Summer movies tend to explode onto the scene in their opening weekends and then slowly peter off, giving way to the next weekend's blockbuster sequel or brand name. It's rare that a film holds on to the number one slot for more than a week, and even rarer if that film contains no explosions or animated, singing animals.
"The Help," however, has benefited enormously from positive word-of-mouth and shout outs from social networking sites. It currently stands only a few notches away from the $100 million mark.
The film already had a built-in fan base, given that it was based on Kathryn Stockett's best-selling novel. Yet its staying power can be largely attributed to fans tweeting and posting Facebook statuses that lauded the film's resonance and quoted its lead characters.
"Typically, in the past, these kinds of conversations would have taken place around a water cooler," said Ben Carlson of Fizziolo.gy, a leading social media trend-tracker for film studios and other brands. "This [information] used to be impossible to quantify. But now, because of social media, we're able to identify these things. And this is a movie that has people insisting that their friends check it out."
According to Carlson, the only other film that has benefitted this much from social networking in the past few years is "The Blind Side," which also saw a surge in popularity in the weeks following its initial release. Both films are being framed as "inspirational" dramas, with many fans posting their emotional responses to the film.
"Like ['The Help'], 'Blind Side' ended up having long legs, and doing better in its second and third weeks," he said. "They were both similarly loved by audiences across the country."
Interestingly, "The Blind Side" and "The Help" found substantial support at theaters outside of major cities. "The Blind Side," for instance, was most successful at movie theaters in Sacramento, Dallas, Birmingham, and Nashville. Both films also share some rather concrete sociological similarities, and have faced similar criticism in that arena.
Martha Southgate over at Entertainment Weekly blasted "The Help" for dealing with the civil rights era in what she believed was a frivolous manner.
“Implicit in 'The Help'...is the notion that a white character is somehow crucial or even necessary to tell this particular tale of black liberation," she wrote. "Suffice it to say that these stories are more likely to get the green light and to have more popular appeal (and often acclaim) if they have white characters up front. That’s a shame.”
The Village Voice's Melissa Anderson expressed similar opinions about "The Blind Side" back in 2009, exclaiming that the film "peddles the most insidious kind of racism" and paints white characters as the virtuous saviors, "coming to the rescue of African-Americans who become superfluous in narratives that are supposed to be about them."
Fizziolo.gy reports that "The Blind Side" had an 84% increase in social media volume -- the number of mentions the film received on social media outlets -- during the initial week of its release, while "The Help" had a very similar 81% increase during its release week.
"The Help" will likely pass the $100 million mark this week, and doesn't have much competition from new releases this weekend. Box office experts predict that the film will retain the top slot.
Over in book land, the print and E-book formats of "The Help" continue to top the bestseller lists.
Below: a collection of recent tweets about "The Help."