Talk to me about opening weekends

I don’t understand the whole “opening weekend” thing for movies.

Firstly, it seems to me that the opening weekend is pretty much unique in terms of how useless it is for judging how good a movie is, since by definition it’s the only weekend when no one knows. The number of people who see a movie on the opening weekend seems to me only to be an indicator of how good the publicity for the movie was, not how good the movie is. Yet it seems to be routinely used in the US as a major measure of a movie.

Secondly, even assuming that opening weekend box office figures are only used as a judge of commercial success, how accurate a measure is it? Is it the case that for most movies, low opening weekend numbers translate into low numbers overall?

Thirdly, I wonder if there are maybe two types of movies: movies that are designed to be good (judged solely on the movie itself), and movies that are designed to make a splash so that they become the trendy thing everyone sees when they come out, but which are not seriously expected to be something you would seek out to watch, once the initial wave of publicity is over. If that’s the case then I guess I can see how (as a commercial matter) opening weekend numbers would mean something for the second type of movie.

Oh, and fourthly, surely few people would go to the movies twice in a weekend. And surely for a lot of people the decision to go to a movie comes first, and the decision as to which movie they see comes second. So wouldn’t that mean how well a movie does on its opening weekend is going to be - in significant part - highly dependent on whether there are other heavily marketed movies that open on the same weekend?

Crowds, long lines, and audiences who are way too “into it.” I used to be that kind when I was young and stupid, but, today, hell no. I’ll wait till the furore dies down, and the audiences have gotten over the cat-call and “Hell yeah!” stage.

The only thing that matters to studios is the number of tickets sold, and studios get a bigger cut of opening weekend sales than any other time (90%, IIRC). So a good opening weekend can go a long way to make a profit for the film. It’s a pretty good guide to the film’s commercial success. There was a time where a film could do poorly at first and then catch on over time,* but because of the big investment in films these days, a studio can’t wait for this to happen. So the two big signs of success are the opening weekend and how much the film drops the second weekend.

There are some movies that are not designed to be blockbusters, but they are not where the major studios are putting their main effort. But even those are in only theaters for a short time, so it’s a good idea to try to get a big opening.
*It used to be that a film only showed on a handful of screens the first weekend – maybe one theater per city.