Lionsgate's Surprise Social Media Star: ‘Dirty Dancing’ and Its 9.4M Friends

EXCLUSIVE: All the fans of the 1987 hit movie with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey have Lionsgate planning for a game and more

EXCLUSIVE

"Dirty Dancing"s' Baby may soon be moving out of the corner and into the world of online gaming.

The coming-of-age romance hit theaters nearly 25 years ago, but for reasons that even distributor Lionsgate hasn't quite understood, the movie's Facebook page has quietly racked up 9.4 million fans. 

The page hovered at about 700,000 fans in 2009. But with the death of star Patrick Swayze that year, followed by co-star Jennifer Grey's popular stint on "Dancing With the Stars," the page's popularity has ballooned.

The unexpected audience has Lionsgate's digital team thinking of ways to capitalize on the movie's social-media superstardom — and how to mobilize fans of other older movies on social networks.

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Among its "Dirty Dancing" plans, Lionsgate wants to use the film's young lovers as the basis for an online game in the vein of "Farmville" or "Mafia Wars," according to one knowledgeable executive. (Lionsgate officials would not confirm.)

The results are still modest, but "Dirty Dancing" could potentially prove to be a model for studios to better monetize their libraries through social networking. The 1987 sleeper hit now boasts a larger Facebook presence than recent blockbusters "The Dark Knight"  (6.7 million), "Iron Man" (4.5 million) and "Toy Story 3" (721,164). 

That is a staggering accomplishment for an older film with a deceased leading man and no sequel on the horizon (let's all try to forget "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights").

Anne Parducci, Lionsgate's executive VP of home entertainment and marketing admitted that "Dirty Dancing" has proven more popular on Facebook than the studio hoped, but stressed that the company carefully nurtured its fan base on the social network.  

"It has exceeded our expectations, but it also comes with hard work and dedication on our behalf to build that audience," Parducci told TheWrap.

Indeed, the movie has proven to be a popular library title for the studio, which has re-released it several times on DVD. 

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Lionsgate has been so inspired by the outpouring of affection for an older title like "Dirty Dancing," that it's set about dusting off other library titles for the Facebook debut.

Among the movies that it hopes to turn into social media magnates are "Terminator 2" (705,287 "Likes"), "Rambo" (1.8 million "Likes") and "Apocalypse Now" (468, 604 "Likes"), all of which have now received spruced-up pages courtesy of the studio.

Plans are also in the works for Facebook pages for dog-earred horror films including "Cube" and "Leprechaun."

In the short term, Lionsgate has primarily used the "Dirty Dancing" page to drive DVD and Blu-ray sales. But beyond saying that it had moved some products, Parducci said the true impact was impossible to quantify.

Part of that reason is that most of the Facebook fans likely already own the disc. But the opportunities to generate new "Dirty Dancing" revenue could be  huge. 

"It's not just DVD sales, it confirms that there is a global audience for this '80s film. We're looking at different ways to take this property and make it more of a franchise," Parducci said. 

Part of the appeal for Lionsgate is that the target group of "Dirty Dancing" Facebook fans are 90 percent women, and they're not just teenagers: Although more than half of the members are females between 18 and 34, there are a substantial number of middle-aged fans.

That's a demographic that has rapidly been moving away from daytime television — witness the demise of soaps such as "One Life to Live" — and into the arms of gaming companies such as Zynga. 

Though Facebook and its 500 million-plus users remain an appealing platform for Hollywood, studios have made only cursory efforts to try to generate revenues off the site. Still there are signs that the movie industry is ramping up its efforts.

Warner Bros. has begun offering films such as "The Dark Knight" for rental via Facebook.

Likewise, Warner is planning to use its recent acquisition, movie fan site Flixster, to capture more of its audience's demographic information than it currently receives from movie-ticket sales and film rentals. 

With an eye toward Zynga and its $8 billion valuation, Disney snapped up gaming manufacturer Playdom last summer for $563 million. It plans to integrate characters from its animated and Marvel libraries into Playdom's games.

In "Dirty Dancing"s' case, part of the reason that the movie has achieved such a surprisingly robust second life on Facebook is because of the real-life tragedies and triumphs of stars Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. 

Fans  flocked to the "Dirty Dancing" page to mourn after Swayze was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and later died in 2009.

A short tribute to the actor on the one-year anniversary of his death set a Guinness Book of World Records benchmark when over 100,000 people joined the page in a 24 hour period. 

Interest and membership also spiked after Grey won last season's "Dancing with the Stars." 

It has required effort on the part of Lionsgate to keep fans, who primarily post odes to Swayze or the films itself, active and engaged.

To that end, Lionsgate staff regularly update the page with stills from the movie, contests and quotations, as well as the obligatory "Mother's Day" DVD promotions and plugs for products such as "Dirty Dancing" slot machines. 

"Facebook is a great way to reach this pool of fans and grow it and it will continue to be as long as it continues to be a popular social media channel," Parducci said. "We've captured an audience that loves 'Dirty Dancing,' but you're not going to get that with every movie."