The Dark Knight: Is the Knight of the Box-Office Also the Knight of Online Search?

Since its release on 17th July, The Dark Knight has managed to stay at the top of the box-office chart for four straight weeks. Looking at its overwhelming box-office success, I became curious about its popularity in the online world. I compared the search trend for the Dark Knight against the other two summer blockbusters, Iron Man and Indiana Jones — The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, during their release weeks and 2 weeks before and after their releases.

As shown in the graph, we do not find any concrete evidence that the box-office rush for The Dark Knight in fact translated into any substantial, extended advantage in online search. Indiana Jones was able to create more curiosity among people than The Dark Knight or Iron man before release. After release, the search trend for the Dark Knight took off, surpassing the other movies by a huge margin, but it was only for a short time. Two weeks after release, search volume for The Dark Knight was on par with Indiana Jones. It’s also interesting to note that although Iron Man was able to become a box-office winner (to date it has earned almost $2M more than Indiana Jones), its search, except one week after release, remained below Indiana Jones during all the surrounding weeks.

It’s logical to assume that people tend to search for a movie around the release time, and eventually their curiosity declines as their interest shifts to the other new/upcoming releases. The trend, what we see here is consistent with this norm.

Given that all three of these movies had different selling points, I was interested to see what was driving the search for the movies. The following table shows the top six search keywords surrounding the movies. It is not surprising that for all three, the top search keyword is about the movie itself. However, the interesting thing to note here is that whereas for Iron Man and Indiana Jones, movie-inspired games appeared among the top six terms, for The Dark Knight the buzz-worthy terms were Joker and IMAX. Moreover, for both Iron man and The Dark Knight, the possibility of sequels seemed to become a great source of curiosity among the audiences, whereas for the Indiana Jones movie-related accessories became a source of interest for many.

I was also interested to see if the recent popularity of Indiana Jones and The Dark Knight also spilled over into renewed interest in their previous installments. Before the release week, the search for Batman Begins trailed behind only Raiders of the Lost Ark, and after release it surpassed not only all three previous Indiana Jones movies individually, but the search trend combining the three Indiana Jones movies too. No doubt, the tremendous success of The Dark Knight generated new interest in Batman Begins – in fact, I am ready to watch it again.

Since its premier, The Dark Knight has been breaking all sorts of records. Now that it has become the third biggest movie ever, what remains to be seen is if it can claim the crown for top grosser of all time. I think it has the capability to replace Titanic at the number one position, but it probably won’t be able to break the other record currently held by also Titanic, which is to remain at number one for 15 consecutive weeks. (Tidbit: Did you know that Christian Bale was almost cast for the role of Jack Dawson in Titanic?) However, given the next week’s release lineup, it can very well stay on the top for at least one more week. Personally, I would like to see it become the top grosser of all time, rather than some mindless movie which became a box-office hit based on success of its predecessors only (eg: Pirates of the Caribbean : At World’s End ), but a lot of it depends on how the playing field will look like in the coming weeks.

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