Why It Took Jennifer's Body 10 Years to Get the Respect It Always Deserved

Diablo Cody's ill-fated follow-up to Juno, starring Megan Fox in the titular role, was released a decade ago on September 18, 2009.

By Billy Nilles Sep 18, 2019 11:00 AMTags
Jennifer's BodyFox Atomic/Kobal/Shutterstock

Jennifer's Body seemed like a sure thing.

Diablo Cody was hot off an Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay following the success of her debut film, Juno. And Megan Fox was hot off a star-making turn in the Transformers franchise. So, the idea of them coming together for a horror-comedy film that allowed a female to be the villain, with a female director, to boot, was what we call in the biz a no-brainer. 

And then, ten years ago on September 18, 2009, the thing came out. And, reader, it was not a hit.

Critics were not kind to the film, directed by Karen Kusama, which focused on two best friends, the nerdy Anita, or "Needy" (Amanda Seyfried), and popular Jennifer (Fox) as they find themselves increasingly at odds after an encounter with an indie rock band leaves the cheerleader irrevocably changed, possessed by a demon that craves the flesh of human boys.

Megan Fox's Best Looks

The AV Club called it "clever for its own sake."

The Star said it seemed like "something [Diablo Cody] seems to have dashed off in-between talk show appearances and updating her MySpace page with her latest caustic witticisms." 

The Baltimore Sun claimed, "No one is going to like this movie for its brain," while USA Today lamented the film was "not as hot as you hope it would be."

And over at the San Francisco Chronicle, it was argued that "the chances that it will be somebody else's pop culture reference 27 years from now are slim to none."

And yet, here we are. 

Fox Atomic/Kobal/Shutterstock

Despite that fact that the film failed to impress at the box office, earning a worldwide total of $31.6 million on a $16 million production budget and a 34 percent audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the tide has begun to turn for Jennifer's Body. As a new generation of critics began to reassess the film in the run-up to its tenth anniversary, the consensus has decidedly shifted. Suddenly, it seemed, the internet decided that Jennifer's Body was, well, good.

"One day they'll be teaching it at the intersections of cinema studies, film theory, and women's studies," Horror Geek Life claimed in February 2018.

"Jennifer's Body Would Kill if It Came Out Today," read a Vice headline in October.

"Jennifer's Body is good now," Vox wrote, "More precisely, Jennifer's Body was always good, and everyone is just now starting to get on its level."

According to Buzzfeed, "You probably owe Jennifer's Body an apology."

Megan Fox Recalls Psychic Experience on Set of Jennifer's Body

So what happened between 2009 and now? What helped Jennifer's Body go from critically reviled to ahead of its time? What led to Refinery29 declaring the title character "a feminist revenge hero who came too early"? 

Frankly, the #MeToo movement.

As an industry began to look inward in light of the heinous accusations levied against powerful men like Weinstein, C.K., and Lauer, entertainment began to be viewed through a different prism. And as different voices (read: less white, straight and male) found themselves elevated in the world of film criticism in the process, suddenly, Jennifer's Body, with its tale of a woman abused and exploited by men for their own gain, their own enjoyment, finding strength (however monstrous) through revenge was "timely."

But why now and not then? 

"For those of us who have been alive, it's like — maybe on a zeitgeist-y level it's timely," Cody told Buzzfeed in December. "But it's a tale as old as time."

Fox Atomic/Kobal/Shutterstock

As Cody tells it, Jennifer's Body was somewhat doomed to fail thanks to a studio that had no idea how to market its heady exploration of toxic female friendship and imbalanced power structures through the guise of a horror-comedy film. So, Fox decided to ignore those themes altogether and market it to an audience that Cody and Kusama had almost explicitly excluded from from their creative process: young straight males.

Kusama told Buzzfeed about one marketing suggestion that would've seen the studio host an amateur porn site to promote the film. And she asked why the promotional materials were entirely fixated on how hot the title character was, she and Cody received an email neither will ever forget. It "wasn't even grammatically correct," Cody told the outlet. "The response said, 'Jennifer sexy, she steal your boyfriend.' As if a caveman had written it. So that's what we were dealing with."

Um, Brian Austin Green Initially Rejected a ''Really Persistent'' Megan Fox

"In those conversations, I was like, Oh, OK, we are seeing either we made a movie that they see completely differently, or what's in front of them is something they don't want to see," Kusama said of her meetings with marketing. "And at the time it was painful, but now I'm realizing this is evident of the world at large."

So of course, when the movie was sold as "Twilight for boys," as Roger Ebert referred to it, and what was shown in the theaters was truly the antithesis of that, it's little wonder critics and audience alike responded with a resounding, "WTF is this?!"

However, there was another element at play when Jennifer's Body made its way to theaters a decade ago. Namely, the frankly misogynistic way both Fox and Cody were treated by both the media and the internet at large. Both were coming off career highs, which meant that both were ripe for the takedown.

"The movie was ahead of its time, and while I think there is an argument to be made that it may not have been marketed appropriately, I genuinely don't believe people were ready for a movie like that at that time in our society and culture," Fox told Buzzfeed in statement sent through her representative. "I also think that the film may have been overshadowed by the unrelenting vampiric nature of the media's relationship to me at that time. I'm glad that we've seen a shift in the collective conscious and now people are able to retroactively appreciate it."

Speaking with Variety this month, Fox opened up a bit more about the film's failed promo. "A lot of the marketing hinged on'"Megan Fox is sexy, come see this movie.' And the movie wasn't about that," she noted. "The movie was actually about mis-marketing, about people focusing on something and missing the point, about sexualizing somebody who doesn't want to be sexualized, about all of these other things, about powerlessness as young girls and women and nobody was ready to hear that."

But now, it seems, they finally are. (If only it were available to easily stream literally anywhere.)

While Cody remains, understandably, a bit perturbed about how the culture a decade ago failed her film—"People constantly talk about how underrated it is now, and I'm like, 'Why didn't anybody go see it at the time?' I'm salty," she told Buzzfeed last year. "I could have made more movies like Jennifer's Body if people had actually f--king gone or had been positive about it"—Kusama's thoughts on it 10 years later sound downright zen.

"I guess over the years, people finally connected to it and I'm so happy that they did," she told Variety. "Of course it was heartbreaking to see the movie be perceived as a failure when I was so proud of it and I think Diablo was so proud of it and Megan and Amanda and Adam [Brody] and Johnny [Simmons,] we were all so happy with it."

She continued, "To have it be kind of slammed, of course that's painful, but I think when I look at a lot of the movies I love, they weren't considered successes, and that's ok, you know. It's really awesome to know that people are rediscovering the film or discovering it for the first time. I'm gonna sound awfully old, but it warms my heart, it seriously warms my heart."

Now what do we have to do to make sure it's not another decade before Jennifer's Body is finally available to stream somewhere?