Why 'The Hunger Games' Won't Make $100 Million Its Opening Weekend

Film Is Trailing 'Harry Potter' and 'Twilight' on Some Key Online Metrics

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"The Hunger Games" opens tonight, and conventional wisdom is predicting it will break the $100 million barrier its opening weekend. Some have it opening as high as $150 million, based on surveys of likely moviegoers, which would put it among the top-five movie openings in history.

But I think they're getting ahead of themselves. I predict that "The Hunger Games" will come in closer to $80 million based on the number of views accumulating on "Hunger Games" trailers and related content, as well as the level of social sharing we're watching at Visible Measures.

Let me explain:

Traditionally, movie studios develop box-office bands for movies with phone interviews and surveys. This technique allows them to speak directly to potential moviegoers and measure their level of intent to buy tickets opening weekend. Typically, this process begins a month before the film's release. This technique has served studios well for decades, but I think this is a case where surveys aren't the most predictive source of information.

Today, potential moviegoers vote with their clicks by the trailers they watch and other movie-related content they read, and then share via email, Facebook, Twitter, and personal blogs. The more excited they are about a film, the more they share, and this activity can amplify viewership for studios. For a film like "The Hunger Games," targeted at young adults, you'd expect these online metrics to be even more predictive of outcomes than you would for a film targeted at a more mature audience, and certainly more predictive than surveys.

To determine the potential box office for "The Hunger Games" with these new behaviors, we used a sample set of 10 films, heavily weighting film campaigns with characteristics common to "The Hunger Games" profile -- audience composition, book adaptations, intensity of comments, etc. The model is based on the trajectory of True Reach views for "The Hunger Games" trailers with a snapshot taken 10 days before the release date, and includes shared copies as well as interviews, behind-the-scenes looks, fan-made trailers, other UGC, mashups of the trailer, etc.

For example, 10 days to release, the original "Twilight" film had generated 98.5 million views. It went on to bring $69.6 million at the box office its opening weekend. "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" had driven more than 136.2 million views 10 days to its release. It saw $77.8 million at the box office.

Ten days to release, "The Hunger Games" had produced 89.4 million views, putting it significantly behind those films.

Our data shows a strong R2 (a statistical measure for the strength of the prediction model) with about 5% margin of error in the prediction. Meaning, "The Hunger Games" is following a similar trajectory as the other wide-release films like "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," "Twilight," and other films popular among the young-adult audience.

Applying the model parameters to "The Hunger Games" film-trailer behaviors, we learn that the film should gross at least $70 million its opening weekend. But there's more.

Since "The Hunger Games" will have the benefit of 300 additional IMAX screens (that did not factor into the wide-release films used in our model), we added a 13.5% compensation factor (IMAX share of contribution for major-release films like "Avatar"), accounting for our box-office prediction of at least $80 million for the first weekend.

Of course, one way the Hunger Games breaks the mold of prior films is its record-breaking advance sales of tickets. That, could indeed trump what's measurable online. And if it is , my $80 million dollar bet, and all others, are off.

Seraj Bharwani is the Chief Analytics Officer of Visible Measures and responsible for thought leadership and consumer insights on branded content, social video, and shareable media.
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