How Twitter helped “The Grey” become a box-office champ on opening weekend

The Grey gets Twitter.

The new Open Road Films thriller starring Liam Neeson features on its website a brief trailer that caught my eye because of the way the movie title, cast, and production team are listed. All names of the principal cast – including Neeson’s – are listed via their Twitter handles and hashtags exclusively. You don’t even see the movie’s name listed in a conventional way (it’s listed as #THEGREY). And the movie incorporates critics’ tweets in its reviews, which is a marketing first, according to Variety.

Granted, movies incorporate social media into their marketing mix routinely. But I am intrigued by the trailer’s exclusive reliance on Twitter hashtags and handles to list crucial information, especially Liam Neeson’s name. Neeson has the most brand recognition of anyone in the cast and is a clear box office draw for the macho adventure tale set in the Alaskan wilderness. The idea of tinkering with the way his name appears (even adding a hashtag) must have raised a few eyebrows.

The trailer refers to @TheGreyMovie Twitter handle in quoting critics’ tweets (but I think the handle should have been called out more clearly as its hashtag was). The Grey website contains the handle and all the other ways you can learn more about the movie via social media, including a Google+ brand page. @TheGreyMovie has accumulated nearly 14,000 Twitter followers since launching with its first tweet on September 23, and it looks like filmgoers and promoters are making good use of the hashtag to discuss the movie.

The movie has also garnered 145,000 Facebook Likes (as of January 29). By contrast, Man on a Ledge, which opened at the same time, has 77,000 Facebook Likes and no official Twitter presence (you need to follow its producer @SummitEnt to follow the movie on Twitter, which accumulates followers for Summit Entertainment – nearly 80,000 and counting – but makes the movie itself less visible).

Marketing tactics for The Grey also include screening the movie for bloggers in December, PR on the Weather Channel (owing to the movie’s setting in the rugged outdoors), and, reportedly, outreach to Christian groups because of the movie’s spiritual references.

Filmgoers are responding: The Grey has topped the weekend box-office charts. The movie’s $20 million take has surpassed the $12 million box office that Variety predicted. More movies will undoubtedly follow the example set by Open Road Films with its aggressive use of Twitter.