“Hustlers” became one of the surprise hits of the fall, grossing $150 million globally on a modest $20 million budget. With the gritty drama set to premiere on home video this week, it’s worth it to look at some of the ways the film was able to cut through the clutter and become a must-see in theaters. Something that was hardly preordained given that “Hustlers” is the story of a group of strippers who plot revenge on their well-heeled clientele — a dark subject at a time when multiplexes are dominated by cape and tights-wearing superheroes with a clear moral compass.
Part of the credit has to do with the close association that STX, the studio behind the film, maintained with Fandango, the dominant movie ticketing service, in the lead up to “Hustlers'” Sept. 13 release. Executives at both companies told Variety they worked in tandem to try to generate more attention for a movie that might otherwise have been overshadowed by big studio blockbusters such as “It: Chapter 2” and “Abominable.” They believe the model can be replicable.
“The question we asked ourselves was, ‘How do you get this movie in front of the right people at the right time with the right message?'” said Paul Yanover, president of Fandango. “These are not giant movies. They aren’t movies that market themselves. You have to find opportunities to work your media and resources more effectively and efficiently.”
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Part of what appeared to work were a series of promotions that helped identify likely ticket buyers and kept them engaged in the weeks leading up to the film’s debut. As part of that effort, STX tagged their trailer with a Fandango “Fan Alert” sign-up, which allowed it to engage with tens of thousands of people who asked to be notified as soon as showtimes and tickets were available. At the same time, it offered a $500 sweepstakes, which was promoted across Fandango, and sites and platforms that the company controls such as review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and MovieClips. The company estimates that reached tens of millions of people. Fandango won’t reveal all of its data, but the company said recipients of the “Hustlers” Fan Alert were four times more likely to purchase tickets than others for similar movies.
To help keep potential ticket-buyers engaged, STX furnished Fandango with exclusive movie clips and interviews with the stars of “Hustlers” that were then shared across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, as well as on radio and through targeted emails. In once case, an interview with Jennifer Lopez, where she broke down the dance lesson scene from the movie, generated close to 300,000 video views and more than 1 million impressions on digital and social channels. STX selected clips by utilizing data that Fandango collected to better understand what materials might resonate.
“We engaged in a feedback loop and optimized accordingly,” said Amy Elkins, STX’s president of media and marketing innovation. “From looking at social media, we saw that the themes of sisterhood and empowerment we’re really registering. By leaning into that material, we were able to convert many occasional or infrequent moviegoers.”
Early in the “Hustlers” campaign, Fandango helped STX create customized audience segments to reach potential ticket buyers, identifying those who would find “Hustlers” most relevant to their movie interests. In some cases, the company grouped ticket-buyers based on past purchases — finding audience members who had previously bought tickets for films with Lopez or other cast members such as Constance Wu or who had shown an affinity for female-driven dramas or crime films.
To convert non-ticket buyers after the film opened, they also reached out to audiences who had not seen the film yet, but who had previously showed similar interests to those of opening weekend ticket buyers.
It appeared to work. “Hustlers” opened to $33.2 million, the biggest debut ever for a Lopez film and roughly $10 million more than most tracking firms had predicted. On the home entertainment front, “Hustlers” currently has more pre-orders on FandangoNOW than any other movie releasing this week on digital, including “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Downton Abbey” and “Ready or Not.”
“Any time where you’re beating expectations and bringing in audiences for new IP is pretty special,” said Elkins. “That doesn’t happen all the time.”