A photo of David Stiff

The True Concept Drivers for Aquaman's Global Box Office Dominance

David Stiff on January 23rd, 2019

The runaway success of AQUAMAN seems to have taken nearly everyone by surprise. Grossing more than $1 billion worldwide, it was the Man-of-Scales who overcame the Man-of-Steel.

Source: VCG

On July 21, 2018, when Warner Bros. released the first official trailer of AQUAMAN—nearly 22 weeks before the movie hit theaters—we used our AI-based RealAudienceâ„¢ platform to analyze and extract the core story DNA of and predict some very interesting domestic numbers:

  • Vault predicted $74 million opening weekend ($67.8 million actual)
  • Vault predicted exit polls to be M 53% / F 47% (M55% / F45% actual exit polls)
  • Vault predicted Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score to be 77% (79% as of today).

Comprising 70% of total revenues, international audiences have played a huge part in AQUAMAN's worldwide success. With coverage on 60 global markets worldwide, we took a look to see if the secrets behind the billion-dollar success of AQUAMAN.

It's Always About the Story

As with any movie, the story is king. The story reveals more about the business potential of a movie or TV show than any other data point. Likes, shares and people's opinions account for only a fraction of the impact story elements have on movie audiences. After all, story is the product' s key features.

Traditional story research has been based on asking focus groups about dozens of concepts or themes about a given film to help frame campaigns. However, this ultimately means campaigns are being operated on 100-1000 opinions, not based on transactional box office data. We believe that there are thousands more story elements with significant transactional box office value that can be found using machine learning. This approach provides numerous key insights that can form a cornerstone of any motion picture marketing strategy.

In today's global environment, story analysis is even more complex. Content is distributed to more markets than ever before and it's logistically impossible to arrange focus groups throughout the world and analyze their findings.

Aquaman: A Global Approach to Story Elements and Concepts

Vault's platform analyzed over 100,000 story elements revealed in AQUAMAN's first official trailer and to perform a thorough breakdown of regionally specific audience interests around these elements. The in-depth analysis clearly shows that the major concepts of the movie have an overwhelming positive global consensus, although there are subtle differences between markets.

The key story elements for impacting global audience transactions and box office lift are:

  • Aquaman (the character)
  • The superhero origin story
  • Jason Momoa
  • The blend of the futuristic and the mythical
  • Superhero, big budget, world destroying action
  • Family / mentor relationships

Drivers to the Domestic Box Office

Vault's analysis reveals that the strongest influencer in the US was a string of beats that took audiences through the origin story of a charismatic, wisecracking new character in the DC Universe, who grows from outcast to tough guy to hero and who ultimately challenges the evil King for the throne of Atlantis.

Other key beats include:

  • The surface battles, particularly the stunts and special FX during a mesmerizing rooftop chase scene
  • The brief training scene on the shoreline during AQUAMAN’s development that also formed a part of the student-mentor element
  • An intense one-on-one gladiatorial combat scene in an underwater colosseum
  • High FX battlefield scenes including mesmerizing cavalry-style warfare with soldiers mounted on various armored marine animals.

Audience Drivers in China, Japan and South Korea

A deep dive into our story data revealed some notable, yet nuanced differences between various regions. While one of the biggest draws for the US market was the action-packed origin story with a wisecracking action hero, the Asian market generally lacked interest around the comedic beats?-?especially the wisecracks?-?and showed stronger interest in the more serious, explosive action-sequences. In China, the action-packed story concepts added a 6.2% lift to the box office while the effect was even stronger in Japan (9.1%) and South Korea (9.38%).

But this isn't to say that there is uniformity among the Asian market interests. While the Japanese and South Korean markets showed strong interest in majestic fantasy sci-fi elements such as Atlantis, the underwater gladiatorial battles and the various sea creatures, the Chinese market actually shared the preference of US audiences to futuristic technology, watercraft, explosions, and laser weapons.

Motivators in Russia

Looking north to the Russian market, the half-brother relationship between Arthur and Orm Curry and their power struggle for the throne of Atlantis didn't impact audiences as much as in other countries. This insight is different across some key European markets that took to the half-brother relationship, but were not as motivated by the heir to the throne concepts and scenes.

However, there were many elements shared across both Russia and Europe. Jason Momoa's character, Arthur Curry, and the progressive development of his strength and bravery throughout the movie drew significant interest in both Russia and Europe. The student-mentor relationship also created further ticket sales.

In Conclusion: Preparing a Global Audience Strategy

Combining machine learning and artificial intelligence findings, in conjunction with traditional survey based positioning studies, offers the ability for an in-depth understanding of story elements that truly impact movie goers wallets. Most importantly, it is global.

These subtle audience reactions to pre- or post-production content can be used as a powerful tool for creating the most meaningful content and impactful promotional strategy that can be easily tailored to specific regions and drive audiences to the theaters.