It’s a virtual Thunderdome of conflicting opinions, which is what the major media reporting on box office numbers would have you believe. There are the major established studios, reporting their weekend estimated box office numbers every Sunday morning, then releasing the entire week of actual numbers on the following Friday. It is a process that was established decades ago and represents the only way that the public, your local news channels, the morning news, and sites like Box Office Mojo, can determine if a movie was a success or a failure.
Over the last year, the major media outlets have found a new villain in the saga of box office reporting, namely Netflix and Prime Video — for these Hans Grubers of Box Office reporting have been doing something that has both incensed the established media companies, but made them jealous at the same time.
That something? Is actually nothing.
Companies like Netflix and Amazon aren’t reporting bupkis. Because why should they? Why let the public know that The Irishman won’t cross $10 million when so many of Scorcese’s films didn’t get out of bed for less than fifty? Why admit that 6 Underground, the $150 million plus Michael Bay action film starring Ryan Reynolds will be lucky to net more than five? In a world where box office defines success, isn’t it better for everyone to simply use marketing and publicity to get people to see a movie versus having a black mark hanging over your film because of some number that doesn’t make anyone happy?
The streamers were smart. They are. They’re doing it.
But that’s not the story. The story is that every single major media company releasing films theatrically would prefer to not have to report box office. The major networks and cable channels would prefer to not have Nielsen reporting on how many people watch their shows or watch it later on demand. The President of the United States, for that matter, would prefer there was no such thing as polls. Or approval ratings.
Because when there’s no metric, you can tell the world that your movie is the most successful movie ever.
The funny thing, though, is that so much is tied up into this archaic concept of box office reporting and television ratings. What a movie makes after it’s in theaters is directly tied to how well it does in theaters. Some of that is based on your favorite cable movie channels and streaming services and Redbox kiosks needing any metic to define the success of a movie. The Today Show on Monday morning needs something to go off of, so they can tell everyone what the top movies at the box office was, so that more people will continue to see it that next week.
And because box office is so damn important, sometimes the tactics for tallying and reporting box office can be, well, how do we say this…?
Here’s what a lot of people don’t know about box office reporting. Every Sunday morning, all the studios tally their box office numbers from the previous Friday and Saturday; these numbers come from the theaters so they’re generally real and exact. A studio will then take those numbers and using past trends and data, project what the Sunday numbers will be. Usually those numbers drop somewhere between 20% and 30% from Saturday’s numbers.
But here’s what most people don’t know. A studio can report whatever the hell they want on Sunday. If they’re hoping for a number one spot at the box office; a proclamation that they can use in marketing banners on the following Monday through Friday, they can engineer such a thing if they so choose. If they know that their major competing title is nipping at their heels, they can simply over-estimate their Sunday numbers so they can come out on top.
Because being on top means that the Today Show tells the world your movie was number one at the box office.
On Monday, you’ll actually report the real numbers. They’ll probably be less. Maybe they’ll mean you were only the second biggest movie at the box office. But that won’t matter. Because as far as anyone’s concerned, you were the number one movie last weekend at the box office.
It’s a lot of work and a lot of shiny objects being held up to the American public. It’s, dare we say, fake news.
The reality is, every single media company would prefer that box office and ratings and even Rotten Tomatoes disappeared forever. They could go about their business, proclaiming their movie was the #1 Kids Film with Talking Animals at the box office, or the #1 Action Movie Directed by Michael Bay and leave well enough alone. No one could torpedo the success of a film and no one could contradict the social media banners proclaiming whatever the heck they wanted to proclaim. Success and failure would fade into the background, and those box office black eyes would be a thing of the past.
Yes, the established players wish the everything would become nothing, which is exactly how Netflix and Amazon are playing it.
Thing is, everyone else would like to play it that way, too.
The question is, just how long will it be until no one is playing at all?