What’s Hot This Summer: The Lion King Leads the Pack on Social Platforms

By Alex Edghill

The summer season at the box office is upon us yet again, and to coincide with this supercharged time at theaters we have a brand-new set of tools and tracking features at our fingertips here at Boxoffice. They offer a wealth of new angles and viewpoints on the season and will be invaluable to our arsenal as pundits and color commentators.

To date, 2019 has not been a massive success for cineplexes—it is lagging over 15 percent behind 2018 as I write this column. Undoubtedly, Avengers: Endgame will offer a huge shot of adrenaline, but if box office is to grow and surpass last year’s record, then it needs some other major wins besides Endgame and the upcoming Star Wars, which drops at the end of the year.

As always, summer is filled with potential. There is plenty of variety, a wide range of films including sequels, remakes, spin-offs, and original offerings. We have never seen more than three films open to above $150 million in a single year, but there’s a very strong chance that will happen in 2019. Which of the summer releases are primed for huge breakouts? Or busts? Let’s take a closer look at the most relevant social media statistics over the last two weeks as of this writing to try to narrow the field and glean whatever information we can from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Before we delve into the numbers, it’s important to note that when comparing social media data across platforms, no two services are the same, both in terms of usage and in terms of demographic breakdown. Instagram has more than double the users of Twitter, while Facebook has more than double the users of Instagram. The 13–17 demographic has a stronger foothold on Instagram than either of the two, while Twitter has a much higher percentage of its user base over 35 than either of the other two combined. Social media monitoring is by no means an exact science—it’s like trying to nail a bull’s-eye with a dart from a speeding car—but it is one of the strongest, fastest, and most cost-effective litmus tests of prospective moviegoers.

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The Lion King was the most consistent performer over all three social media platforms tracked during the period in question. With 23 million fans in total, it led five of the six categories examined, missing out only on Facebook Engagement (calculated by Likes + Shares + Comments/Number of Fans). Not only did it lead most of the categories analyzed, it more than doubled the competition in three of the five it led. Based on these buzz numbers, there is little doubt that this is the film to beat outside of Avengers: Endgame this summer season. While the original Lion King was a massive success, grossing $312 million way back in 1994 and becoming the highest-grossing animated film of all time in its initial run (which it later raised to $423 million after Imax and 3-D rereleases), there was some doubt about how a fully CGI remade adaptation would fare. But these social media numbers have all but dispelled any concern about its performance.

Next up is Detective Pikachu, which showed very strong numbers across all our metrics; in fact, it’s the only film to lead a category other than The Lion King, the previously mentioned Engagement figure. I wrote an entire column dedicated to Detective Pikachu a few months back, after its first trailer just about broke social media. These numbers only further affirm my prediction from back then that its brand power and name recognition, coupled with the entire marketing machine, are going to make for a giant opening this May.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix had a strong showing on both Twitter and Facebook but lagged behind many of the other tentpoles on Instagram. It performed the strongest on Twitter, with the third-highest page and post likes across all films of interest. It saved its best performance for the Facebook Power metric, which is based on the following formula: Likes + Shares + Comments. The X-Men franchise saw a marked decline in its last outing, Apocalypse, versus Days of Future Past, and it remains to be seen whether Dark Phoenix will be able to buck the trend or continue the slide. These numbers are still largely positive, and while Dark Phoenix does face a lot of stiff competition, there is a very likely chance it will at least matche Apocalypse, which is nothing to scoff at ($65 million opening, $155 million total).

Aladdin presents a much more mixed bag than the preceding three films, and with its release just six weeks away (at press time), this could potentially be a warning sign. Its official Twitter page did not make any posts in our period of interest, which is surprising considering how close it is to release. On Facebook, it had a solid Power number, but its Engagement rank was among the lowest of the films tracked, and its Instagram numbers were middling at best. The original Aladdin was the second-highest-grossing animated film of all time after its 1992 release (coming within $1 million of becoming number one of all time at that point) and it is one of the most beloved titles in the Disney vault. However, this time around it is not performing nearly as well as its cousin The Lion King or other recent Disney live-action remakes such as Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella. Its lack of posts across the board at this late stage in the game is also somewhat perplexing.

Last up is Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which had a strong showing across all measured metrics—especially on Instagram, where it had the third-highest post likes over our two-week window of interest. Its predecessor had a mammoth $93 million opening and $200 million total, so the potential here is huge. This film could indeed break out this summer, and anything close to those aforementioned numbers would be a welcome gift for Warner Bros.

There are obviously quite a few promising titles missing from this report, including Spider-Man: Far from Home, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, and Men in Black: International. The reason for their absence? They had few to no social media posts across our three monitored platforms during our two-week period of interest. All three are over two months away as of this writing, so it’s not an ominous sign by any means. But it is strange that potential blockbusters would go two full weeks without posts on major social media platforms; perhaps they are focusing their marketing efforts on different channels at this time.

Another salient point is that social media tends to underrepresent kids and family audiences for obvious reasons (not many toddlers on social media, yet). Also, in general, audiences over 35 are less active on Facebook and Instagram. The fact that Toy Story 4 and The Secret Life of Pets 2 are lower in the chart does not necessarily spell trouble, but it does indicate that they are missing the same interest among the 18–35 bracket as, say, a Lion King. The same goes for Hobbs & Shaw and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, which target older male audiences as their core demographic—not traditional social media powerhouses. 

The Lion King is clearly the film to beat this summer season (next to Endgame, of course) as of this column, and it will be interesting to circle back in a few months and take stock of these predictions and how they compared to actual results. My final takeaway from this analysis is surprise at the general lack of interaction with fans by studios for their films. Having massive $200 million blockbusters scheduled for release within a few months and millions of fans signed up for updates on said films, yet no posts in a two-week period on one or all three of the major social media platforms seems like a missed opportunity. More is not always better, but within such a crowded marketplace, anything that helps you stand out from the competition provides a strategic advantage.

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