Monday, January 26, 2009

Box Office Tally vs. Total Tickets Sold

The New York Times had this wonderful article up a while back, and I saved it because it dealt with one of the topics surrounding movies that I feel passionate about: as much as Hollywood likes to tout how much money a movie makes, its box office take hardly determines its artistic value.

Furthermore, anyone with half an ounce of brain would quickly remark that it's not surprising that opening weekends get bigger and bigger every year, and that more and more movies pass the $100 million mark, once still considered a real sign of success. The inflationary effect on money is enough to explain that phenomenon.

What really would be interesting to know is, How many tickets did a movie sell? Not how much those tickets rang up for, but how many. How many people actually saw that movie? That would be interesting to know. Funny how studios don't feature those numbers more prominently:
WHAT a year for movie openings.

I mean, who could forget “Twilight”? Teenagers screaming for free tickets outside the dual-theater Westwood premiere here. Mayhem in the malls. Girls thirsting for Robert Pattinson. Box-office projections growing bigger and bigger as online vendors sold out theater after theater.

It was amazing. When all is said and done, maybe 24 million tickets will be sold to that movie, based on current sales. That makes it almost as big as, what?

“Patch Adams,” the No. 10 movie of 1998. Or roughly the size of “George of the Jungle,” which placed No. 13 the year before. Or any number of films that are fondly remembered as midsize hits.

Looking back, in fact, 2008 may be remembered as the year when Hollywood succeeded in redefining the Big Event.
Remember the high-heeled stampede toward “Sex and the City”? What a romp! Cosmopolitans. Bus tours. Girls’ nights out.

Eventually, about 22 million tickets were sold. That puts it on a par with “Steel Magnolias” in 1989 or “The First Wives Club” in 1996 — movies that played to about the same number of viewers, but did so with considerably less noise.

Even this year’s really big one, “The Dark Knight,” was never quite as big as it felt. Clear away the urgent reports about 6 a.m. screenings and Imax-size demand, and you are left, according to an always-sobering tally kept by the Box Office Mojo Web site, at, with the 26th-most-popular movie of all time, in terms of tickets sold.

Apparently, movie events that were once routine are now routinely treated as thrilling.
Inevitably, the weekend box-office numbers loomed larger and larger, even as fewer people were going to see the pictures.

According to Media By Numbers, a consulting company that tracks such things, admissions to theaters — adrift for years — are now about 3 percent behind last year’s count, even as box-office revenue is poised to top the $9.7 billion record set in 2007.
Pretty soon, even The New York Times is staking out “Twilight”-mania at a shopping center in suburban Philadelphia.

All not to be scooped on a movie that so far has had about as many viewers as the dimly recalled angel romance “Michael,” from 1996.

(At the same time, the population has been growing, so a movie with the same number of viewers is actually drawing a smaller chunk of the market. If you were to count the percentage of Americans who actually watched in a theater, “Twilight” was probably closer to the performance of “Congo,” a jungle thriller from the year before.)
As colossal as it seemed back in May, “Iron Man” was no “Twister.” The 1996 tornado film, that year’s No. 2, easily outsold the superhero, this year’s second-biggest event, 55 million tickets to 45 million.

And “Turner & Hooch,” from 1989, would have looked like a very big deal — more than a third bigger in ticket sales than Disney’s dog-movie-of-the-century “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” actually — if that sloppy old hound had slobbered on Tom Hanks in 2008.
Amazing isn't it?

I mean, last year's Iron Man and The Dark Knight were GIGANTIC hits (and the latter did make more than $500 million dollars in North America, the second movie ever to do so), but when you think that more people actually went to see Twister then Iron Man, and Twister is now all but forgotten, how soon will we forget about Iron Man... if it weren't for the inevitable sequel, that is.

Interesting how all these supposed mega-hits suddenly deflate when weighed against an index that doesn't change over time.

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