Are Box Office Receipts the best way to measure a movie's success?

I’ve never been convinced that Box Office Receipts, especially for the opening weekend, is a good guide for anything, but I am no statistician, and I admit there may be a genuine trend that can be read from it, or at least there may have been once.

But we now have changing movie-going trends - DVDs, home theatre, downloads, video-on-demand, cable - and they are all being released in those ways sooner and sooner after theatrical release.

Opening weekends don’t seem to have any relevance in my part of the world, but then though we are movie-goers like most people, in my experience we aren’t as avid and obsessive over it as Americans are (they having invented Hollywood and the mania that goes along with it).

As these alternative methods of watching new release movies increases in popularity, there has not been an accompanying level of lowering of expectations of Box Office Receipts as the definition of ‘success’.

I think that, though there’ll always be a reason for a fair chunk of people to go to the cinema occasionally, more and more are only going to abandon it in favour of home theatre. And I think it’s past time for the measurements of success to be way more seriously adjusted to accommodate for that fact than they currently are.

You forgot merchandising. :slight_smile:

I still figure that numbers at the box office would correllate well with DVD numbers, and the other things you mention, so it can still be used pretty accurately as a measuring stick.

Of course, that’s still a narrow measure of “success”.

Actual “popularity” of a movie would want to depend on “per screen” numbers, adjust for seasonal movie-going rates, etc.

Box-office is still good shorthand for it, though.

The thing about DVDs are that they have “legs” in perpetuity. People will continue to rent and buy these movies for another decade or five. And yet, the indicator of whether a movie was worth the expense of production seems to still be entirely based on how many Americans see it on Friday through Sunday of its debut.

It’s blatant nonsense, I say.

How well do you imagine that the success of the DVD mirrors the success of the movie?

From a business perspective, the U.S. theatrical release of a movie is rarely profitable for the applicable entity (studio, prodco, distributor, etc). Sometimes yes, usually not. The project goes into the black (officially, anyway) down the road, primarily through home video and foreign sales. More and more, the theatrical release is being viewed as the most elaborate element of the movie’s marketing campaign, to boost audience awareness so the home-video release is successful.

One complicating factor is that while a movie’s financial success is measured in the medium-to-long term, the typical movie executive has the lifespan of a mayfly. There is no benefit to them to release a modest break-even movie whose profits will be reaped by a successor regime.

There are efforts, as a result, to compress the profitability window somewhat. Two methods are common: first, accelerate the DVD release, such that the movie is on the shelf at Blockbuster 90-120 days after the primary theatrical run; and second, pad the production budget with creative accounting so the studio continues operating in the black even though the various movies look like they’re still lingering in the red. (Note that Hollywood has always engaged in the latter practice, though their methods been honed to even greater perfection recently; there’s no way, for example, that Evan Almighty really cost $175 million to produce.)

Given the complicated legal and financial shenanigans involved, I would say, with tongue only partly in cheek, that the only reliable way to know whether a movie is successful is whether or not the people involved continue to be employed.

Cervaise raises excellent points.

To expand on somethings.

Opening weekend gross. The numbers you see listed for the top ten are not true ‘apple to apple’ comparisons. For instance a movie makes 25 million dollars and another makes 5 million seems simple, movie A was much more successfull. But when you consider that movie A opened on 4000 screens and movie B was on 800 screens you see that they have almost the same per screen average. That number is key but usually not reported widely to the public. If you owned a two sceen theatre and had both movies, you wouldn’t notice a difference between the two films.

Which of the two films is more successful? Hard to tell, we have to know how much it really cost to produce.

Box Office success does not directly translate into DVD sales. Office Space, was a dud at the box office but really sold a lot of DVDs and Shrek 2 was huge at the box office but had really lack luster DVD sales.

But Paramount is still making money on “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Every year around Christmas time theatres rent prints so some films continue to generate income for much longer than you think.

An additional thing to consider is that the story on the weekend movie grosses is a nice way to fill 90 seconds on an otherwise news-free Sunday evening broadcast. It’s a timely little blip of news of at least margnial relevance and interest to people who have seen or are considering seeing one of the mentioned movies.

On the other hand, a more nuanced analysis of the comparative life-cycle success of the several movies released during a particular period is really only of interest to film industry news junkies.