Social Media Storytelling Arms ‘War Dogs’ For Box Office Victory


As studios shift more of their precious marketing dollars away from traditional marketing methods and towards digital campaigns, social media is taking on ever greater importance – so what clues did online activity give us about the box office potential of this weekend’s wide releases?

War Dogs (WB)

Forecast: $13 million

Actual: $14.3 million

Kubo and the Two Strings (Focus)

Forecast: $13 million

Actual: $12.6 million

Ben Hur (Paramount)

Forecast: $12 million

Actual: $11.3 million

This weekend’s box office was dominated by holdovers Suicide Squad and Sausage Party so our new arrivals were left to fight it out for the scraps, which were pretty evenly divided between the three. Leading the pack was comedy War Dogs which topped expectations to score over $14 million in its debut frame.

Digitally War Dogs leant heavily on custom programs which told the story of what it means to be a ‘war dog’, educating fans with flashy infographics, fun clips and custom articles. The program of custom content touched upon each pillar of the film and created a world where fans could understand exactly what hustlers the characters were. This included a storybook listicle on Brobible as well as articles in partnership withVice, both publishers with strong male audiences – the target demo for the movie.

War Dogs performed slightly ahead of WB’s last male-focussed comedy The Nice Guys, which opened to $11.2 million off the back of around 75,000 tweets and 20 million trailer views.

Next came Kubo and the Two Strings, the latest stop-motion animation from Laika Studios which was distributed by Focus. Laika’s previous movies have enjoyed mid-teens openings and critical acclaim with each previous film receiving an Oscar nomination, and Kubo looks set to do the same having opened over $12 million. Exceptional reviews should carry the movie well over the coming weeks, as there isn’t another animated title dropping for a while.

Marketing celebrated the craft of the Laika team, who painstakingly construct sets and animate each frame of the film by hand. Media outlets were invited behind the scenes of the studio to see just how in-depth production really is, including leading influencers such as Tyler Oakley. This pillar of the campaign came to a head with #KuboCreators day, where leading influencers, makers and craftspeople all shared their creations inspired by the movie.

At the other end of the spectrum comes Ben Hur: the mega budget remake of the classic movie only managed to race to a $11.3 million total. While modestly-budgeted faith movies have turned tidy profits for several studios in recent years, life was always going to be hard for Ben Hur as it was such an expensive production. Marketing did not only seek faith audiences, but also courted secular moviegoers which may well have harmed its performance with that faith-centric audience, reflected by mustering only 15,000 tweets and less than 10 million trailer views.


Article written by Phil Walden. Phil is the Director of Digital Strategy at, one of the world’s largest movie websites, where he spent 5 years working on digital marketing campaigns for entertainment.