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Jan 6, 2009

Recycling Rocks: A Rant in the Key of E

Editor's note: Tuesday's Twelve Tags will be posted later today. In the meantime, get to know some vintage Fletch (secondary note: the box office figures listed were pre-2008, so no Dark Knight, etc.)...

Did you know that the list of top grossing movies at the box office looks like this?

1. Titanic $600.79 m
2. Star Wars $461.00 m
3. Shrek 2 $436.47 m
4. E.T. $434.97 m
5. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace $431.09 m
6. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest $419.65 m
7. Spider-Man $405.85 m
Box office figures thanks to http://www.boxofficereport.com/

Wait a sec! That's right - this list means nothing at all! See, the lists of "Top Grossers" don't typically adjust for inflation. When adjusted for inflation, Gone With the Wind becomes the all-time champ (with $1112.2 m) - without doing so, GWTW comes it at 71st. 71st! What kind of a system is this?

I've long had a problem with the use of weekend (and total) box office sales (dollars) as a means of measuring success. Look at the other forms of mass entertainment media and their main statistical measuring sticks: in the music industry, volume is the KPI, with special designations at 500,000 and 1,000,000 units. Television uses Nielsen ratings, which, flawed as they may be, are still a measure of total viewers, not an arbitrary, inflation-prone stat such as advertising dollars. The publishing industry also uses total units, like the music industry.

So, the obvious question is: Why doesn't Hollywood use "number of tickets sold" as its measuring stick? The short answer is "I don't know." I can speculate a number of reasons, from the standard "that's the way it has always been done" (likely). Another possibility is that the general public responds more to "instant history" and is thus more readily influenced to see a film if it is amongst the "Top 10 of All-Time" as opposed to being "Number 212 All-Time in Tickets Sold!" (more interesting, but not as likely).

Whatever the reason, I have been and forever will be bothered by the current tracking system, and unfortunately, I don't know what can be done about it (if anything). I do have the tiniest bit of good news, though: this site lists all movies with number of tickets sold all time. The list looks very similar to the "Adjusted Box Office" list, as it should be. One can only hope that someone or some group of "them" uses some common sense and picks up on this method in the future.

9 people have chosen wisely: on "Recycling Rocks: A Rant in the Key of E"

Sarah said...

The site I use for such stats is BoxOfficeMojo.com.

People pay a lot of attention to which film grosses the most money over each weekend -- but the top slot usually goes to the movie appealing to the lowest common denominator (comedy or kids movie) with the most recent opening date. Certain films with a naturally smaller audience -- serious dramas, foreign films, arthouse films -- simply cannot be judged by that standard. And what about those films that are more successful abroad than in the domestic market? (I'm thinking of "The Golden Compass" in particular.) How do those films fit into the broader spectrum?

David S. said...

not 1112.2 Million, its 1.1122 billion.

Fletch said...

Sarah - your point about foreign box office take rings true. It's weird how a film could bomb in North America, make a billion overseas and still somehow be seen as a failure locally.

David - I know. Pretty sure I did that just for consistency's sake and to demonstrate the point. 1112 million looks more impressive next to 400 million compared to 1.1122 billion. Thanks for the accuracy, though.

Anders said...

I was of the opinion the dark knight was second now.

Irrelevant point though.

Daniel Getahun said...

Great question - are ticket sales really that hard to count? Plus, it would take into account different prices in different cities. But I guess the studio would have to do the math, then, and figure how much they got back in their pocket. Don't want to put them out or anything.

Fletch said...

Glad you're on board with me, Daniel. Too bad it'll probably never happen. Bastards. I guess the more surpising thing is that the recording industry doesn't count solely in dollars - just about everyone does, including the gaming industry.

For shame. I'm soooooo sick of everyone acting shocked every time an insignificant box office record (highest Arbor Day opening ever!) is broken. Uh, yeah folks - see, there's this thing called inflation...

Daniel Getahun said...

And beyond that, movies are opening on Wednesdays (often at 12:00 AM Wed morning) and on 3-4 screens per theater. It's all about the opening weekend these days. Titanic sat on top for like 15 weeks. I'm pretty sure TDK didn't last more than 3. That's about all the evidence you need.

Fletch said...

All good points, but remember that Titanic opened up in late December and sailed atop the charts through March or so, while TDK opened in blockbuster-heavy July (the land where few movies last more than one week atop the charts) and reigned for at least 4 weeks. Not bad at all.

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