Digital Tracking: ‘Pixels’ to Edge Out ‘Paper Towns’ at Box Office

How Moviepilot sees this week’s wide releases shaping up on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google

Pixels Trailer Adam Sandler
Image Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Does digital data offer indicators that can be used to monitor marketing effectiveness and predict box office success even before awareness turns into intent? Moviepilot — which studies social data and box office trends — analyzes this weekend’s new movies across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google (the methodology behind the numbers is laid out in the appendix below) over the seven days leading up to their release, when marketing campaigns are at their peak.

Pixels,” Sony
Moviepilot Prediction: $25 million

“Pixels” mines a vein of classic video game nostalgia, starring perennial favorites like Pacman and Donkey Kong alongside Adam Sandler and Kevin James. The movie even has its own “Pixels Defense” game to download for your phone, as well as an integration with the Swiftkey keyboard. Legendary YouTuber Freddie Wong also produced a video inspired by the movie with his production company RocketJump.

The pic has solid search numbers, coming in at around half the search volume of “Ant-Man,” which debuted last week while targeting a similar audience. There are also a very impressive 52 million Facebook video views to go with 37.2 million YouTube trailer views, which should see “Pixels” opening in the mid-20s.

Paper Towns,” 20th Century Fox
Moviepilot Prediction: $24 million

“Paper Towns” is the latest movie based on a book by popular YA author John Green, who scored a huge hit last summer with “The Fault in Our Stars.” The popularity of Green and his writing is demonstrated online for all to see: 1.5 million Facebook fans, more than 400,000 on Instagram and another 100,000 on Twitter.

Green has been very active across his own socials, and influencers have been used extensively to spread the word about the movie. Snapchatters like Emgarber and Chris Carm initially shared the trailer, and yesterday Carm devoted his Snapstory to taking his mother to see the movie! Influencers were also packed off in an RV for a road trip mimicking the plot of the movie, sharing content as they went.

With 337,000 tweets, “Paper Towns” is outstripping “The Longest Ride” and “The Duff” from earlier this year — both movies generated around 80,000 tweets, and they opened to $13 million and $10.8 million, respectively. “Paper Towns” is unlikely to repeat the runaway success of the $48 million taken in by “The Fault in Our Stars,” but it does look set for an impressive $24 million opening.

Southpaw,” Weinstein Co.
Moviepilot Prediction: $12 million

“Southpaw” stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a down-and-out boxer ready for a comeback. Gyllenhaal’s last outing was the terrific “Nightcrawler,” which opened to $10 million but controversially didn’t garner an Oscar nom for its leading man. “Southpaw” is supported by an impressive wave of tweets and 20% more search volume than “Nightcrawler,” which should see it open around $12 million.

Tobias Bauckhage (@tbauckhage) is co-founder and CEO of moviepilot.com, a social-media-driven movie community reaching more than 29 million Facebook fans and 30 million monthly unique users. Based on community data, Moviepilot helps studios to optimize their social media campaigns, identifying, analyzing and activating the right audiences. The company works with studios like Universal, 20th Century Fox and A24.



Facebook fan (or like) numbers are a good indicator for fan awareness for a movie, even months before the release. For mainstream movies with younger target audiences, fan counts are particularly important. However, big fan numbers can be bought and movies with older target audiences typically have lower fan counts. Fan engagement measured by PTAT (People Talking About This) is a more precise but also a fickle indicator, heavily driven by content strategy and media spending. Both numbers are global and public-facing numbers from the official Facebook fanpage.

YouTube trailer counts are important for measuring early awareness about a movie. We track all English-language original video content about the movie on YouTube, down to videos with 100 views, whether they are officially published by a studio or published unofficially by fans. The Buzz ratio looks at the percentage of unique viewers on YouTube that have “liked” a video and given it a “thumbs up.” Movies with over 40 million views are usually mainstream and set to dominate the box office, while titles drawing around 10 million indicate a more specific audience. If a movie does not have a solid number of trailer views on YouTube four weeks before its release, it is not promising news. But again, it is important to understand whether trailer views have been bought or have grown organically. These numbers are global and public facing.

Twitter is a good real-time indicator of excitement and word of mouth, coming closer to release or following bigger PR stunts. Mainstream, comedy and horror titles all perform particularly strongly on Twitter around release. We count all tweets over the period of the last seven days before release (Friday through Thursday) that include the movie’s title plus a number of search words, e.g. “movie” OR a list of movie-specific hashtags. The numbers are global, conducted using a Twitter API partner service.

Search is a solid indicator for intent moving toward release as people actively seek out titles that they are aware of and are thinking about seeing. Search is particularly significant for fan-driven franchises and family titles as parents look for information about films they may take their children to see. We look at the last seven days (Friday through Thursday) of global Wikipedia traffic as a conclusive proxy for Google Search volume. We have to consider that big simultaneous global releases tend to have higher search results compared to domestic releases.