Part 1 – The Story of Brüno
With the rise of social media, there has been a dramatic shift in audience behavior and how they gather information and choose which movies to attend. This shift has had a dramatic effect on how we measure a movie’s success (or failure) at the box office, and in the ethos of culture. In the past, opening weekend numbers indicated a film’s success – a testament to the marketing campaign and the studios wisdom in choosing a successful story. Today, social media provides a means for the audience’s voice to grow louder than that of the marketing campaign. Which makes it extremely challenging (if at all possible) to sell a bad movie to the masses.
When did this change? Back in 2009, we saw the shift when Universal’s Brüno hit the marketplace. Let’s break it down and see what happened and what it means for releasing films today.
The Story of Brüno
In 2008, Universal Pictures greenlite Sacha Baron Cohen’s film Brüno. It was set to release in July 2009 and they anticipated its success would be equal to that of Cohen’s 2006 box office success, Borat. It was a solid gamble for Universal. The odds seemed to be ever in their favor. Unfortunately, what happened between 2008 and 2009 was a social media revolution that changed everything, and in particular the fate of Brüno. What resulted was the most unusual, under evaluated opening weekend numbers in the history of Hollywood.
“Brüno had one of the steepest Friday-to-Saturday drops on record, slipping 39 percent from $14.4 million on Friday to $8.8 million on Saturday.” – Box Office Mojo
When Brüno opened Friday night, it was the #1 movie in America. In less than 24 hours, the film took a 39% decline and moved from the #1 movie to the #3 movie! That is an unheard of pattern in Hollywood. In the past, if you can get “butts in seats” opening night, the overall weekend success is inevitable. In Hollywood a marketing campaign on a bad movie is successful if it at least gets a good opening weekend. Yes, they are harder to sell, but it’s not impossible to sell a bad movie to the public (deceit and spin!) and get enough people buying tickets opening weekend to make the film profitable.
Focusing on opening weekend returns made taking risks on questionable stories a little less risky if you at least had star talent or filmmakers to sell the film. And it worked in Hollywood for years, but in 2008/2009, social media exploded and the business of telling stories was revolutionized and what used to work no longer did.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where we’ll take a closer look at the rise of the social media revolution and how it was to blame for Brüno’s disastrous opening weekend.
Click here to read Part 2.