The Big Picture – Why 95% of Box Office Records are Irrelevant.

Just yesterday, I was browsing some movie websites when I kept hearing a similar claim – Pixar’s Inside Out is now the highest grossing film to ever not be in first place! An admittedly strange claim, but seemed true, right? Well, just a matter of hours later, it was disproven. For one, it actualy took first place after the actual numbers came in. Two, if adjusted for inflation, it only would’ve been in around 8th place or so. This is the reason why so many of these records that come out are simply irrelavent. Not only just because inflation often makes them blatantly untrue, but they’re just meaningless headlines that don’t affect the films bottom line at all. Because at the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is whether or not the film turns a profit in the long run.

Going back to Inside Out, many websites called it a disappointment that it didn’t land a first place debut. The absurdity of this is that the film opened to over $90M, far higher than its expectations and one of the highest Pixar debuts in years. Yet because it did slightly less than a more popular but completely different film, it was a “disappointment.” It’s worldwide gross has already topped $360M with a long way to go, meaning those clickbait headlines obviously don’t understand how successful the film really was.

Another good example was also from this summer, Avengers: Age of Ultron. Sure, it opened a bit lower than its predecessor, but it also made $191 million in 3 days. Only in Hollywood could a film make that amount of mone in such a short amount of time and still have it be considered a “letdown”. It isn’t even really unreasonable that it made less; it didn’t have the gimmick of seeing all those characters on screen for the first time and had some actually strong competition in the weeks before it, namely Furious 7.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that most of the time, articles and headlines about the box office don’t take into account that the only really important part of a movies performance is its final worldwide gross in comparison to its total marketing and production budget, not if it was the fourth highest grossing second May Tuesday since 2009. Not only this but inflation also undoes almost any box office record ever. Avatar did great business, but it isn’t the highest grossing film in US history. It’s number 14. Sure, that’s still a fantastic result, and is still the highest worldwide (though adjusting for inflation worldwide for films 20+ years ago can get quite tricky), its just not the highest ever.

Lest we forget overseas, however, where it seems like China has a new highest grossing film of all time every week and a half. Sure, the market is exploding but it should say “Transformers 9 is now the highest grossing film in China” not “Transformers 9 is now the highest grossing film in China of all time!“, because its only a matter of months until it is undone and makes the author look foolish.

I’ll admit, sometimes I can get caught up in all the craziness too, because the box office is an exciting market. When films like Jurassic World double or even triple what they were originally expected to, its easy to get caught up in how crazy those first few days are without taking the really important aspects of it into account. Somehow, Avengers: Age of Ultron is still being called a disappointment in the US despite making over $450M and more than five times its budget back worldwide.

Not to mention Mad Max: Fury Road, which opened well over its mid to high $30s expectations with an excellent $45M debut, but was widely considered ‘disappointing’ because it opened below Pitch Perfect 2, which also far surpassed expectations. Why is it that only the film in the number 1 spot can be impressive? Both films did excellent business for what they were. Ironically enough, Mad Max actually passed Pitch Perfect in worldwide numbers ($358 VS $278) but my point is, they both did really well and just because the more easily marketable comedy took first place is not relevant to the Big Picture.

I’m mostly writing this because of how often I see people who simply don’t understand any of this and go with all of the headline records that the internet and TV media love to spit out, despite them having huge asterisks next to just about all of them. Keep this in mind when Ant-Man doesn’t open as high as Guardians of the Galaxy next weekend and is considered “Marvels First Bomb!”….but more on that later.


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