MCN Blogs
David Poland

By David Poland

2010: The Year In Box Office (Part 1)

The tickets sold game… such clap trap.

The stat we do know is overall sales. The cost per ticket is estimated by NATO on a quarterly basis. How accurate is it? Unknown. How accurate is it when you are looking for any specificity or cause-and-effect? Worthless.

Simple logic tells us that a $400 million domestic gross for Toy Story 3 vs a similar gross for Transformers 2 means more tickets sold for TS3. Why? More tickets priced for kids. Of course, it’s possible that the 3D bump balances out or more than balances out the numbers of tickets sold at a lower price. But the truth is… we don’t know.

We do know that Tickets Sold is The New Black in media coverage and that the ultimate self-promoting (and most often way off track) analyst, Rich Greenfield, will just keep beating that drum in order to be quoted. He’s quite literally making numbers up… based on broad stats that cannot be reduced down into the kind of detailed claims he frivolously makes. And his claim that studios have jumped into the 3D business to pump up the number of people going to the movies is simply wrong. It’s a cash business, not a tickets sold business. Domestically, Inception clearly sold fewer tickets than Harry Potter 7.0. But that’s the dream! Make a movie for adults and make more money from less tickets sold.

Anyway… back to earth…

If you want to know the big difference between 2009, the highest grossing year every, and 2010, start with this stat; Thirty-two $100 million domestic grossers in 2009… Twenty-five in 2010.

And is wasn’t like this led to a bunch of films grossing between $50m and $100m that just happened to fall short of the mark. There was a much bigger “middle class” in that gross range… but mostly in the 70s, well short of nine-figures.

In terms of gross, things are worse than they might seem, as the $10.5 billion figure being thrown around includes films released in 2009 that played into 2010… which includes $470 million of Avatar‘s $750m domestic gross, giving 2010 a near $200m bonus over last year on that film alone. 2011 won’t get that benefit. It will have a similar amount of holdover business aside from Avatar, but nothing to come close to matching Avatar.

But as I have always said, “It’s the movies, stupid.”

The audience shows up when they want to show up. They aren’t avoiding the theaters. It’s not that kind of proposition.

There were four $300m+ domestic releases this year, compared to three last year. But there were more $200m-$300m films last year.

There were ten $450 million grossing films worldwide both this year and last.

But there is no December title this year that’s going to get close to $200 million domestic… or, most likely, $400m worldwide. Last year, there were three.

The only November title to get there this year will be Potter… last year, there were two.

But what does this mean? Chicken Littles will scream that the screen is falling. But there is no logical indication of that. It’s the movies.

Was there a potential The Blind Side in the last couple of months that I didn’t notice? I don’t think so. Was there an Avatar that didn’t quite take off? Even reducing expectations significantly from Avatar to Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, Tron 2 and Narnia 3 didn’t get there… but would have really been a surprise had they gotten there.

And for me, this is the lesson. It’s not about quality… it’s about popularity. We can argue all day about how the two things match up or do not. But in the end, Inception can be a 100x better movie than 2012, but at the box office, Inception did only 6% better. Obviously, given a choice, every studio would prefer to have Inception (now that it proved to be a mega-grosser). But every studio would also want a 2012 on their schedule every November, no matter how embarrassing as a movie.

If you look at the movies at the top of the charts, you’ll see that it was adults, not kids, who seemed to show up less at the movies this year. Was it the recession or what it too many movies aimed at kids? Impossible to know. But last year, I see four of the Top Ten aimed at adults (The Hangover, Star Trek, The Blind Side, Sherlock Holmes) and this year, only Inception. (Pixar is age neutral… and obviously I am using a broad brush as to what “aimed at adults” means.)

The great irony of box office coverage at this time of year is that it echoes the ideals of Wall Street, not movie fans… that somehow, hitting the target of beating the grosses of the year before is the goal. It’s not. Max profitability is the goal… as ever. Critics often pay lip service to the idea of quality and how studios would be well served to embrace it. The meme of recent years was All Blockbusters and Little Hits. 2010’s answer to that was, Blockbusters, lots of mid-range box office ($40m – $100m), and most under $40m wide releases being seen as disappointing, even if they were profitable. But it’s not like audiences are trying to hit a number at the box office. Bigger numbers are coming for nichier product. And the things that don’t catch fire are deader than ever. Adam Sandler up, Never Let Me Go down. And the box office for movies that writers want to beat up, like The A-Team, is fine… they just spent too damn much on the picture.

There is nothing broken about the box office. There is no reason to panic. But the studios, which are always smarter than the media understands, need to continue to find ways to make it work at a price. There is plenty of audience for everyone… and for every delivery format.

Part Two: The Studios

Be Sociable, Share!

17 Responses to “2010: The Year In Box Office (Part 1)”

  1. IOv3 says:

    David, you once again TOOK A FUCKING SHOT AT INCEPTION! Jesus Hueva Christ and his brother Chico, 6% percent better is still better! Sweet fucking tap dancing Grocho. WHAT ARE YOU THINKING SOMETIMES?!?!?! OH JESUS! [passes out]

  2. NickF says:

    International #’s helped out a handful of those movies that had middling success in the $60-100 range. I think that’s what other people either tend to forget or are completely oblivious to.

