Monday January 24, 2011
Can Boxoffice.com Predict Our Moviegoing Ways?
I don't know if I was late to Box Office Magazine's Web site, boxoffice.com, or if Box Office Magazine, in print since the 1920s, was late to the Web, but I discovered the site last November and have visited it occasionally since. Along with the usual suspects (weekend estimates/actuals), it displays more modern indicators of moviegoer interest: Facebook (“Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon” already has 3.8 million fans), Twitter (don't mess with Justin Bieber) and Most-Viewed Trailers (the last installment of “Harry Potter”: by far).
What intrigued me the most, though, was a section called Long Term Projections. Here's a screenshot I took last November, which includes projections of films all the way to “No Strings Attached”:
Table 1: Boxoffice.com's Long-Term Projectons: Nov-Jan
I was curious to see how predictable we are.
And ... we're getting there. But not yet.
Here's a chart of boxoffice.com's opening weekend predictions versus the actual opening-weekend grosses, sorted by how well a movie did against the prediction:
Table 2: Opening Weekend Projections vs. Actuals (in millions)
So boxoffice.com got one exactly right (“The Fighter”). It was within 10 percent for four of the 20 movies, within 25 percent for nine of the 20. It was off by more than 50 percent for four of the films, and off by more than 100 percent for one film.
“True Grit” has certainly lived up to its name. It was supposed to fold out of the gate but started strong. Plus it's not fading. (More on that later.) That same wekeend in December, “Little Fockers” opened slightly bigger, with $30 million, but against a predicted $45 million. Plus it's kind of sputtered. (More on that later.)
The bigger bombs, against the long-term projections, are “The Dilemma,” “Gulliver's Travels,” “How Do You Know” and “The Tourist.” What do these films have in common? With the exception of “Gulliver's,” they're all vaguely funny/vaguely serious films aimed at grown-ups. Plus they all received bad reviews. (More on that later.)
As for how well boxoffice.com predicted each film's total grosses? Obviously it's a little early for some of these, but let's take a look:
Table 3: Total Gross: Projections vs. Actuals (in millions)
Only one film, “Harry Potter,” is within 10% of the prediction. That one will creep closer to 100% but not close enough. It's already running out of steam. “Tron” won't make the prediction, either, but it could crawl to within 10%. Of the other 11 films below “Tron,” only “No Strings Attached,” which just opened, has a chance to come close to the prediction. The others are floundering, listing, or have already sunk. (I had to look up “The Next Three Days” to even remember what it was.)
Again, boxoffice.com completely underestimated “True Grit,” which, despite grossing almost twice as much as the site predicted, is still going strong. This past weekend it finished in fifth place with another $8 million, down only 27%. Next weekend it'll probably catch “Little Fockers.” Did anyone see that coming in November? A film by the Coen Bros., who have never had a film gross more than $75 million, outperforming “Fockers,” whose previous film grossed $279 million in 2004 dollars? That sound you hear, by the way, is the sound of me smiling.
Before signing off, let me add two more tables. They're the same two tables as above but with one additional column: the Rotten Tomatoes top critics rating for each film (“fresh” films in red):
Table 4: Opening Weekend Projections vs. Actuals (with RT scores)
Table 3: Total Gross: Projections vs. Actuals (with RT scores)
It's a small sample size but quality seems to matter—as I've argued here and here and here. And everywhere. Making a quality film and releasing it wide may not guarantee big bucks; but you're almost guaranteed that the film will do better than you, or boxoffice.com, thinks.