To What Extent Does Word-of-Mouth Affect Your Movie Viewing Habits?


Over the past few weeks there has been a lot of talk concerning “word-of-mouth” and how it affects a film’s box-office performance. Obviously Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was a kick-off point as critics came down hard on the film while audiences experienced a mixed reaction trending more toward acceptance. The film has now managed $672 million worldwide and from what I have heard will pass the $700 million mark once final international numbers are in from this past weekend. In all honesty I would say word-of-mouth played a very small part in Revenge of the Fallen‘s success as it was destined to be seen by many for a front-loaded weekend and then taper of as most blockbusters do. It was a huge film and has lived up to its stature.

However, I can’t say the same for this weekend’s new release Bruno, which opened to an impressive $14 million on Friday, but only managed to make an estimated $30.4 million for the entire weekend. The film dropped 38.9% from Friday to Saturday and then another 18.1% on Sunday. What gives?

It’s hard to imagine word-of-mouth killed the film that badly, but it had to play a part right? Over at TIME, Richard Corliss floats the possibility “Bruno could be the first movie defeated by the Twitter effect.” Corliss even goes on to say that if Twitter was the cause, Bruno “could prove to be a one-day wonder.” Yikes, is that what’s come to now?

Personally, I find it hard to believe a bunch of anonymous 140 characters-or-less posts on Twitter could actually stop someone from going to a movie, but then again I am a person that decides for myself when it comes to movies. I love listening to opinion, butI allow reviews and people’s opinion to persuade me to see a movie not dissuade me from seeing one. If I want to see a movie I am going to see it and the last thing that would stop me would be the Twitter community.

Corliss also mentions GLAAD president Jarrett Barrios saying the film “decreases the public’s comfort with gay people” and some scenes “hit the gay community pretty hard and reinforce some damaging, hurtful stereotypes.” I don’t see how this can really hurt the film either — everyone loves a little controversy. If anything I would say controversy helps a film, but something must have caused a near 40% drop from opening day to Saturday. Of course, we could also point to the fact a film with racy sexual content is not going to play all that well in-between the coasts, but that argument was pretty much proven worthless with Borat… wasn’t it?

If I were to wager a guess I would say it isn’t that word-of-mouth killed Bruno as much as word-of-mouth didn’t help Bruno, which is the exact opposite effect Borat encountered in 2006. Borat opened in only 837 theaters and scored a whopping $26 million. The film then expanded to 2,611 theaters at its peak and grossed $128 million domestically and another $133 million in foreign markets. Word-of-mouth is what made Borat the success it became. It seems the similarly raucous comedy in Bruno has suffered an opposite fate at the hands of public opinion as the eager beavers to see it opening night didn’t necessarily come home with the smiles and high-fives Borat sent them home with.

Of course, with $30 million in the bank already on a reported budget of $42.5 million, $20 million of which apparently went to simply winning the rights to the feature in a multi-studio bidding war back in October 2006, on the surface things look pretty good for Universal as I would assume Bruno will end up somewhere in the mid-$60s to $70s. Not too shabby, but certainly no Borat. Brooks Barnes at The New York Times sounds a little more doomsday-ish saying, “Universal urgently needs Bruno to become a substantial hit,” citing Land of the Lost (I completely forgot about that movie) and Public Enemies as a pair of Universal thuds even though the studio is apparently trying to spin Public Enemies as a “hit, as it is performing on par with expectations domestically and outperforming overseas.” Barnes suggests a management shake-up could be in the offing…

Pushing corporate politics and speculation aside, the one thing I would like to go back to is Corliss’s comment saying Bruno could potentially be a “one-day wonder.” To pose this 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, but it’s undeniable at just how effective a word-of-mouth campaign can really help a film… or in Bruno‘s case hurt it. When those mouths go mute and aren’t telling their friends to get in the theater a risky comedic venture such as Bruno doesn’t stand much of a chance.