The Hunger Games’ next installment, Mockingjay Pt. 1, is headed to a big holiday box office win, if social-media support is any indicator of the strength of its fan base and their interest in the property, says Adobe’s Digital Index analytics unit in its latest look at a season of blockbusters.
Interstellar, Dumb And Dumber To and the last of The Hobbit trilogy, The Battle Of The Five Armies, all are also headed to profitable domestic runs, Adobe says, but Exodus: Gods And Kings, Ridley Scott‘s Biblical tale, better pray for fan enlightenment a month out from its debut.
And one last unexpected bit: Adobe analysts say The Imitation Game, an indie biopic featuring Internet darling Benedict Cumberbatch (also the voice of the dragon in The Five Armies), is a “potential surprise hit,” even as the Weinstein Company pushes it for Oscar glory in some unexpected sectors.
The Adobe Digital Index, a part of Adobe’s marketing/analytics division, has built a statistical model the past couple of years based on the performance of several dozen previous big films. It predicts the likelihood that a given big movie will make back its production costs (as reported in BoxOfficeMojo.com) from its domestic gross. ADI analyst Joe Martin says the model has gone 17 for 17 since this time last year in predicting profitable blockbusters at least 20 days ahead of release, based on the social-media buzz and sentiment around a given film.
This season, the company looked at a handful of films, and said the big winner looks like the third Hunger Games installment. It’s outstripping the last Hobbit film in online buzz by 2 to 1, in a rematch of last year’s holiday heavyweight franchises. Five Armies, which comes out December 17, debuts nearly a month after Mockingjay (November 21), and still may put on a stretch run with marketing dollars to really jump up the rankings, Adobe analysts said. But for now, Lionsgate looks like its marketing people can pat themselves on the back as the juggernaut rolls toward theaters, and perhaps even exhale slightly too.
That said, both films, along with Interstellar, which opened a strong No. 2 last week, and comedy Dumb And Dumber To, which opens this weekend, should make back their money, given the strong support they’re receiving online far ahead of their debuts, ADI said. Some critics were disappointed by the opening box office for Interstellar, but it came in (at $47.5 million) where Adobe’s model predicted and appears well on its way to success, said Martin.
“Even though it wasn’t necessarily as big as some people thought it would be, it’s still going to be profitable,” Martin said. “That’s all we’re looking at.”
The crystal ball is a lot cloudier for Exodus, Scott’s Old Testament tale starring Christian Bale as Moses, said Tamara Gaffney, ADI’s principal analyst. The film has been dogged by online criticism over its casting of actors who mostly do not look anything like the ancient Egyptians and Jews of the Bible story.
“It’s still pretty far out (from its December 12 release), so a lot can still happen,” said Gaffney. “At this point, it’s on the bubble. We’re suggesting it may fall into the less profitable or not profitable (side). This movie is looking like it’s got that curve of an unprofitable movie going.”
Gaffney said a “potential surprise hit” is The Imitation Game, the biopic about English cryptologist and computing pioneer Alan Turing, celebrated for his work breaking Germany’s Enigma code during WWII, but hounded into suicide in the 1950s by the British government because of his homosexuality.
It’s not exactly a light and happy tale for the holiday season, but Cumberbatch has a vast online following that first sparked up around his lead role in the BBC hit Sherlock. The Weinstein Company also has courted tech circles (who generally are heavy social-media users) in trying to find audiences for the film. This past weekend, star Keira Knightley and Harvey Weinstein travelled with other principals of the film to the Los Altos home of billionaire investor Yuri Milner, for a screening in front of luminaries such as Google’s Sergey Brin, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg and LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman.
Martin and Gaffney acknowledge their prediction model has some limits. For instance, blockbusters these days generate around 70 percent of their theatrical revenues overseas. That overseas money can save a film that opens poorly in the United States. Martin pointed to last summer’s sci-fi epic Edge of Tomorrow (renamed, in a big improvement, Live. Die. Repeat. overseas and in home entertainment) as an example of a film that eventually found black ink for its bottom line overseas after an ugly tour of U.S. theaters.
And the Adobe analysts stay away from predicting the chances for films with a big appeal for kids, who don’t use social media in the same ways their older siblings and adults do. So, this holiday season, that meant they didn’t track Big Hero 6, which beat out Interstellar over the week with a sturdy $56.2 million domestic gross. Last year, they didn’t look at Frozen, which also ended up doing a little better than all right, eventually becoming the highest-grossing animated film of all time. No model is perfect at predicting everything, especially that.