Digital Tracking: ‘The Force Awakens’ to a Record-Breaking Weekend

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

Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens
Courtesy of Disney/Lucas FIlm

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.

“Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” Disney
Moviepilot Prediction: $226 million

Anticipation for “The Force Awakens” is not just at fever pitch, it’s breaking records. And it’s not just breaking records, it’s shattering them! Over 4 million Tweets in the week leading up to a movie’s release is unprecedented. “Jurassic World” opened well over $200 million this summer with 615,000 and “Avengers: Age of Ultron”came in just under that mark with 1.3 million, so the only question to ask here is just how much will this movie make?

“The Force Awakens” is certain to take the record of highest domestic opening weekend from “Jurassic World,” thanks to enormous presales which have seen it break a variety of December records before it even hit theaters. That release date could be tricky and take a tiny bit off the potential opening, although we’d still expect the total to clear $220 million.

The digital campaign has been fueled by massive fan engagement and excitement, with large strategic executions such as a very entertaining “#ChooseYourSide” partnership with Google making sure to introduce the “Star Wars” universe to the few who may not already be converted. Fans have also had the opportunity to declare their allegiance to the light or dark side of the Force by converting their Facebook profile image. “The Force Awakens” has also provided fans with VR experiences as movie marketing continues to explore the possibilities of this new medium.

All told, “Star Wars” is an unrivaled cinematic phenomenon and “The Force Awakens” is not just a movie, but a pop culture milestone that will live long in the memory. It’s been a pleasure to watch this campaign come together, and it’s even better to have Han and Chewy back on our screens. “Now let’s blow this thing and go home…”

“Alvin & the Chipmunks: Road Chip,” 20th Century Fox
Moviepilot Prediction: $12 million

Sisters,” Warner Bros
Moviepilot Prediction: $9 million

Two movies have the unenviable task of going up against the might of “Star Wars” this weekend, but both have significantly different appeal and target audiences so they should be able to find those niches that “The Force Awakens” is unable to convert. Parents with younger children not ready for the blood and thunder of lightsaber battles will pick the Chipmunks instead, and the Amy Poehler and Tina Fey comedy “Sisters” should attract females not in the mood for spaceships and explosions.


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 Focus Features, 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 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 who 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.