Will 22 Jump Street,which has been building toward one of the summer’s bigger hits, take any damage at the box office after star Jonah Hill cursed out a paparazzo with an anti-gay slur last weekend, then delivered an apology widely criticized online as inadequate? The tide now appears to be turning positive after a challenging week that saw Hill, a social-media heavyweight, drop off his big Twitter feed, and go on an apology blitz. A couple of suddenly downward social-media trends suggested some modest spillover on what had been tracking for a big debut, but Sony execs say they continue to be headed toward a big debut beginning Tuesday at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The film opens wide in the United States next weekend, but is already opening in some overseas markets and doing extremely well. Hill stars in and has a story credit for the action-comedy sequel to 21 Jump Street, which grossed $138.4 million domestically in 2012. To be clear, traditional tracking methods, though less reliable than they once were, still say the film will open very strongly in the United States.The sequel’s overseas debuts are running at about three times the original, though that figure comes with two asterisks: 1) it’s likely that Hill’s controversy has been largely confined to the United States and 2) the first film had a very modest international rollout, but as is common these days, helped build a beachhead for a big overseas rollout this time around. This may all be a tempest in a not very big (if definitely bubbling hot) social-media pot. Regardless, it has been a week’s distraction in the domestic market so soon before the film’s debut, over an issue that doesn’t play well with at least part of the film’s target audience.
So it’s no surprise that Sony isn’t taking any chances as it attempts to contain the damage and protect the film’s U.S. launch. Hill faced an online storm around the homophobic slur he tossed at a photographer videotaping him and a friend walking down the street. The tape with the slur hit TMZ, so Hill immediately went on The Tonight Show to apologize, but then that drew a surprising number of online posts blasting the apology as inadequate, even insincere. Hill then went on Entertainment Tonight to, basically, apologize for the apology. “I think the whole situation was and is heartbreaking and, if anything, I would like to let my mistake be a lesson to anyone who’s feeling insecure at any moment and does something stupid and says something stupid,” Hill told ET. He also made a series of other apologetic media and junket appearances, trying to turn around the tiff.
Hill also dropped off social media. His official Facebook page hasn’t been posting anything new for a few months now, but on Twitter, his typical frequent presence has been completely muzzled. The customized large images that typically decorate the top of stars’ Facebook and Twitter pages – a place where, say, you might include an image from your upcoming film to promote it to your millions of fans – are now blank swatches of color. The Facebook page, where he has 1.3 million likes, hasn’t had anything new on it for months. The Twitter feed, quite active up until May 30, has had no new posts since then, despite Hill’s 4.25 million followers there. Hill reportedly will restart his Twitter feed soon.
I checked in with RelishMIX, which specializes in tracking the social-media engagement on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube for films and TV shows, to see if they had spotted any impacts on the film’s social presence over the past week. According to their numbers, there were indeed a couple of notable data points:
- Nine of the film’s top 10 YouTube clips have seen their number of views go flat during the first week after the controversy blew up. Given how trailers, interviews and other film-related videos can be very effective in driving interest, flatlining viewership is noteworthy.
- As well, RelishMIX said the film’s official Facebook page has seen a drop the past week in the number of new likes it receives each day. Those likes make it much easier to market a film on Facebook to highly interested fans. That said, remember that this is a drop in the rate of growth, not a drop in the total number of likes. The 32-percent drop suggests flagging momentum and perhaps some ill will, but not a stampede away.
For Sony’s part, they point to overall stats that still show continuing growth, and of course, they point to that very strong overall tracking. They provided two graphs showing social-media engagement with the movie on its sites. The first one shows a spike at the end of the week, when new video clips were released. The second shows that the likes are still coming in for the Jump Street page:
And of course, Sony execs have some secret weapons to secure their big weekend, with a splashy premier this week and marketing stunts of all sorts (including a blimp with the film’s logo flying around inside the Staples Center before Saturday’s NHL Stanley Cup Finals game between Los Angeles and New York) that should further goose interest.
Sony’s biggest weapon, however, may be Hill’s co-star Channing Tatum, who’s even bigger on social media than Hill. Tatum has 14 million likes on Facebook, and 6.7 million followers on Twitter. Notably, his Twitter page still is topped by a large image from the movie with both Tatum and Hill. Tatum is rapidly turning into one of his generation’s top leading men, his popularity further amplified by an epic level of social-media reach that can make up for a lot of missteps somewhere else by someone else.