If you've read this site for any length of time, you've heard me claim about the constant reporting of what's basically called cumulative box office. Cumulative box office is basically the total weekend box office of all films currently in theaters. It's the kind of statistic that presumes that box office is a team sport, rather than a solo enterprise. It's the stat that led to the whole 'great movie-going slump' of 2005, wherein various box office pundits screamed that movie going was doomed because the cumulative weekends were down from the same respective weekends in 2004, never mind that different movies were being released in summer 2005 compared to summer 2004. Since then we've had any number of 'slumps!', usually during periods when we had more smaller, lower-budget films instead of non-stop tent poles every weekend. This weekend we're going to hear a lot of talk about how this Thanksgiving is the biggest Thanksgiving ever by around $20 million. That's terrific news for the industry I suppose, especially if you're the part of the industry releasing The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn 2 or Skyfall. But if you're the part of the industry that's releasing Rise of the Guardians, you're probably not having a very good Thanksgiving.
The numbers are still rolling in, but it looks like Rise of the Guardians will be Dreamworks Animation's lowest-grossing opening in many years. With about $22 million for the Fri-Sun and $33 million for the five-day, it's five-day gross, let alone its three-day figure, would be the lowest Fri-Sun opening for DWA since Flushed Away ($18 million) back in 2006. Among all DWA debuts since 1998, its five-day and three-day figures would both rank 17th out of 25. I bring this up not to embarrass Dreamworks (there will be time to analyze the weekend tomorrow) but to point out the obvious silliness with treating the film industry as a collective whole unit when discussing box office. If your film is performing well, you're thrilled. If your film is tanking, you're not so thrilled, even if the pundits are celebrating a record cumulative weekend. During the great slump, I'm sure Warner Bros. was devastated by the news considering how well their summer films (Batman Begins, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Dukes of Hazzard) were performing. On the other hand, during that 'great' summer of 2004, I'm sure Paramount wasn't too thrilled with the relative under-performances of The Manchurian Candidate and The Stepford Wives, both of which couldn't pass $60 million despite star-filled casts. As I've said any number of times, box office isn't poker, it's blackjack. Every film is competing only with itself and every studio cares only about whether their film is doing well in the marketplace.
20th Century Fox is thrilled this weekend because Life of Pi may crack $30 million over the holiday weekend when $20 million was arguably a pipe dream. Film District has to be a little surprised that Red Dawn isn't just not tanking but opening just under $20 million. But Dreamworks Animation is devastated because Rise of the Guardians will be one of the lowest-grossing debuts in their 25-film history. That the industry will have a 'record Thanksgiving box office' makes for nice headlines, but it's a meaningless statistic when your film is the one that tanks.