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What We Can Learn From the Most In-Demand Movies of 2018

Greg Buell on January 9th, 2019

CREDIT: SAEED ADYANI

A Record-Breaking Year

2018 was a year of record-breaking activity for both studios and consumers alike. The results are in: the game has changed.

Universal's HALLOWEEN had the second best October opening of any movie in history, signaling a fantastic reboot for Miramax. BLACK PANTHER, the 18th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, nabbed the biggest domestic February opening of all time with $202,003,951.

And of course, this December had an unprecedented 5+ tent poles debuting in theaters around the world and on Netflix?-?not to mention an interesting mashup in which Netflix pre-released movies in a select number of theaters.

So what insights can Vault's RealDemand™ Market Intel provide that made 2018 a record year?

Analyzing Stories with Vault's RealDemand™ Market Intel

Vault's RealDemand™ platform tracks nearly 100 titles in the movie market to let distributors and marketing executives measure story demand for movies. By tracking and analyzing the digital behavior of movie consumers, Vault sees how they delve deep into a story, trying or not trying to find out more about the plot, characters, story lines and more. Using our deep learning artificial intelligence, RealDemand distills the data into signals that indicate demand and tracks both theatrical and streaming movie releases over a six-month window to provide complete visibility into the domestic and global entertainment market.

Analyzing movie data from 2018, RealDemand revealed which stories recorded the highest levels of demand on the Monday after their release. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR came in first, owning almost 70% market share for story demand. An incredible success, given the entire market consisted of over 75 titles at that time.

As of today, BIRD BOX is in third position for overall demand with a market share of +30%. This means that 30% of all digital story demand for North America lies with BIRD BOX.

The results, while not entirely surprising, did reveal some very interesting trends.

Trend 1: Horror and Tentpoles Dominated 2018

Unsurprisingly, 2018 was indeed a super year as the superhero/super franchise and the supernatural dominated the movie scene. Eight out of the 20 top movies of 2018 fell into either category, and included AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, BLACK PANTHER, DEADPOOL 2, THE NUN, HALLOWEEN, ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, A QUIET PLACE and VENOM.

The biggest surprise for many - but not for us - was BLACK PANTHER. Eight weeks before its release, RealDemand signalled that we were on course for a huge February. Week-after-week, the signal was so strong it was clear that BLACK PANTHER would surpass THOR: RAGNAROK, SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER.

THE NUN was no different. When we first started tracking it on March 21, 2018, we saw its rapid rise in demand. By April 2, 2018, a full 10 weeks before its release, every metric, from story to consumer demand, had foretold THE NUN was shooting way above all titles in THE CONJURING franchise. Indeed it had an opening weekend take of $53.5 million?-?52% above the $35 million opening weekend of ANNABELLE: CREATION, the franchise's previous best performing title.

Trend 2: Timing Isn't Everything, But it's Definitely Something

While A STAR IS BORN and VENOM were two different stories that ostensibly appealed to two different demographics, they were both released on October 5, 2018 and ended up stealing from each other's audiences. At 10 weeks out, A Star is Born was headed for a $40 million release. Meanwhile, Venom was a lock at $80 million on its first weekend at 6 months out. While cinema goers bought more than $120 million in tickets on the opening weekend, neither movie reached its full potential.

In fact, A STAR IS BORN took a big bite out of VENOM's box office sales. Had the opening of either movie been moved by several weeks, VENOM could have made an additional ~$20 million.

This trend foreshadowed a growing inefficiently in scheduling movie releases in which an overcrowded market hurts the revenues of all titles. This lose-lose situation came to a head during the Christmas season in which an unprecedented number of releases prevented nearly all titles to reach their full business potential.

Trend 3: Netflix Goes from Strength to Strength

Clearly, whatever Netflix is doing is working. TO ALL THE BOYS I LOVED BEFORE cracked the top 10, beating out BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, READY PLAYER ONE and even another installment of JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM.

No matter what you think of OTT or OTT programming, it's an important factor in understanding which content is impacting audiences. The effect of Netflix cannot be discounted as it influences whether people will go out and buy tickets to see content in theaters or stay at home and watch their streaming platform.

Trend 4: Long Term Signals are For Real

Traditionally, the majority of advertising and media spend for movies had been between 4 and 2 weeks before a titles release. To understand how audiences are reacting to campaigns the traditional strategy was "to wait till we spend." In today's fast paced content environment, with everything from sports, TV and Fortnite stealing engagement from theatrical, it's very clear that demand for a story can come at any minute. Indeed, commercials create a stimulus for consumers to investigate a product. Today, with the amount of data available, waiting until four weeks before release to gain real feedback is not needed. For instance, A STAR IS BORN, THE NUN, BLACK PANTHER all began to show strong outlier signals months before the 4 week release window. This is also applicable when discovering struggling titles. Building and measuring long term story demand is going to be crucial for an overcrowded theatrical market in 2019.

The Bottom Line

2018 was an unpredictable and to some overwhelming year for development, research, marketing and distribution executives. The game has changed. There is more opportunity, but greater risk. What's clear? Integrating new technologies, such as AI, will be a crucial for success in 2019.