Show.'"
"Sharknado" was tailor-made bait for Twitter and Facebook with its zany premise and so-bad-it's-good special effects, social media analyst Carri Bugbee said.
"People naturally want to talk about and riff on things that are internet memes and cultural touch points, like movies, music, and TV," Bugbee said.
"If you create something wacky and outrageous it gives anybody an opportunity to say something funny to entertain their friends," she said. "I sort of see it as a natural extension of something we saw in the past with 'Rocky Horror Picture Show.'"
That low-budget cult film has grossed more than $100 million at U.S. theaters over nearly four decades.
(Reporting by Eric Kelsey; Editing by Bill Trott)