"Film X brought in 500000000000 dollars it's opening week:"-how do they know?

I thought that a film was rented for a given amount, like 25k per wk/day/etc… So, if a film grosses 50 million does that it mean that it was at 2000 theaters, given a 25k price tag? If so, don’t distributors already know how much revenue will be made, quite well in advance, so a media announcement is already old news? If so, doesn’t that mean that there is no real way to tell how many people actually watched and liked the movie? In other words, 2000 theaters rent Ishtar. 50 people are at the matinee performance, and stick around to bad mouth the movie, and it bombs viewer-wise, but the theaters still have to pony up the 25K. Next week, no theater wants it, send the dog back, so it would bring in 76 dollars, but even bombs still have a decent percentage of first week revenues, iIRC. How does it really work?


The studio gets a percentage of the ticket sales as well as an upfront rental fee. This is why tickets are sold for specific movies at multiplexes rather than just having a general “admit one” ticket.

Are you asking how they get the data? The theaters tell them. It’s probably done by computer now, but when I was in the bidness we called in the box office totals every night.

“AC Nielsen EDI, your theater code please?”

Several ago the old Wall Street Journal reported that the Monday figures were just marketing hoax; that the real first approximations were not even tallied until Thursday.

What wheeljack said. I don’t actually know what they did with them, but if you didn’t have your totals ready when the home office called at the end of the night you were due for a squawking at. At some point we’d progressed to faxing them in and by the time I’d left early/mid-90s they were able to get a nightly count via very slow 486 computer. The way they have things now I’m pretty sure they can get a ticket-by-ticket count the minute each one is sold, how much it sold for, and the height, weight, and eye color of who bought it.

No. It means that people actually bought $50 million worth of tickets. Exhibitors pay the studios a percentage of the gross on a sliding scale that can start as high as 95% in the first week or so, dropping down over the length of the run to average out at roughly 50% for most films.

As others have explained, theaters report their ticket sales to the corporate head office and reporting services like Nielsen and Rentrak every night. I’m not up on the latest technology, but with computerized ticketing systems and the Internet, they could be reporting hourly or even in real time these days. But since studios and places like Box Office Mojo still often speak of “estimated” weekend totals in Monday news stories, it could be that some theaters still fax or phone their numbers in, delaying the final totals.

Little Nemo: Do you have a cite for the upfront fee? I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but I don’t think it’s very common.

janeslogin: Although as recently as a decade ago, when most box office info was still not automated, the early estimates were not very reliable, as technology has advanced, the tendency has been to greater accuracy faster.

I believe that there’s either a base fee plus percentage, or a percentage with minimums. We live in a very small town, and the theater manager here has explained that he can lose money on a low-attendance movie even without counting overhead.

Another factor is that the theater has to pay for shipping to get the reels (those that still use film, that is). On a hot movie, that’s overnight shipping on a very heavy, bulky box of film. I believe the local manager mentioned paying $400 just in shipping costs to get one recent movie. Little Nemo might be thinking about that, too.

I’ve never worked in a commercial theatre (you’d be better asking Wheeljack) but I’ve handled rentals for institutional viewings so I know there’s usually a base minimum fee which you pay even if nobody buys a ticket.

Ah, there’s the problem. Instituitional viewing charges are totally different from commercial theater operations.

What you’re reporting is actual ticket sales, meaning how many adults, children, seniors, etc. Total dollars taken in in tickets.

As for how films are rented when I was in the business about 20 years ago it was a sliding scale based on the newness of the film and how powerful the film company was and how many theater companies in the city were vying for business. If it was really cut-throat they could demand I think 100% of the box office for an opening weekend of something and the theater would have to decide if it was going to have “legs” and be enough of a popcorn movie for them to make any money back on it. Some chains would risk waiting a week to get it for “only” 90 or 80% of the profits and hope people were still wanting to see it then. Our theater happened to get a super big break one year because we got “Hoop Dreams” I think 4th or 5th run for almost nothing right when the Oscar Buzz kicked into gear and we made our budget for the year in just a couple weeks. It’s a total crap shoot.

Another shifty deal some chains are able to make with studios is to agree to show ALL their product. One chain in town had a deal to show ALL Disney product. Which on the face of it seemed like a golden deal because they were guaranteed to have all the animation, etc. Keep in mind they were contractually obligated to show every piece of crap like: “Cabin Boy” and…I was going to say “Space Jam” but that was Warner Brothers. You get the idea though.