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The Social Network hits top slot at box office

The Social Network racked up $23 million in ticket sales over the weekend. What does that mean for the world's most popular social network – and Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO?

By Matthew Shaer / October 4, 2010

The Social Network, starring Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg. The film topped the US box office over the weekend. The Social Network is relatively critical of Mark Zuckerberg. Will that matter?

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"The Social Network," the new film about the founding of Facebook, climbed to the top of the box office heap this weekend, with a respectable (if not exactly earth-shattering) $23 million pull. (By comparison, "The Dark Knight" earned about $155.3 million in its first weekend.) In interviews, Sony reps have chalked up the success of "The Social Network" to its social relevancy.

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"It really is a great start for us. This is a movie that is resonating everywhere. The reviews are the best I've seen at our studio in my career," Rory Bruer, head of distribution at Sony, told the AP. "It's just one of those movies that critics and audiences alike are embracing, and I think it's going to have a tremendous life."

So we know there's interest in the film. But here's a question: What could "The Social Network" do for Facebook itself? Earlier this year – in advance of the release of "The Social Network" – the Monitor spoke to a handful of bloggers and analysts about how the movie might impact the most popular social network in the world. Would traffic go up? Or would Facebook users get a good look at how the site was built, and turn their backs to it?

The response was pretty uniform: The movie won't really matter, one way or another. After all, people don't use Facebook because they like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg – they use it because it's useful, and their friends are using it, too. It would take more than a movie such as "The Social Network" to get people to give up the site.

"I definitely think Facebook is criticproof," says Ben Mezrich, author of "The Accidental Billionaires," which serves as the inspiration for "The Social Network." "It's such a huge part of our lives, it's such a quickly growing company, that any critique falls flat. Unless [the Facebook staff] does something really phenomenally stupid, and I can't see for the life of me what that would be, a certain age group is going to keep using the site."

"That's the brilliance of Facebook," Mezrich added.

"The Social Network," which was written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher ("Fight Club," and "Zodiac"), has continued to gobble up plaudits from critics around the country. Our reviewer, Peter Rainer, was more equivocal. In a recent review he admitted that "The Social Network" was a movie "so topical it transcends mere movieness."

Still, he argued that Zuckerberg, "at least as Jesse Eisenberg plays him, doesn't have the emotional expansiveness to fill out a movie. Perhaps sensing this, the filmmakers play out the story line from multiple points of view and crowd the stage with a pageant of voluble supporting characters. At times, Mark seems like a bit actor in his own fantasia, and although this dramatic ploy is no doubt intentional, it makes for a rather unwieldy (and overlong) odyssey."

Read the full review here.

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