Digital Tracking: ‘American Sniper’ to Take Out Competition at Box Office

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

American Sniper

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 should be at their peak.

American Sniper,” Warner Bros.
Moviepilot Prediction: $42 million

This column doesn’t usually comment on expansions as the social-media waters are muddied by chatter from those who’ve already seen the film. However, in this case, we’ll make an exception as Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” looks set to rocket to No. 1 at the box office as it arrives on well over 3,000 screens nationwide (up from just two during its limited release, when it saw incredible per screen averages).

The last two years have seen war movies bow at Christmas before rolling out wider in January: In 2013 “Zero Dark Thirty” opened wide with $24.4 million, and last year’s “Lone Survivor” took in a massive $37.8 million. Stacking the three movies’ search metrics up against each other, possibly the purest way to measure interest across such a wide span of time, would see “American Sniper” take $42 million. At a huge 339,000 searches, “Sniper” is a way ahead of “Lone Survivor’s” 199,000 but behind 395,000 for “Zero Dark Thirty.”

The Wedding Ringer,” Sony
Moviepilot Prediction: $21 million

Kevin Hart himself has put the full weight of his considerable social-media presence behind his new movie “The Wedding Ringer”: Hart has more than 10 million Instagram followers plus more than 15 million on Twitter. Ice Cube has also endorsed his former partner’s new movie after they starred together last January in the massively successful “Ride Along,” which opened to $41.5 million (a record total that “American Sniper” should eclipse this weekend). However, “Ride Along” was rated PG-13, whereas “The Wedding Ringer” is an adult-oriented, R-rated film.

Hart also showed up in “Think Like a Man Too” and “About Last Night” last year, which opened to $29.2 million and $25.6 million, respectively. Twitter is the key indicator here, and “The Wedding Ringer” is shaping up similarly to “About Last Night,” which has 44,100 tweets. “The Wedding Ringer” is also at about half the volume of “Ride Along,” which suggests an opening around $21 million this weekend.

Paddington,” the Weinstein Co.
Moviepilot Prediction: $17 million

“Paddington” is the easy-going family fare that my Mom would definitely select from among the war movies, R-rated comedies and tense thrillers available in theaters this weekend. Families haven’t had much to choose from in the last few weeks, so “Paddington” should open well and overall is shaping up similarly to “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” which opened to $17.1 million in December. “Paddington’s” 59,300 tweets is particularly impressive and in fact sees the film pacing 65% ahead of “Night at the Museum,” although we’d still expect a similar box office.

Blackhat,” Universal
Moviepilot Prediction: $7.5 million

Michael Mann’s hacking thriller seems presciently timed, arriving in the wake of Hollywood’s tangle with cyber-attacks this winter. However, it’s unfortunate to land on a weekend when most male attention will be cast in the direction of “American Sniper.”

Last year Johnny Depp starred in the tech thriller “Transcendence,” which opened to $10.8 million, and Chris Pine took on the terrorists in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” which started with over $15 million. With 51,000 searches compared to 84,400 for “Jack Ryan” and 104,000 for “Transcendence,” “Blackhat” looks set to open with about $7.5 million this weekend.

Tobias Bauckhage (@tbauckhage) is co-founder and CEO of moviepilot.com, a social-media-driven movie community reaching over 28 million Facebook fans and 20 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 Sony, 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 grew 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 towards 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.