A disappointing summer at the box office slowed the record pace established in Q1 2017, but what can social media tell us about the summer’s downturn? In this column, we take a closer look at this summer’s wide releases—how they performed in terms of revenue and social media footprint. For the purpose of this analysis, we looked at all wide-release films from May 5 to August 18 and ranked them by their opening-weekend box office earnings, release-week (Monday to Sunday) tweets, release-week likes (difference between their like total on Monday to Sunday), and their current Rotten Tomatoes score as of August 20 to better understand their overall performances.
It’s no surprise that the film at the top of the list turned out to be Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman. The only film to lead more than one of the data points, it had the most tweets and likes during release week of any summer film while also having the third-largest opening weekend and sixth-best Rotten Tomatoes score. Its performance is even more impressive when one considers that there was serious worry coming into the year that it would underperform, similar to the last two DC Extended Universe (DCEU) outings: Batman v. Superman Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. As it turns out, Wonder Woman has gone on to become the highest-grossing entry in the DCEU franchise and one of a handful of films to ever have a 90+ percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes while grossing over $400 million. With Captain Marvel, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, and Ant-man and the Wasp on the schedule, it would appear that Wonder Woman has ushered in an era in which female superheroes hold as much drawing power as their male counterparts. Or so their respective studios hope.
Spider-Man: Homecoming was in a similar position as Wonder Woman entering the summer. The franchise was headed in the wrong direction with its last two releases, The Amazing Spider-Man series directed by Marc Webb and starring Andrew Garfield, producing the two lowest grosses in the web slinger’s five films under Sony. There was hope that Spider-Man’s inclusion in the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe and the presence of Tony Stark and Iron Man would boost potential—and luckily for Sony, it paid off big time. With China’s release of the film still to come, there is a very real possibility that the film will become the highest overseas grosser for the franchise. This is proof that 15 years after the first breakout Spidey film from Sam Raimi and star Tobey Maguire, Spider-Man is still one of the most lucrative comic book properties in Hollywood. When it comes down to numbers, the film was, along with Wonder Woman, the only to place in the top six in all four categories of interest across earnings and social media buzz.
While it might not be the biggest-earning Christopher Nolan movie, Dunkirk easily took third spot in our analysis, thanks in large part to a very strong showing on Twitter and Rotten Tomatoes. There’s no shortage of Nolan fanboys online, especially on Twitter: his final two films in the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception were highlight films on the social media platform in their respective years. Few directors have managed to pair box office success and critical acclaim as consistently as Nolan, and Dunkirk proved to be no different in that regard. What else makes it a Hollywood rarity? Dunkirk is a blockbuster film that is not based on a comic.
Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 was as big as everyone hoped, securing the biggest opening of the summer by easily beating Spider-Man: Homecoming for the top spot with almost $150 million. It also received very solid reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, but even with its 82 percent “Fresh” score, it was only enough to place 12th among the summer’s wide releases. Facebook also was sluggish, with only 8,000 likes separating the 10th spot from 5th, but it was still in the game as one of the biggest like increases of the summer during its week of release. The bar was set very high for the film after the first installment took virtually everyone by surprise—narrowly missing the mark as the highest-grossing film of 2014—and the sequel proved to be a worthy successor in all aspects.
War for the Planet of the Apes rounded out the top five as its solid all-around performance, especially critically, saw it best other major blockbusters. It tied with Dunkirk for the third-best Rotten Tomatoes score, which puts it in an elite class of films whose first two sequels improved on its review score. Its weakest links in our matrix were its Twitter and Facebook scores, although that is not uncommon for a film with older males as its principal target demographic.
Many big-name titles that were expected to contend both in terms of box office and social media presence failed to live up to expectations. Snatched (29 out of 37 summer wide releases), Dark Tower (21 out of 37), King Arthur (20 out of 37), and Baywatch (19 out of 37) all spring to mind as obvious misfires.
While box office revenue is the major factor that dictates a film’s performance, social media reception and sentiment—along with critical praise—are massive influencers on the health of a title as a whole. These factors encompass tie-in revenue from other forms of post-release merchandising.
The main takeaway from summer 2017 is the enduring strength of the superhero genre, as it continues to grow while older franchises begin to buckle against their costumed counterparts. Transformers: Age of Extinction, Cars 3, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales all became the lowest-grossing entries in their storied franchises and will likely have to go through reboots to revisit their previous profits. This cycle of refreshing franchises is nothing new; next to James Bond and Star Wars, nothing remains popular forever, and chinks in the armor always appear over time. As for the superhero genre, it continues in an upward trajectory as it continues to draw audiences. With over two dozen big-budget comic book–adaptation releases scheduled over the next four years, the major studios are clearly not letting their foot off the gas anytime soon.