    Budgets just continue to be outrageous for the most part. Wolfman, Iron Man 2, PoP, Robin Hood, Tron, Tangled (multiple re-do’s), and other animated movies cost a ludicrous amount of money.

  3. anghus says:

    i agree with dave on this. there are no real tragedies this year. but entertainment journalism has gone the way of the tabloid and continues to work on a ‘doomsday scenario’ mentality.

    everything’s going to end in a violent wave of destruction. it’s only a matter of when.

    people keep writing box office pieces as if the industry is about to implode.


    It’s fascinating when you just compare the numbers, see the subtle variances, and then read the entertainment reporters crying wolf every year. You would think no one made a dime in this business.

  4. Keil Shults says:

    We need more films like The Social Network. (waves wand)

  5. IOv3 says:

    One fucking TSN is fucking enough. Seriously, if we can have movies like TSN that really mean something then sure, but TSN is as empty as a broken toilet. I’d rather have more Black Swans, Winter’s Bones, King’s Speeches, and SCOTT FUCKING PILGRIMS over another Social Network. Seriously, TSN is a movie about very little that people believe to be about so much more, and that we need more of like a hole in the fucking head.

    So, yeah, I want movies to actually mean something or have some idea what they are encapsulating, instead of the writer of the film thinking of social networking being no different than a toaster.

  6. Great Scott says:

    I don’t think tickets sold is clap trap.It makes me cringe to hear The Hangover talked about as the biggest R rated comedy ever. We all know more people saw Beverly Hills Cop.

  7. IOv3 says:

    I have no idea why box office is not treated the same way as music and books via UNITS SOLD. Seriously, we are going to have to go this way eventually unless someone film beats Avatar before the 3D boom goes bust.

  8. Keil Shults says:

    employing pathetic similes and relying on Winter’s Bone to get your point across isn’t doing you any favors

    the use of profanity and capital letters was top-notch, though

  9. anghus says:

    i think the 3D boom ‘busted’ in terms of audience perception. there’s nothing exceptional about it anymore. there will always be ‘events’, but when you see Resident Evil, Gulliver’s Travels, The Green Hornet, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc all touting THE THIRD DIMENSION, it begins to lose it’s luster.

  10. IOv3 says:

    Keil, get a fucking sense of humor but this is the hot blog, where all of this, IS OH SO SERIOUS! Winter’s Bone is at least about something! There’s a meaning to it unlike TSN, because TSN is pretty much the Seinfeld equivalent of a movie. If you want finely crafted movies about nothing then you go right ahead there clever boy and have yourself a party. I own all of Curb on DVD and we all know that’s the better show as are SCOTT PILGRIM and INCEPTION much better movies. OH I FORGOT… THOSE MOVIES ARE TOO GOD DAMN LOUD FOR OLD FART ACADEMY MEMBERS! OH THE HUMANITY!

  11. bulldog68 says:

    Small note Dave, you said 2010 will have 25 100M grossers, but by my count I see 26 getting there, with Fockers, True Grit, and Narnia will get there too. By the end of this weekend it should be passed 85M and crawl passed the century mark in 2011.

    Yogi Bear has turned into a not-so-disastrous flick, moneywise that is, but ouch on Gulliver`s Travels. What I thought should be one of the easiest sells has been a true train wreck. If you has asked me I thought the box office outcome for Yogi Bear and Gulliver would have been flipped.

    Tangled has turned into a nice size hit and can actually flirt with 200M. I definitely think it will do the 190m-200m sweet spot that a lot of animated fair have hit. I have always found it a bit weird that of the 11 films that have grossed between those figures that 6 are animated, Monsters vs Aliens, Happy Feet, 2 Ice Ages, Madagascar 1 and Toy Story 1.

    And for IO, I expect to see a post of you giving the moviegoing public some dap for their good choices this season as promised. See your 2 posts below:

    (IOv3 says:
    December 26, 2010 at 10:55 am
    Okay Chris because seriously, I would give ridiculous amount of dap to the movie-going public for that bit of business.

    IOv3 says:
    December 26, 2010 at 11:14 am
    Sorry movie but this is a Coens brothers film. It will drop. It still may beat 74 million but this weekend is the high point. Now, it would be cool to think things have changed with the Coens, but this seems a bit more logical at this point in their box office history.

    It would be cool if, of all things, a western made them the most money domestically.)

    The only question remains whether Tron Legacy will be the first 40M+ December opener to not do $200M domestic, and from all appearances it may not get there.

  12. sanj says:

    i want James Cameron to remake Scott Pilgrim – its the only way the academy will take the movie seriously..

  13. IOv3 says:


    Seriously, the fucking baby boomers will go for fucking Avatar but not Tron? Really? These fucking people.

  14. bulldog68 says:

    Geez IO, chill dude, its New Years, mellow the fuck out.

  15. storymark says:

    I wonder if Transformers really is more of a draw for adults than Toy Story?

  16. Tim says:

    From the films I’ve seen in 2010, it seems that the 3D cool effects replaced all emotional value, not the type of trade-off audiences are craving. Toy Story 3 may have been good, but people flock towards Pixar whether the film is any good or not. (I noticed Pixar is all hush hush about their involvement in Tron Legacy, now that it is in financial trouble.). And Inception is still a big rip-off of Satoshi Kon’s Paprika.

  17. IOv3 says:

    Froggy, watch Christmas Vacation and stop taking everything so damn seriously.

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon