How Secondary Audiences Are A Summer Blockbuster's Secret Weapon

It's no secret that most summer blockbusters already have built-in audiences that virtually guarantee box office success. Studios wouldn't green-light a budget upwards of $150 million otherwise. 

But there's also overwhelming evidence that the smartest studios look beyond their key demographic to include secondary audiences in their marketing efforts, and for that, their movies are rewarded. A strong secondary audience – the potential fan segment that goes beyond the obvious demographic – can turn risky or smaller productions into sleeper hits. Recent examples – like 20th Century Fox's “Kingsman: The Secret Service” (a surprise smash) and Disney's “Frozen” (a global phenomenon) – knew a core audience alone wouldn’t do the trick.

But secondary audiences also serve the purpose of pushing already successful blockbusters to record-breaking heights. This summer's “Jurassic World” currently sits in third place, according to Boxofficemojo, on both the domestic and worldwide lists of all-time highest-grossing films. Much like “Frozen,” it was expected to do quite well, but few predicted the box office juggernaut Universal wound up with.



Like some of the historic successes before it, “Jurassic World” owes its dominant success to the fact that it attracted not just the usual demographic you'd expect it to – young men ages 18-35 with a penchant for action and spectacle – but other key secondary groups that were interested in the movie for reasons beyond "dinosaurs fighting bigger dinosaurs." It was this unexpected audience that gave the movie legs and staying power that far exceed the typical box office holdover; including three consecutive weeks as the top box office draw, and a full nine weeks now as a steady earner.

If we look at the demographic breakdown of “Jurassic World”'s audience, males indeed represented the majority, but just barely. Men made up 52% of the "Jurassic World" opening weekend audience, per, compared to the female audience's 48%. And while women are the movie-going majority right now, action movies still tend to be the genre where we traditionally see their numbers dip. There was clearly something about “Jurassic World” that drew women in larger numbers than did other, similar blockbusters.  

Part of that had to do with the fact that, as tent pole culture has continued to dominate Hollywood, more and more women are heading to the popcorn flicks traditionally flocked to by men. But perhaps equally responsible was the star power of leading man Chris Pratt, whose comedic everyman persona appeals to men and women both, and whose newly revamped status as a legitimate sex symbol enticed women into seeing “Jurassic World” who might otherwise have given it a pass. 

And when it comes to Pratt, secondary audience recognition was infused in more ways than one. The power of the Marvel brand encouraged younger audiences who had never seen a “Jurassic” franchise movie before to see “Jurassic World” due largely to the sheer goodwill built by Pratt in his turn as Peter Quill (Star-Lord) in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Teenagers who have grown up at a time where most movies have built-in brand recognition were willing to take a chance on a movie they had no particular ties to because they associated Pratt with Marvel and Marvel with the type of movies they like to see.  

But the most surprising data showed that it wasn't a youth movement at the theater. Nostalgia played possibly the biggest factor in “Jurassic World”'s success. Enough time (14 years) had passed for the bad taste of “Jurassic Park III” to be washed from people's mouths. Rather than focusing on the poorly received third, older audiences could hope once again that the franchise would recapture its former glory, particularly with potential audiences putting their faith in Pratt's abilities. 

The age breakdown for “Jurassic World” showed that teenagers and college age were in the clear minority, with 61% of the film's audience being age 25 or older, says Adults in their 30s and 40s, whose hearts and minds had been captured at just the right age by the original “Jurassic Park,” now have children approximately the same age they were when they saw the original. That desire to bond over a shared love of a generation-spanning franchise turned viewing “Jurassic World” into a feel-good family affair – a feat few blockbusters truly achieve.  

It’s a recipe for success, and as the competition to engage audience eyeballs grows ever fiercer, smart studios are recognizing that hooking those secondary audiences could just be the secret sauce.

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