How TikTok and Cat Lovers Helped Propel ‘Puss in Boots: The Last Wish’ to Box Office Glory
When “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” opened in theaters last December, the spinoff sequel in the “Shrek” universe began its box office run with an unremarkable $12 million. But the animated adventure, about a swashbuckling cat voiced by Antonio Banderas, has enjoyed nine lives on the big screen.
After nearly two months, ticket sales have climbed to $177 million in North America and $454 million globally — and counting. That’s an impressive haul, particularly given the commercial struggles of other recent animated fare such as “Lightyear” and “Strange World.”
More from Variety
TikTok Launches 'Series' Feature, Which Lets Creators Sell Premium Episodes Up to 20 Minutes Each
'Puss in Boots: The Last Wish' Director Joel Crawford on Why Panic Attack Scene Was an Important Moment for Both Kids and Parents
“It is certainly rare to see a film leg out to a 15 lifetime multiple from its three-day debut,” says Universal’s president of domestic distribution Jim Orr. (On average, films have a three or four multiple, industry parlance for the ratio of its total gross from its opening weekend.) “The film is exciting, heartwarming and immensely satisfying for a broad audience.”
Much of “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish’s” slow-and-steady box office success is attributed to positive reviews, enthusiastic word-of-mouth and minimal competition from family films. But Universal’s marketing department also believes that TikTok was vital in keeping up enthusiasm into the new year.
It’s impossible to know how many TikTok users actually bought tickets to “The Last Wish.” But the studio has been closely tracking the stats, and since the trailer dropped on the platform in March, the film’s official @PussInBoots handle grew to 1.6 million followers. More impressively, the hashtag #PussInBootsTheLastWish has been used 2.2 billion times.
“It’s very hard to say TikTok drove sales, but when you have that many people engaging on the platform, that means you’ve resonated in a real way,” says Dwight Caines, Universal’s president of domestic marketing.
In the lead-up to the film’s release and the weeks following its premiere, Universal and DreamWorks leaned into Gen Z’s social media platform of choice in a big way. Promotional resources were spent to boost awareness of hashtag challenges and to partner with influencers on the platform. Eventually, “Puss in Boots” began to organically take off among users, so the studio was able to dial back the spending.
“Most of the young audiences we are trying to get into the movie theater, they love to skip ads. So, instead of just buying an ad on TikTok and calling it a day, we said: ‘How can we engage them with content that feels organic to the platform?” says Caines.
That manifested in several ways. One branded effect, referred to as the Antonio Banderas Hashtag Challenge, encouraged users to use the hashtag #realpussinboots and incorporate a filter that allowed them to put the character’s adorable big eyes and iconic hat on themselves or on their cats. That effect was viewed 11 million times, TikTok says. A winner was chosen to receive a grand prize package with a DreamWorks campus experience.
Other trends took off on their own. Creators used audio of Puss saying “I don’t know. I never counted, I’m not a math guy” over text that questioned everything from how many iced coffees they had that day to the number of times they ordered Seamless during the week. They also posted videos of themselves dancing to the Karol G song “La Vida es Una,” which is featured in the movie.
“What was great about DreamWorks and Universal is that they built a holistic campaign strategy that was created alongside the TikTok community rather than just speaking at them,” says Reia Davidson, TikTok’s vertical director of media and entertainment. “When entertainment marketers inspire the community to create with or for them, the campaign is just so much more successful and memorable.”
Universal and DreamWorks surmised that TikTok is popular because there’s a low barrier for people to become creators. So, executives were careful in making sure their content didn’t feel “overproduced,” like it came from a major studio’s marketing department. They also knew it’s impossible at best, cringeworthy at worst, to try to engineer a trend.
“If you just become a meme and it doesn’t engage them in the movie, that’s the risk of all of this,” Caines says.
Executives at TikTok believe the platform helped the movie not only attract people on opening weekend, but sustain itself beyond its disappointing debut. After all, the film’s longevity is part of the reason it became a sleeper hit, and that has a lot to do with the community embracing it in different ways after it had been in theaters for some time.
“We can help in two ways — getting people excited for the premiere and then encouraging them to engage with the film after it opens, which helps continue momentum once it’s in theaters,” says Davidson.
In the case of “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” Davidson says many TikTok users shared their reactions to the fact that film’s lovable feline admits he had a panic attack. “They thought it shed light on the importance of mental health,” she says.
For the time being, Caines sees TikTok as an integral tool for movie marketing.
“It’s going to play an important role until the consumer on the platform says, ‘you’ve changed my experience in a way I’ve no longer found value,'” he says. “Facebook has become a platform for moms. Young people are migrating off. Those are things we’re looking out for.”
As for TikTok, it says that it can easily help drive business for movies that aren’t part of the “Shrek” universe.
“We can find the fandom for any type of film, any audience, or any genre,” says Davidson. “We’ve got over a billion users worldwide who want to show their love for all kinds of things, including cats.”
Best of Variety
From 'Daisy Jones & The Six' to 'Blonde': Books Made Into Movies and TV Series That You Should Read
Oscar Predictions: Documentary Short - Could ‘Stranger at the Gate’ Surprise on Oscar Night?
Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.