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Movienomics: Now You See the Importance of Word of Mouth

June 27, 2013

Now You See Me movie poster

What do The Hangover, There’s Something About Mary, Superbad, Napoleon Dynamite, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Pitch Perfect and Now You See Me have in common? All of these films were sleeper hits that made big money because of positive word of mouth. They all offered something new to old genres and audiences connected to them and allowed the films to over perform amidst big blockbusters..

I didn’t want to watch Now You See Me in theaters. I figured I would rent it and enjoy it in the comfort of my home. The fantastic cast of Mark Ruffalo, Melanie Laurent, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Dave Franco and Michael Kelly wasn’t enough to get me to go to the theater. Judging by the 49% on RT I smugly assumed that I made the correct decision to wait it out. However, something interesting happened in it’s second weekend . The movie initially pulled in $29 million and continued to make money with $19, $11 and $8 million in each of the following weeks. The drop off was slow and that indicted it was receiving positive word of mouth.

If word of mouth had been poor the movie would see a second week drop off of at least 55% and plummeted from there. The four weekends would have looked this (29, 14, 7, 3, 1) which total $54 million. Instead, a positive cinemascore (A-) and word of mouth have made it a $100+ million hit.

The tagline on the poster reads “The closer you look, the less you’ll see.” The finer (closer) aspects of this film could be scrutinized to figure out why it has made so much money. You could analyze why movies about magicians rarely work and go all the way back to Ingmar Bergman’s 1958 film The Magician. However, all you need to do is take a step back and look at the bigger picture to understand why it is a sleeper hit.

One of the reasons for Now You See Me’s success is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously which allows audiences to sit back, relax and partake in something other than horror, superhero or drama cinema. It differs from other magician flicks because it doesn’t carry the emotional heft of The Prestige ($53 million),feature an impressively dramatic and goateed Edward Norton performance (The Illusionist $40 million) or receive the negative reviews of the über A-list comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone ($23 million).  The Prestige has become a post-cinema classic, The Illusionist convinced some that Jessica Biel would win an Oscar and Jim Carrey went back to his comedic roots in Burt but NYSM will pull in more money than the three films combined when it’s cinematic run is over. Alongside the niceness of the film another reason for it’s success is the release date and competition (Purge, After Earth, Fast Six, Superman, This is the End, Epic, Hangover 3, Internship, Star Trek and World War Z). It had the luxury of being a breezy original flick amidst sequels, comic book adaptations, R-rated comedies and a google commercial.

What NYSM does best is make all of its characters likable and fun. It is popcorn entertainment to the fullest that may be smarter than you think. It is not gross, violent or feature masked men running around. It’s success is not an illusion or a product of hoodwinking marketers. The movie has excelled because it knows what it is and has had the luxury of being different amongst the same summer offerings that we see year after year. Cinema goers gorge themselves on sequels, prequels and remakes but sometimes a nice palate cleanser is needed. Another surprise word of mouth example is Paul Blart: Mall Cop. The critics blasted it but it collected $146 million in theaters and was huge on DVD. Most of the top critics reviews were negative but I found this gem of a quote from my favorite critic Roger Ebert:

Paul Blart: Mall Cop is a slapstick comedy with a hero who is a nice guy. I thought that wasn’t allowed anymore.

NYSM features a lot of nice people doing things of little consequence and it is refreshing. The bad guy gets his due, the magicians get rich and Mark Ruffalo finds love. Movies like this are critic proof because they dare to be little more than fun. Owen Gleiberman of EW sums up the film nicely with this quote:

The actors, including Morgan Freeman as an anti-showman devoted to revealing the magicians’ secrets, look like they’re having so much fun that you can forgive the periodic arbitrariness of it all.

If you look at all of the films I mentioned earlier you will notice a familiar trend. No matter the rating, plot or actors they all involve friends, family and heart. Some are gross, some are hungover but all of them pack a sweetness that people around the world appreciated. Now You See Me will not be looked upon as a classic like some of the word of mouth favorites but it does deserve a spot alongside them due to its niceness and ability to excel in a bustling cinema season.

If you are looking for something different and fun check out Now You See Me. It never wanted to conquer the world it just wanted to tell a nice story that was meant to entertain.

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