Michael Jackson’s This is It, the posthumous homage to the late King of Pop, grossed $2.2 million from midnight showings. According to Sony, the concert film has already exceeded that haul from Wednesday matinees.
Call it a pop culture hurricane or simply a belated embrace of the late star’s legacy, but whatever Sony Pictures did in the run-up to the film’s debut clearly clicked with audiences.
Sony Pictures deserves credit for properly massaging a pop culture phenomenon.
Sean Phillips, executive producer of Yahoo! Movies, says part of the studio’s successful marketing campaign for This is It boiled down to timing.
“The movie’s coming out so close to when he passed away. It’s tough to have more built-in publicity than that,” Phillips says.
And Sony wisely focused the film on Jackson’s talents, not his often disturbing personal life.
“It’s not going to dwell on any of his oddities or the well-known troubles in his life,” Phillips says. “He’s doing all the favorite moves we know and love, stuff the younger generation doesn’t even pull off.”
The studio also wisely made the movie something of an event, claiming it will only run in theaters for two weeks, “not unlike how the show was supposed to be,“ he says of the concert Jackson was preparing for in the weeks before his death.
Robert Marich, author of “Marketing to Moviegoers: Second Edition,” says the film’s sterling trailer whetted the appetites of long-time Jackson fans.
“They had a motivated fan base. So far, what they’ve shown satisfied them,” Marich says.
It better, since Sony ponied up $60 million to concert promoter AEG Entertainment for the rights to the rehearsal footage.
Marich says Sony also did a good job minimizing Jackson’s non-music headlines, focusing like a laser on his songbook.
“It’s an issue,” Marich says of the singer’s plastic surgery misadventures and criminal accusations. “He’s a tainted celebrity. It’s a wall that Sony had to climb.”
Even though the movie’s advance tickets sales have been through the proverbial roof, that doesn’t necessarily spell long-term success for This is It.
“I’m dubious that the advance ticket sales are projectable like some other movies like Harry Potter,” Marich says. “It’s an open question if it‘ll draw in a bigger audience.”
The film could fade as fast as it opened, he cautions.
“Concert films are like horror films. They can open strong but they traditionally don’t hold up,” he says.
The current hype surrounding the film could continue well past its theatrical run.
“The whole game isn’t cinema. It could do so-so in cinema and do gangbusters in DVD,” he says. “[Sony] has every incentive to really promote it.”
So what about a sequel?
Phillips thinks the creative folks behind the movie would prefer This is It to be the final, fitting tribute to Jackson.
But if the film keeps on selling tickets anything is possible. It wouldn’t be the first time the death of a singing legend kicked off the start of a new phase in his or her career.
“Sadly you never know,” Phillips says.