Twitter is making movie studios nervous. Ever since Sacha Baron Cohen's "Bruno" dropped a few points on its opening weekend, there has been talk of how the Twitter effect can sink a film's box office sales.
Can the power of Twitter make or break a movie at the box office? Probably not. But there is one thing social media has the potential to do: burst the opening weekend bubble of bad films.
What can movie studios do about it? Fill theaters with people predisposed to like their movies.
Which is exactly what Weinstein Bros. has been doing for Quentin Tarantino's film "Inglourious Basterds." According to The Baltimore Sun:
The company packed a screening at San Diego's Comicon with people who won access via Twitter. It also staged "the first ever Red Carpet Twitter meet-up" during the movie's premiere at Mann's Chinese in Hollywood, generating celebrity tweets including Sarah Silverman's "just made me smile forever" and Tony Hawk's "another Tarantino classic."
Stephen Bruno, the Weinstein Co.'s senior director of marketing, tells The Sun:
"I think Twitter can't be stopped. Now you have to see it as an addition to the campaign of any movie. People want real-time news and suddenly a studio can give it to them in a first-person way. The blogs have to go to our feeds for the latest trailers and reports."
Why are the studios so concerned? Because Twitterers can get word out about a movie in real time. And if they don't like a film, their friends will know it.
While many films can withstand the scrutiny of professional critics, consumers often make choices based on their friends and acquaintances' opinions. And the sooner those negative opinions get out, the more potential they have to damage box office sales.
Ticket sales for "Bruno," for instance, dropped 39% between Friday and Saturday night of its opening weekend. Immediately, there were rumors that negative reviews on Twitter sunk the film. I wrote about Bruno's Twitter problem here.
Of course, there's no way to know exactly if Twitter had an effect on ticket sales. Last fall the teen hit "Twilight" dropped 41% between Friday and Saturday of its opening weekend with hardly a whisper about services like Twitter, and it went on to gross $191.5 million at the box office.
Movietickets.com recently ran a poll which found that 88% of the voting sample said Twitter had no effect on them. And Gregg Kilday, film editor of the Hollywood Reporter, tells The Sun that it's impossible to attribute a film's drop or rise in box office to one factor like Twitter:
"Even if you don't have Twitter, a lot of people, especially kids, have long had the ability to text each other, sometimes from within the theater. And for a lot of the mass-market movies, the potential audience will go whether friends tell them they're good or not."
Consumers have always been able to share their opinions — negative or positive — with their friends. That said, the opening weekend bubble for films that later get sunk by bad word of mouth may soon be a thing of the past.
And there's nothing wrong with movie studios trying to spread some positive opinions about their films on opening weekend. Consumers wooed by free tickets (especially ones that have been procured by a contest) are likely to say nice things the film they watch. It's certainly a lot easier than winning over critics.
Joel Cohen, Warner Bros.' executive VP and general manager, tells the Sun: "We may be putting too much weight onto the Twitter Effect. But you can see Twitter's benefits as a communications tool that spreads the word about a film, and the negatives have yet to be proven."
Image: Warner Bros.