How viewer feedback would explain the unexpected movies' performance
Updated: Mar 28
March 19th of 2020 marked not only a period of time when many countries in the world realized just how serious the coronavirus pandemic was but also the first time when American movie theatres closed and Box office reporting paused. The system which counts how many movie tickets were sold all over America and determines the fate of such a product (and the fate of the production companies’ executives), all of a sudden had nothing to report.
During 2021, cinemas went back slowly to business, but the new waves of the disease caused them to close again. Production houses and movie theatres were bracing for the end-of-the-year holiday season to possibly salvage some of their huge losses. And what better way to lure back viewers into theatres than to offer three huge and highly-anticipated movies. Well, they did not consider the Omicron variant and its effects on moviegoers. Those three films performed surprisingly against expectations.
Now, in the post-mortem analysis, both producers and cinema theatre owners are scratching their heads, trying to figure out what happened. Other than the actual count of the tickets sold, they had better take a closer look at what the popcorn-crunchers have to say. Analysis of their conversations can shed some light on why they did, or did not, go to the cinemas this holiday season. Let’s take a deep dive into the tale of these three mega-movies. One of them did extremely well while the other two performed well below expectations.
The first major offering was West side story, released widely in theatres on December 10th, just two weeks before Christmas. The premise: a remake of one of the two most successful musicals of the 1960s (the other one being The Sound of music), carrying an astronomical production budget of $100 million and led by none other than legendary director Steven Spielberg. This had “blockbuster” written all over it. However, the film bombed at the box office, grossing a measly $10.6 million during its opening weekend (opening weekends are crucial for a film’s success since most of the marketing and advertising budgets are concentrated on helping a film open as big as possible). Disney is likely to suffer a financial loss here since the movie would need to bring in $300 million just to break even. This is due to the fact, as is the standard, that about half of the revenue goes to the theatres showing the film. In addition, marketing, advertising, and distribution costs for such a budget usually carry an additional $30-40 million cost.
Bob Iger, Disney’s chairman, mentioned the tough competition from streaming services as a possible reason for the movie's financial woes. Since the film was aimed at older audiences, another possible excuse mentioned was the fact that they are more afraid to spend time outside of their homes and in crowded places (movie theatres). The film's two main stars were not considered A-listers, which might have hurt the movie's chances of succeeding.
Next came another film that surprised many in Hollywood, but this time for the better, performing overwhelmingly well. Sony Pictures’ Spider-man: No way home (Director: Jon Watts), carrying a huge $200 million budget, and released on December 17th, delivered a staggering $260 million in the USA opening weekend alone. Its worldwide revenue after its first two weeks totaled $1.2 billion, making it a 2021 most-successful movie and listing this version of Spider-man as the 8th highest-grossing film of all time.
So what made such a huge difference for movie-goers in just a seven days period? It was the young viewers dashing to watch it in cinemas as well as some older fans which the brand was too strong for them to resist. Early reviews were fantastic (the film scored 93% on Rotten tomatoes, the American review-aggregation website), building strong word-of-mouth and keeping the film on top even longer. Repeat viewers were also contributing to the overall amazing revenues.
Finally, and released on December 22nd, came The Matrix Resurrections, the fourth in the series (directed by Lana Wachowski). US income alone for the previous three Matrix movies was $466.6 million, $741.8 million, and $427.3, respectively. So a fourth Matrix was a no-brainer, right? Well, the viewers had other things in mind this time, as opening weekend resulted in a very low US gross of $12 million. After its first full week, the movie grossed a worldwide total of $72.3 million, a very disappointing result for Warner Brothers which produced, budgeted (at $190 million), and distributed the movie. This time the main reason cited for such low turnouts at the cinemas was the fact that the movie was simultaneously released for subscribers to HBO Max, another Warner Brothers property. So apparently movie-goers relinquished their choice of seeing the CGI effects on the big screen for a stay-at-home this time. It is worth mentioning that HBO Max is battling hard with competing streaming services, and premiering such a well-expected franchise movie was important to Warner Brothers, which wanted to present such a prestigious production to tv viewers too.
In the aftermath of the holiday season, and in anticipation of 2022 big blockbusters, production houses (the software/content side of the movie industry), as well as cinemas (the hardware part), may be advised to track more carefully what viewers need and want in these puzzling times. Affogata measures feedback in order for companies to realize and evaluate how customers react to products and services, and how they converse about them from many data points all over the open web. Such an analysis may become even more important nowadays, as huge budgets are being spent on major film productions. The bar keeps rising as competition, not only from other current movies in release but also from streaming services, makes viewers think twice about whether to leave the comfort of their homes and go out to the movies.
Affogata tracked and analyzed viewers' feedback on Spiderman during the last week of 2021 and the first week of 2022. Even though the movie is a huge success and marks a distinctive point in Marvel’s and Disney’s heritage (and pockets!), there are still some interesting things one can learn from what viewers had to say. For the time-period Affogata monitored, 27,398 conversations from everywhere on the open web were analyzed. For every negative post about the film, there were ten positive ones, a very high result when compared with many other products and services Affogata tracks.
Many of these mentions included the trending hashtag “MakeTSAM3”, used to gather traction for the movie’s campaign. In tandem with the movie release, a major fan campaign trended mainly on Twitter, calling for Sony to make a third film in The Amazing Spiderman series with actor Andrew Garfield. Trying to make sure that the producers and right-holders do not miss their campaign, Sony’s name was tagged and mentioned directly on the company’s accounts as well as indirectly on other places more than 6,000 times!
Affogata also tracked what viewers and fans had to say about Andrew Garfield. Almost 9% of all mentions tracked mentioned his name. Garfield initially received lots of criticism for his performance in the first two Spiderman movies, which led to the cancellation of the third installment with him starring. However, sentiment has changed now, as Affogata found that 9% of those mentions called for his return with an emphasis on the word “deserve”. Positive sentiment for Garfield is what drove the “MakeTASM3” campaign in addition to his character’s engagement with the other Spiderman character, actor Tom Holland. Meanwhile, parts of the negative mentions criticized those who wanted to bring Andrew Garfield back for the third installment, calling out their hypocrisy now.
Around that topic, a wider discussion took place over the issue of movie remakes and the ability of film production companies to release other directors’ versions. The famous case of Warner Brothers’ 2017 “Justice League” was mentioned a lot, specifically the fact that the film was first directed by Zak Snyder who later quit the project. In stepped director Joss Whedon and it was his version that was released to theatres. However, due to a fans’ campaign to release Snyder's version as well, which Warner Brothers did in March 2021, viewers have begun voicing their opinions on remakes/other versions of the same films. Noticing that their effort bore fruit with the other version of “Justice League” drove many fans to promote the “MakeTASM3” campaign now. It will be very interesting to examine how Sony goes about this when they make their next decisions regarding the Spiderman franchise.
Affogata’s measurement of viewers' sentiment and criticism can deliver important insights for the movie industry, so that future decision can be made with a closer focus on what audiences are looking for.