Amid all the fevered attention for massive summer movies featuring mutant humans, giant lizards and an edgy tomorrow with Tom Cruise, a tragic little love story between two cancer survivors appears poised to have its own big run when it debuts later this week. That is, if the other love story that Fox’s The Fault in Our Stars has been carrying on with a legion of social-media users is any indicator of its incipient box-office heat when it finally opens Thursday overnight on a Rentrak-estimated 3,000 screens. There have been lots of bread crumbs on this trail, all leading to what seems likely to be a very big weekend for a small movie, with even traditional tracking companies suggesting it will bring in more than $30 million for a film that cost less than half that to make.
The film, which stars Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort as teens who meet in a cancer-support group, is based on a best-selling young-adult book of the same name by John Green. That book became a big hit in part because of Green’s own social-media chops: he and brother Hank are the brains and faces of Vlogbrothers, a 7-year-old YouTube site with 2.1 million subscribers. The brothers alternate entertaining, high-energy rants about a wide range of subjects; John Green, for instance, is currently asking followers to buy a team shirt from one of the 32 countries participating in the upcoming soccer World Cup, to raise money for sarcoma cancer research.
That social-media savvy has carried over to the book’s film adaptation, with a social-media juggernaut that includes a Twitter feed (@TheFaultMovie) with 410,000 followers; a very busy Twitter hashtag (the acronym #tfios) that helps fans find posts about the property; an even busier YouTube site (the trailer alone has nearly 20 million likes UPDATE: the trailer passed 20 million overnight with a couple of hundred thousand extra views); and a Facebook page with 3.6 million likes and 1.5 million people talking about the movie. Further helping: both Woodley and Elgort have their own significant social-media followings.
Woodley, for instance, has more than 645,000 Twitter followers (@ShaileneWoodley) and posted a number of times about her decision to cut her hair short and donate it to charities helping cancer survivors, using hashtags such as #itgrowsback and #hairforhazel. Elgort isn’t quite as big on Twitter, despite starring with Woodley in Divergent earlier this year and appearing in the Carrie remake. But he has 553,000 followers there and plenty of social oomph around the rest of the universe, social media and otherwise. In fact, both have attracted what RelishMIX CEO Marc Karzen calls “superfans” all over the globe, each with more than 100 fan pages devoted to them in countries as, ahem, divergent as Brazil, France and Indonesia. Want to hear more about what Fox hath created? Here are some more data points:
That over-performing trailer, posted on YouTube, has been social gold, says Karzen, whose RelishMIX tracks social-media fan engagement for films and TV shows. Fault’s trailer isn’t anywhere near as big as those for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 or Godzilla, which both pushed up around 30 million views by their respective opening days, but it has already easily passed the trailers for other, far more expensive films this season such as Noah and the second Captain America. TubeFilter reported last month that it had become the most liked movie trailer ever on YouTube, passing a trailer for the One Direction band’s film.
“It’s not the most viewed trailer of the year, but it’s extremely impressive up against these,” Karzen said. “The Fault with Our Stars is a teen-powered social supernova.”
And it’s not just the movie’s trailer that’s rocking it on YouTube. The soundtrack’s music video for a song by indie star Ed Sheeran grabbed more than 2 million views in just its first six days. It’s one of 72 YouTube videos related to the film, including several notable fan-made works, that have drawn more than 24 million views total.
Even a month out from its release, the film was generating “a ton of Twitter chatter” compared to all the summer’s other major releases, said Jason Klein, co-CEO and co-founder of ListenFirst Media, another company tracking social media conversations around big brands. What’s a ton? “The Twitter chatter around The Fault In Our Stars more than doubles the amount of chatter around other highly anticipated 2014 films like Divergent, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and X-Men: Days Of Future Past at the same point in their campaigns,” said Klein. “Since the summer season is so often defined by action-adventure blockbusters and franchise films, it’s pretty fascinating to see a young-adult romance film generating so much social conversation.” The volume of conversation isn’t a complete surprise, given how popular the novel has been among the teen audiences who typically live on social media, but as Klein notes, “the real story here is will this high level of social conversation ultimately translate to box office success?”
And the signals suggest that indeed social media success will translate. Online movie-ticket vendor Fandango said Fault already has outsold the 14-year-old company’s sales record for a love story, outpacing The Vow, and that’s with three days to go before it appears on screens. Fandango cautions that the record doesn’t include genre films with a strong love story in them (again, Divergent or the Twilight series) or rom-coms, but still, it’s the company’s biggest selling drama of any sort so far in 2014. According to a survey of 1,000 fans, 60% of those buying tickets through Fandango expect to see Fault the first night it’s available. “Fault already has an army of fans, thanks to John Green’s phenomenally successful novel,” said Fandango Chief Correspondent Dave Karger. “Considering how young most of the fan base is, it makes sense that Fox would count on social media for much of its marketing efforts for the film. With several high-profile fan events, they’ve done a great job with social media in making all the Fault-ophiles feel like they’re part of the excitement.”