How to Use Social Data to Predict Box Office Success

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I love the holidays, and not because of all the family, gifts, and home-cooked food, but because it’s one of the few times of the year you know that you’re going to get some exciting action-packed blockbuster films.

This year we’ve got an exciting mix of original content, remakes, sequels, and scarily enough a “quad-quel.” For this post I’ve singled out The Adventures of Tintin, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, Sherlock Holmes 2, and Mission Impossible 4. So in the same vein as our annual TV predictions report we bring you our 2011 holiday blockbuster picks:

The chart below compares the social conversation of these films from Nov 6th through Dec 14th:


From a quick analysis it’s clear that Mission Impossible 4 and The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo quickly surpass the other two films in the number of conversations across social. This is really a testament to how amped film buffs are to see The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo because it managed to overcome the buzz that Mission Impossible 4 was generating by premiering a 6-minute prologue of The Dark Knight Rises before the film starts. In fact viewing that prologue was discussed in 6% of all Mission Impossible 4 conversations as one the main points of intent to see the film.

To provide a deeper context within these conversations, and to go beyond just the impressions in the chart that measured the approximate number of exposures a visitor had to a product or brand on blogs, forums, twitter, and other social channels, I also performed a full thematic and semantic analysis on these films using primarily our Topic Discovery Engine and other analytic tools. The semantic analysis is presented within this report as “net sentiment”, which is the sum of the positive and negative sentiment, and informs us of where consumers’ emotions lay.

In general these additional layers of context are what make social data a great predictor of blockbuster films, because through the measurement and contextualization of social conversations we are able to understand which films are driving the most interest, and what the intent is behind wanting to see these films. This data also exists before a film has premiered and allows brands, marketers, and content producers to use this pre-inform data to better direct their marketing, mitigate risk, and make more informed data-driven decisions.

Now on to the predictions:

One of the things I uncovered was that even though Sherlock Holmes 2 had the smallest volume of conversation out of the films analyzed, it looks like it’ll still have a relatively successful premiere since there were almost no negative conversations about it (+17% net sentiment). Online commenters also seemed to have genuinely enjoyed the last one. Film buffs also thought it was funny that Naomi Rapace, the love interest of Sherlock Holmes 2 who starred in the original version of The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, is competing in the box office against the remake of her own film.

The Adventures of Tintin however looks like it might have a rockier start. While this film appeals to the fans of the original comics, animation junkies, and is powered by an all-star production team, people approach it in social with more of a tentative viewpoint and worry that it’ll end up being kind of boring. Tintin ended up with the lowest amount of emotionally charged conversations at +8% net sentiment.

As far as sentiment goes Mission Impossible 4 really didn’t do much better than Tintin. While promising a big blockbuster weekend when measuring the number of impressions, there are a lot of fans that were still unimpressed by Mission Impossible 2 and 3. This resulted in Mission Impossible 4 having the highest percentage of negative conversations (-4%, but +10% net sentiment) out of all the analyzed films. Although there was still enough excitement in fan conversations to believe that Mission Impossible 4 will still receive really solid premiere weekend numbers. Some of the themes that indicated that it would be successful was the casting of fan-favorite actor Simon Pegg, the direction of the film looking to be better than its predecessors, and the opportunity to catch The Dark Knight Rises prologue.

Finally The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo looks to be the most anticipated of these four films. The enthusiasm in the voice of these fans is almost contagious. From the 8-minute trailer, to Trent Reznor of NIN producing most of the soundtrack, to how well liked Daniel Craig is as an actor at the moment. There were even rumors that a special trailer for The Hobbit will air beforehand, which would certainly seal the deal with fans if that was to become a reality.  At +15% net sentiment (there were a few naysayers questioning the need for an American remake of the film), and the highest volume of impressions, it looks like The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo will have the largest box office premiere of the four films.

Paul Dunay is the Chief Marketing Officer of Networked Insights, a leader in social media analytics, and author of four “Dummies” books: Facebook Marketing for Dummies, Social Media and the Contact Center for Dummies, Facebook Advertising for Dummies and Facebook Marketing for Dummies 2nd Edition. You can learn more here.

Paul Dunay

VP of Marketing, Maxymiser


Paul Dunay is an award-winning B2B marketing expert with more than 20 years’ success in generating demand and creating buzz for leading technology, consumer products, financial services and professional services organizations. Paul is the Global Vice President of Marketing for Maxymiser, a leader in web optimization and analytics, and author of five “Dummies” books: Facebook Marketing for Dummies (Wiley 2009), Social Media and the Contact Center for Dummies (Wiley Custom Publishing 2010), Facebook Advertising for Dummies (Wiley 2010), Facebook Marketing for Dummies 2nd Edition (Wiley 2011) and Facebook Marketing for Dummies 3rd Edition (Wiley 2012). His unique approach to marketing has led to recognition of Paul as a BtoB Magazine Top 25 B2B Marketer of the Year for 2010 and 2009 and winner of the DemandGen Award for Utilizing Marketing Automation to Fuel Corporate Growth in 2008. He is also a finalist for six years in a row in the Marketing Excellence Awards competition of the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA), and is a 2010 and 2005 gold award winner in Driving Demand. Marketing Darwinism, Paul’s blog, has been recognized as a Top 20 Marketing Blog for 2009 and 2008, a Top Blog to Watch for 2009 and 2008, and an Advertising Age Power 150 blog in the “Daily Ranking of Marketing Blogs.” Paul has shared his marketing thought leadership as a featured speaker for the American Marketing Association, BtoB Magazine, CMO Club, MarketingProfs, Marketing Sherpa, Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG), and ITSMA. He has appeared on Fox News, and his articles have been featured in BusinessWeek, The New York Times, BtoB Magazine, MarketingProfs and MarketingSherpa. Paul holds an Executive Certificate in Strategy and Innovation from MIT’s Sloan School of Management and a bachelor’s degree in Marketing and Computer Science from Ithaca College.

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