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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

How Box Office Analysis Should Be Done… A Personal View

A discussion about box office analysis broke out on Twitter and Lindsey Bahr asked: “serious question that could sound snarky: how do you think box office should be analyzed?”

Because 140 characters is rough and torturing people who follow me is not my idea of fun (even if I do it too often in haste), I threw this together as a quick answer. I reserve the right to add more ideas on the issues later.

Box office is not a horse race. Coming in first does not assure a win. Nor does coming in low on the Top Ten chart assure failure.

Expectations are rarely consistent, often loaded with politics, and not relevant to the meaning of the box office facts.

Almost all box office reporting is done on the basis of estimates. Readers deserve to know this.

Friday matinee numbers are only relevant as news in very, very limited circumstances. When an outlet reports anything, they must account for the likelihood that any report they make could define the issue for any number of readers. Box office is not a live reporting event, like a car chase or election. In theory, analysis as constant and detailed as election coverage might have value… but no one does it.

International is, in most cases of studio releases, going to be the majority of theatrical box office. It is not an afterthought or a non-issue. Budgets over $100m all take international into account as a primary issue. Any decent analysis must take this into account.

There are many financial steps in the revenue path of a studio’s theatrical release. No box office analyst ever knows them all. But familiarity with the elements involved and the generalities of how they tend to add up is a fundamental of box office analysis. Just reporting domestic theatrical is fine… but a very limited pursuit and should be contextualized as such.

Pronouncements about the success and failures of films must be more than a balancing act between the spin by various studios. It is the job of every studio publicist and press-chatting exec to spin the best version of their performance and often, to create perspective by tearing down the performance of others. Truth is a relative thing in these exchanges. Studios are not required to offer accurate production budgets, back-end percentages, marketing budgets, various deals that may cut the bottom line or add to it… and rarely offer any of it, unless it benefits their spin in a significant way. Analysis demands a deeper look.

Regurgitating the verbal press releases of studios about weekend box office is acceptable if clearly marked as such. Pretending it is editorial insight is a lie.

Box office analysis, when done professionally, is a serious effort to analyze a very high-profile, high-cost, high-risk business. It is not a blood sport nor is it an extension of the publicity machine.

One Response to “How Box Office Analysis Should Be Done… A Personal View”

  1. Hallick says:

    I’d love to see the retirement of “so-and-so film beat such-and-such movie over the weekend” as if the “loser” was going to have to fork over the millions of dollars THEY made to the winner and crawl home with a set of steak knives and a year’s supply of Turtle Wax.

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