Saturday, February 4, 2012

I don't care whether Chronicle or The Woman In Black tops the box office, and here's why you shouldn't either...

With a neck-and-neck opening Friday, two of the three major wide releases both look like they will end up with around $20 million over the Super Bowl weekend.  Both Chronicle and The Woman In Black had budgets around $15 million and targeted ad campaigns, meaning that a $20 million debut makes both films pretty solid hits right out of the gate.  But many of the box office pundits are of-course obsessing over which film will be #1 for the weekend, offering up-to-the-minute updates as to which of the two films is in the lead over the ongoing weekend.  For example, Exhibitor Relations tossed out a Facebook post stating that "Chronicle is holding off The Woman In Black again today, up by about 500k, but the lead could shrink tomorrow. Still too close to call."  I've written now and then about how the spin and 'campaigning' in mainstream Hollywood is similar to the political scene in Washington DC, and it certainly applies in this case.   Like many of the political primaries being waged all over the country in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, weekend box office is not a winner-take-all proposition.  Just as most states' (38 out of 50) delegates are divided up based on percentage of total votes for a given candidate, the film that takes the number 01 spot does not get all of the ticket sales for the weekend.

Just as the political journalists insist on turning every state's primary into a win/lose proposition, entertainment pundits, even box office writers who damn-well should know better, insist on turning each weekend's box office into a horse-race.  It's easy to say that Rick Santorum 'won' the Iowa caucus last month.  It's harder to explain that since he only got six more votes than Mitt Romney they will both be getting six delegates from that state in this summer's GOP nominating convention.  And both Chronicle and The Lady In Black will both be pretty big success stories after this weekend, no matter where they fall in the top ten rankings.  Regardless of which one gets to boast "The number one movie in America!" in their TV spots this week, they are both prime examples of quality genre fare on a reasonable budget with relatively pinpoint marketing efforts.  There is absolutely no need to call one of them 'The Winner!' (and by default declare the other film 'The Loser!').  Movies are not a competitive sport, something that gets missed in the rush to declare how well this weekend's films performed compared to the same weekend last year.  Individual films are judged as failures or successes upon opening weekend based on their box office performance measured against the production budget, marketing costs, probable legs, and reasonable expectations.  Chronicle and The Woman In Black were in competition only with themselves this weekend.  And by that standard, they are both 'The Winner!'.

Scott Mendelson

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