After this weekend’s opening weekend numbers for Larry Charles’s “Brüno” came in, industry insiders wanted to know what happened… How can a film with such a large opening day (Friday’s $14 million plus opening) end up with a number only double that figure for the entire weekend ($30.4 million)? According to Richard Corliss at Time, “‘Brüno”s box-office decline from Friday to Saturday indicates that the film’s brand of outrage was not the sort to please most moviegoers – and that their tut-tutting got around fast. Brüno could be the first movie defeated by the Twitter effect.”
The importance of Twitter in affecting audience viewing choices was reported on before the Brüno weekend in The Wrap. The aritcle’s author, Sharon Waxman, sums up her thesis, “If the world seems to turn faster with each passing month, then don’t be surprised that the weekend box office has now shrunk to a single day: Friday.” To Waxman and many studio execs she cites, social media, and Twitter in particular, have been providing audiences with instant and quick reviews of films from friends or other trusted sources. And, according ot them, this is a new phenomenon. In Time, Corliss was answering a question posed in the Waxman article: “This weekend, the movie in the spotlight is a prime example of where social networking may have an impact. Sacha Baron Cohen’s ‘Brüno’ is a movie that drives social networking buzz, and its box office may rise or fall as a result. ”’Brüno’ is the great test,’ said [Overture Films President of Worldwide Marketing Peter] Adee. ‘What effect will Twitter have on ‘Brüno’? I haven’t seen it, but my guess you’re either gonna love it or hate it.” Corliss’s thesis is pure conjecture, as there are only hunches and anecdotes but no hard facts to back up his thesis. It’s hard to see if it’s true that most Tweets were negative, though some new web apps, like TweetFeel have tried (imperfectly) to gauge the Twitter sentiment on certain hot topics.
Ben Fritz at the LA Times blog does have a few ideas on why word-of-mouth for the film could affect the film adversely: “The reason is simple: Many people just didn’t like ‘Brüno.’ The film’s Cinema Score — an average grade given by a sample of those who see the picture — was C, very low given what easy graders moviegoers generally are. It’s impossible to know for sure what audiences disliked, but the envelope-pushing amount of male nudity no doubt played a major role.” Sure, word-of-mouth is important. And sure, a comment or multiple comments on Twitter may be the reason one person does or does not see a particular film. But the question at the heart of these stories is why do people decide to see or skip a film? The LA Times brings up the confounding variable of male nudity and simultaneously supports the idea that people didn’t particularly like the film in a poll by a market research firm.
In Daily Finance, Alex Salkever writes about pilfering through tweets brought up on TweetFeel to subjectively evaluate the “Brüno” tweets. He comments, “in the final tally, there seem to be an equal number of positive and negative comments. And many people expressed sentiment that ‘Brüno’ was a movie they had to watch — a ‘must-see’ event that would leave them out of cocktail party conversations for at least the next week or so. In a nutshell, Twitter probably didn’t kill Brüno. But Twitter certainly made him a little less appealing by broadcasting the true level of discomfort caused by the risque comedy of the film.” Brad Brevet on movie blog Ropes of Silicon holds a similar opinion, “To pose this [Time] theory is to place a large amount of confidence in Twitter and the tendencies of its users. To assume such up-and-down box-office results could be attributed to Twitter is to suggest a serious game-changer. Personally, I scoff at the idea.”
This week the UK is abuzz with a treatise from a fifteen year old intern at Morgan Stanley called “How Teenagers Consume Media.” And in it, Matthew Robson says flatly, “teenagers do not use twitter [sic]. Most have signed up to the service, but then just leave it as they realise that they are not going to update it…In addition, they realise that no one is viewing their profile, so their ‘tweets’ are pointless.” This he says right after talking about the rampant popularity of Facebook. While Robson’s essay is without empirical evidence, his conclusions remind us that there is a lot going on out there that affects what we want to see and sure tweets (or Facebook status updates for that matter) may affect whether or not we feel the need to see a particular film, there’s a lot changing out there. There’s no telling how many people skipped “Brüno” after getting a negative review from a relative at a family picnic or were just too uncomfortable with the whole “gay” thing. Twitter might be an answer but it is not THE answer.