This weekend sees two polar-opposite films opening at the box office: the smart, talky Moneyball, where most of the action involves baseball statistics being calculated, and Killer Elite, where Jason Statham, Clive Owen, and Robert De Niro shoot a lot of stuff and smash people with chairs. Both are now perched at the top of the Anticipation Index, Vulture's constantly updated ranking of prerelease interest based on Twitter and blog mentions. But when we sort through the web chatter that has gotten them there, you see that they've scored through two entirely different types of online conversations.
Killer Elite is pure guns and muscles stuff, and the tweets mostly fall into the "Killer Elite is awesome, dude!" vein. Some sample tweets: "Hang on a minute ... HANG ON A MINUTE ... "Killer Elite" comes out tonight??! CLIVE OWEN, JASON STATHAM, ROBERT DeNIRO??! Who's WITH me? #fb"; "I just have to watch the mechanic so I can pregame for Killer Elite." Basically, it's the testosterone version of "I want to go to there."
But Moneyball has been propelled to the top (#1, just ahead of Killer Elite) by people retweeting reviews ("RT @voguemagazine: The genial new movie Moneyball is one of the rare baseball movies you don’t have to be a fan to enjoy."), NPR interviews ("Terry Gross absolutely KILLED it with the Brad Pitt interview on @nprfreshair — best in the biz, hands down. #Moneyball") and cinephile observations ("Going to see Moneyball tonight...I've statistically analyzed the film in advance and it will make the Oscar playoffs if it stays healthy").
It's the web chatter equivalent of Oscar Madison versus Felix Unger: One is down and dirty and visceral, and the other conjures up visions of someone sitting in a director's chair wearing a suit made entirely of Criterion Blu-ray discs. But they are happening at very similar volumes and speeds. What will that mean for grosses? While the Moneyball tweets don't have the same "I'm going!" immediacy, the fact that the audience is engaged bodes well: Moneyball is aimed at older audiences who are much more motivated by reviews, and so far the Pitt film is scoring a tremendous 94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. (By comparison, Killer Elite is at 25 percent.) When this choosy audience seems intrigued, they're likely to go, unlike the more fickle action audience. As illustrated by the tweets, the Killer Elite crowd is motivated on a superficial level — the flurry of violence caught their eye and they immediately declared it good — which hints that they could quickly lose interest if something else attracts their attention. We'll see this weekend whether the NPR or Statham crowd will follow through on their tweets.