Following the news early Thursday of a terrorist plot to blow up in-flight passenger airplanes, executives at Paramount Pictures considered scaling back advertising for the new Oliver Stone film, “World Trade Center,” which opened nationwide Wednesday.
Ultimately, with executives and other analysts unable to predict how moviegoers, unsettled by the news events, will be affected, the studio decided not to change its in-place marketing plans.
“The events of yesterday and today make this story even more poignant,” Don Harris, executive vice president of distribution at Paramount, a unit of Viacom Inc., said Thursday. “But I don’t know whether it helps or hurts.”
Stone’s film recounts the harrowing tale of two Port Authority police officers caught under the rubble of the twin towers, which fell after being hit by two passenger planes on Sept. 11, 2001.
The film earned $4.4 million at the box office Wednesday, exceeding Paramount’s expectations for the emotionally charged film.
Box office analysts say the current news events could raise awareness of the film, which could boost ticket sales.
“‘World Trade Center’ was never designed to be escapist entertainment anyway, so I’m not sure people will shy away from it given these real-life events,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. “How much more relevant could this movie be right now?”
But the film’s subject matter might not be the only thing on moviegoers’ minds. In the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, out of concern for their safety, people stayed away from large public gatherings. Box-office receipts did pick up in subsequent weekends.
With the federal government raising the threat level and continued focus on the plot by news shows, people could again decide to stick close to home this weekend.
“I give the audience a lot of credit,” Dergarabedian said. “By and large we still feel very safe on our own soil going to the movie theater.”
Wednesday’s audience for the film, which stars Nicolas Cage, was evenly split among men and women, young and old, Paramount said. A higher-than-normal percentage of moviegoers told exit-poll researchers they would recommend the film to friends.
“It performed significantly ahead of our expectations,” Harris said.