Box Office takings versus good films
I was having a discussion online the other day about Paranormal Activity and I was talking about how the film wasn't as good as the hype suggests. Someone countered with the box office takings for that weekend, I'm not sure if it was the opening weekend or not, and used that as a retort. So? I said. What's that got to do with how good the film is? The debate reached stalemate.
You see box office takings have next to nothing to do with the quality of a film and how good it actually is and has everything to do with marketing, release scheduling, cinema scheduling, and above all convenience. Box office takings are a product of the whole Hollywood machine and mean little with regards quality.
Opening weekend for a film is about the film that achieves the highest numbers in the following areas:
The number of marketing instances that are seen or heard
The number of multiplexes that are showing the film
The number of screens that a multiplex is showing the film in
Those are the key areas to getting the biggest return on a film. If your film can hit all those marks then you're more than likely going to walk away with a top spot that weekend.
It's not just the case for opening weekend either, after that these three factors are still the major players in how many people are going to see a film and therefore how much money it will continue to make.
There are two factors here that others will leap in with, what about critics and word of mouth?
Well in my experience the percentage of overall audience members who actually listen to and continually act on critics recommendations isn't overwhelming. It's significant, but it's not the driving majority.
Word of mouth is a factor that does influence a film's takings, but people have to have seen the film in order to start telling others about it, and it has to have polarised their views to an extreme in order for them to either be evangelistic about it or to denounce it to the ground. Unless a film has really pushed their feelings to an extreme either way, they will tend to not offer or push an opinion until asked and then it can be okay, good, and so on.
Now remember, with word of mouth we aren't talking about critics, this is about a member of the public meeting their friend for coffee or lunch and then launching into a warning about not going to see a film, or telling them they have to.
The other point made there is that people have to have seen the film in order to influence others, even if they are polarised in their views enough to start waxing lyrical about the film or denouncing it in standard conversation, they have to have seen it. That means at opening weekend word of mouth has little impact, it's the following one or two weekends time that it builds. Even then, I don't view it as a driving factor.
It becomes a lot clearer when you look at the habits of cinema-goers around you, and of course your own. I can't use mine as a model but talking to friends and readers and understanding their cinema going behaviours it becomes much more clear that a film gaining their money is a process that doesn't always include quality.
Many people have a set night or nights per week for their cinema trip, whether this be a Thursday evening, a Friday night, or the entire weekend, they usually have a night set aside to go. Bear in mind that this night might not even be per week, many go on a per month basis.
More than that they often have their preferred cinema too. Those who like more independent or foreign films will have theirs, and the majority of families and mainstream entertainment cinema goers will have theirs, the multiplex more often than not.
The cinema chosen isn't always about type, within both those groups of independent cinemas or mainstream multiplexes there is the fact that people have their own favourite cinema, whether that's because of distance, parking, screens, food, perhaps yes, even what regularly shows.
Already it's clear that we're limiting the choice of what's available to choose, and that's before we've actually looked at what's on in the cinema that has been chosen. Of course there are those that look to see what's on and go to the cinema that it's showing at, I know I'm one of those people who will travel to watch something, and I know a lot of the Filmstalker readers are too, but we aren't the majority.
So for this type of person their choice has been limited to what's showing on their designated day at their usual cinema. Now it comes down to the film choice and that's further limited by what type of film they want to see that night.
Perhaps now it comes down to a decision based on the films themselves, but just the ones being shown in that cinema at the same time, and these are judged against each other, and that choice is affected by what's caught their eye with the marketing - tag lines, poster quotes, bus adverts, newspapers, etc. - who's headlining the films, what mood they are in, if it's a date, the age and preferences of the people with them, any children, etc.
Now this isn't an exact model of how people make their decisions. You may be one of the people who will go to where the film you want to see is playing, or you may make some different choices from those above, but for the majority of tickets sold for the box office films, this is what happens. This is how a film makes big box office money.
It's very clear now how little quality of film plays in this process, very little, and the biggest factor remains the number of multiplexes showing the film and the number of screens they've decided to show it on, sheer availability.
This is why I don't rate box office takings against how good a film is, and how successful has little bearing on quality. Look at what is number one this weekend.