Saturday, April 28, 2012

Another weekend, another perfect example of the utter stupidity of weekend-to-weekend box office comparison...

Granted, I'm going by unofficial weekend estimates based on the Friday box office figures, but it appears that the entire total gross of all films in the box office top-twelve this weekend will equal around $96 million.  This same weekend last year had a total top-12 gross of $145 million, meaning this weekend will be down by about 34%.  I guess according to the standards set by the 'official' box office punditry, that would mean that moviegoing may be in a slump, right?  I mean, weekend-to-weekend totals are down by nearly $50 million compared to 2011 on this specific weekend!  Oh... wait, what's that you say?  Last weekend had the debut of Universal's Fast Five, the much-anticipated fifth installment in the recharged Fast/Furious franchise?  You remember Fast Five, right?  Great reviews, strong marketing, popular franchise... all of these things led to a massive $86 million opening weekend, the biggest in Universal history.  Yes that's right, last year had Universal rolling the dice and successfully kicking off the summer season a week earlier than usual, and it paid off in spades.  So you have a weekend where one film last year made almost as much as the entire top-twelve films' total grosses from this year.  You mean we shouldn't be too surprised if the cumulative might of The Raven, Safe, The Pirates: Band of Misfits, and The Five-Year Engagement couldn't quite measure up to a blockbuster debut like Fast Five? The four openers should gross about $36 million combined over the weekend, or about what Fast Five alone made on its opening day.  Oh right, maybe, just maybe, it IS about the individual movies performing at levels that are judged based on the respective expectations of each specific picture after all!  Four small-ish pictures debuted with relatively small-ish grosses, and their combined might plus the various holdovers weren't enough to equal the juggernaut of a presold (and well-reviewed, natch) blockbuster sequel.

And what about next weekend?  Well, the first weekend in May last year had the $65 million debut of Thor, which led the charge for a top-12 total of $155 million.  How about the first weekend in May this year?  Well, there is a pretty solid chance that The Avengers will both gross $65 million on its first day and gross $155 million all-by-itself, thus guaranteeing that total weekend box office will be far higher for next weekend than it was for the same weekend last year.  The point of all of this is simple.  Using the 'total weekend gross' of a given weekend compared to the same weekend from a prior year is a foolish and detrimental way to judge the success of a movie-going weekend and/or any other portion (month/season/year/etc).  Whatever happens to drop in March 2013, there is a pretty large chance it won't be as massive as the $375 million-and-climbing success of The Hunger Games.  As a result, the entire cumulative box office for March and/or the entire second quarter of 2013 will likely take a big dive compared to 2012.  It won't mean we're in a slump.  It will, as it always does, merely mean that different movies are opening and/or grossing whatever each individual movie will gross.  Box office isn't a team sport.  Universal won't care that Disney's John Carter flopped if Battleship is a hit.  It's not poker. It's blackjack, where each film is individually competing against their own specific expectations designated by their production budget, marketing costs, and other 'anticipation' factors.  As always, box office analysis is and should remain focused on the individual movies and their grosses.

Scott Mendelson              

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