Credit: Alan Markfield

Last weekend, the ensemble relationship comedy Think Like a Man opened to an astonishing $33.6 million, exceeding practically everyone's expectations, including those of one of the film's standout stars, actor-comedian Kevin Hart. "I knew the movie was going to do well because it was tracking well," he tells EW, "but we were thinking in the range of $20-25 [million]. When in came in the 30s, that was a little mind-blowing. For me that just shows the power of social media."

No kidding. Hart has practically built his entire career harnessing the power of his Twitter feed and Facebook page to drive audiences to his films. Last September, his stand-up comedy feature Laugh at My Pain opened to $2 million on just 97 screens, a feat he largely credited to his social media fan base spreading word and supporting the film. For Think Like a Man, Hart notes that, combined, the entire cast boasts well over 20 million Twitter followers. "So we got together and just did a blitz ourselves….When you're doing movie promos and there's billboards and stuff, yeah it's out there, and you know people see it. But we were getting direct responses because of Twitter and Facebook. It was unbelievable."

Of course, a movie's number one debut is not built on tweets alone. Hart credits three other DIY efforts for helping catapult his film to the top of the box office:

Multitasking! As part of his stand-up comedy tour, Hart started screening the trailer for Think Like a Man at the beginning and ending of every set. "Because I was doing arenas, I was [performing] for 15-to-20,000 people a night. I was reaching anywhere from 60-to-90,000 people through the course of a week."

Making a scene! Earlier this year, Hart created a media kerfuffle when he got himself ejected from the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game — and then was still named MVP. "Yeah, first celebrity to ever get ejected from a celebrity game," says Hart with a hearty chuckle. He swears his outburst wasn't premeditated — "I literally was having a good time and being myself" — but he's not ashamed at taking advantage of the situation either. "All press is good press," he says. "All the attention it got, it became 'Kevin Hart from Think Like a Man…' — not just 'Kevin Hart.'And the story just got bigger."

Giving away free popcorn! "I love to pop up at the movie theaters," says Hart. "I love to treat the people who are there. 'Guys, whoever meets me at the 3 p.m. showing at The Grove' — or wherever city I'm at — 'popcorn and soda on me.' Literally just showing your fans your appreciation. I wouldn't be where I am now if it wasn't for their support. So I'm not the type of person who can turn my back on that support. I try to do little things to show that I'm not only appreciative of it, but I don't take it for granted. I'm humbled by it. It's amazing to me."

Chances are very likely, meanwhile, that Hart will have another film of his hit number one at the box office this weekend: the romantic comedy The Five-Year Engagement. He's already planning his social media blasting for the week; he calls his Twitter and Facebook sites "my permanent radio station" for their promotional power. But they also provide him an invaluable way to connect with his fans. "I make sure that my fans realize that they can talk to me," he says. "I'm here. I'm reachable. I think sometimes celebrities get so big they're not reachable. When you're not in a place where people feel like they know you or can contact  you or can talk to you, it's harder for them to support you. People want to act like they know celebrities. They want to see pictures. They want to know where you're going. They want to hear you talk about your family. They want to hear you bitch and complain about problems. They want to know that you're human. People [in the entertainment industry] who don't realize that are people who will be left behind. They're not realizing the day and time we're living in. They really aren't."

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The Five-Year Engagement
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  • 124 minutes

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