How Twitter Saved G.I. Joe

Website compiles movie-review tweets for instant word of mouth

By Jere Hester
|  Tuesday, Aug 11, 2009  |  Updated 4:17 AM CDT
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In their day, Roger Ebert and his TV partner, the late Gene Siskel, wielded considerable clout from their small-screen perch, often affecting the fate of big-screen fare with the turn of a thumb.

Now, as then, everybody’s a critic – but the difference today is that virtually everybody has a forum to post instant reviews online. And, collectively, a gaggle of tweeters may exert as much influence as Siskel and Ebert once did.

A clever new website, skinnipopcorn.com, compiles Twitter movie reviews, giving moviegoers another place to check before plunking down a hard-earned 10 bucks for a couple hours of escapism.

Take “G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra,” which wasn’t screened for critics for good reason: many hated it when they eventually watched. The word on G.I. Joe, via tweeters, was considerably more positive – perhaps partially explaining the action flick’s $56 million opening weekend take.

“Ignore all rules of physics & enjoy! I like movies with my childhood toys on a big screen!” one viewer tweeted in a post compiled on skinnipopcorn.com.

Another tweeter, even more enamored of exclamation points, wrote, “Just seen G.I. Joe The Rise of Cobra...freaking awesome movie!!!!!!!”

The Internet long has been a place for any of us to weigh in on movies, and just about anything else, though there’s no guarantee anyone is listening. But the real-time nature of Twitter, and its powerful search tool – exploited by skinnipopcorn.com – could take the power of word of mouth to new levels.

Hollywood already is abuzz about the “Bruno effect,” where negative tweets were cited as a factor last month in dissuading moviegoers from seeing the comedy "Bruno" on opening weekend after its first day screenings.  

A website like skinnipopcorn.com that collects unfiltered tweets – and also has links to movie trailers and published reviews – could become a major player in determining which movies thrive or tank.

“Combing through reviews is such a pain,” said Brendan Dawes, skinnipopcorn.com’s creative director told The New York Times. “We wanted gut commentary, a very quick snapshot. Is it worth seeing or not?”

This changing landscape carries potential positives, dangers and unknowns. The voice of the people is heard almost instantly, giving consumers additional information to use in decision making. There’s a danger, though, that Hollywood execs will try to flood Twitter with touts, skewing perceived popular sentiment.

The unknown is the larger effect on how movies are green-lighted: Will we see even more “safe” films with familiar stars and premises (sequels, remakes, flicks based old TV shows or toys)? Or will moviemakers be forced to become more creative and come up with new, substantive material to grab audiences past Day One?  (Fat chance.)

The only seeming sure thing is that more people will be turning to Twitter searches and sites like skinnipopcorn.com to see whether movies are getting thumbs up – or thumbs down – in a world where everyone can play Siskel and Ebert.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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