Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

A Tall Tale: Did Twitter Really Save Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds”?

basterds-sceneEarlier this summer, Twitter was blamed for torpedoing movies like “Bruno” and “Funny Business.” Now the micromessaging service is being heralded for giving Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” a big boost.

The movie, an over-the-top retelling of World War II featuring a squad of Jewish Nazi hunters, brought in $37 million at the box office this weekend, which is about $10 million more than the Hollywood prognostication machine expected.

In the old days, you’d simply chalk up the difference to the fact that the Hollywood prognostication machine sometimes gets things wrong. But now when this happens, the impulse is to blame or praise Twitter. The theory: Audiences go to see the movie on Friday, then quickly tweet their 140-character reviews to their pals. This either keeps moviegoers away for the rest of the weekend or makes them flock to the theaters.

All of this sounds believable enough, but I have yet to see anyone spell out exactly how it works. The Hollywood Reporter, for instance, is a big proponent of the “Twitter saved Tarantino” theory. But its evidence is awfully weak: It just notes that some Twitter messages about the film have been positive.

At least NewTeeVee tries to put some numbers behind the argument. Using data from tracking service Trendrr, it notes that the volume of Tweets about the film increased over the weekend (see chart; click to enlarge).

inglourioustrendrr

Of course, volume alone doesn’t indicate anything: For all we know the messages were fixated on the mustache Brad Pitt’s character sports in the film. And in any case, we’re a long way from correlating Internet messages with real-world actions–just ask former presidential candidate Ron Paul’s ardent cyberfans.

But marketing always involves at least an equal part art for every part science, and when you add a superhyped, very new phenomenon like Twitter to the mix, all bets are off. Given the way these things work, expect Hollywood to assume that Twitter can now make or break a movie. And there will be an opportunistic flock of “social media” gurus ready to assure them–for just a small monthly retainer–that their insight is correct.

In case you haven’t seen it (left unmentioned in these reports is the fact that the movie got a very big conventional marketing push), here is an “Inglourious Basterds” trailer. And below that, one of my favorite scenes from “Pulp Fiction,” Tarantino’s 1994 breakthrough. (Be warned! These are Tarantino movies, and the second clip is unedited, which means you’re going to get some potentially NSFW cursing and gore. Enjoy!)

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