The Twitter Effect: Could This Be a Good Thing?

You’ve got to hand it to Hollywood. As a collective, the town is quite good finding scapegoats to blame for their mistakes. Case in point: Twitter. Did you know that the reason some movies—cough, Brüno—have done poorly at the box office this summer is because of the Twitter Effect? The answer is … maybe! For the uninitiated, the Twitter Effect causes negative buzz about a film to spread rapidly throughout the social network, and, thusly, kills what could have been a sizable box office hit. And to think, we thought it was all about the movies.

The idea of the Twitter Effect gained lots of traction thanks to the underwhelming box office numbers provided by Sacha Baron Cohen’s not-so-zeitgeisty comedy. On the Monday following its opening weekend—a weekend which saw ticket sales plunge between Friday and Saturday—Time magazine claimed that Brüno was the first movie to be undone by Twitter. Now, it’s three weeks later, and Brüno is but a memory—by the end of its run, the film will be lucky to gross over $70 million domestically. And it’s not just Brüno: Bombs from Year One to Land of the Lost can point to the 140 characters of fury provided by Twitter users as the cause of their failures; this is Word of Mouth 2.0. But while we think the whole notion is a tad simplistic—Twitter doesn’t cause bombs, bad movies do—we can actually see why Hollywood studios are so unhappy about this seemingly thrown together revelation.

Before Twitter, it was possible to open a bad movie, so long as you had a good marketing campaign behind it. This sleight of hand game is how movie studios have operated for decades: Sell the movie you wish you had, not the one you do. Sure, critics might savage the film, en masse, but—sadly, depending on your perspective—critical opinions don’t mean a whole lot when it comes to opening weekends (see: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, for reference). Now with Twitter, however, the rules have somewhat changed. Forget trailers, posters or pull quotes from critics: The instantaneous reactions trump all.

In the end, this is only good news for us consumers. Maybe the Twitter Effect will cause Hollywood to make better movies! (We will pause to wait for you to stop laughing.) Or, more likely, we’ll know sooner to stay away from the bad movies thanks to Twitter users like lulu1620, who triumphantly, but apologetically, claimed, “Brüno sucks!!! Sorry!” Don’t apologize to us, lulu1620, we appreciate the heads up.