THE BLOG

Box Office Records: Don't Believe the Hype

11/01/2016 13:45 GMT | Updated 09/01/2017 10:12 GMT

Box office records are the Holy Grail of Hollywood, a marker of whether or not a film is successful, and often a barometer with which to measure the life span of a franchise. If a cinematic property fails as a commercially viable product then the plug is pulled (until, of course, the inevitable reboot). Simply put, losing money - or not making enough to fill the TARDIS-like pockets of corporate suits - often spells certain doom for the continuation of a film series (#johncarter #judgedredd). Success is measured in economic gain rather than critical praise (#transformers #fastandthefurious).

Films that reportedly decimate box office records are guaranteed to whet the appetites of company directors and serve to further promote a movie as a 'must-see' event. What better way to advertise a film as worthy of our time and money than to dangle the carrot of box office triumph as you survey the ever-expanding ocean of media to select your next entertainment package? I mean, it must be good if it's made so much lolly! Right?

Of course, using box office receipts as a sign of a film's intrinsic value is not a new phenomenon, but a tried and tested method utilised as a key advertising component in the vast chain of marketing resources. But do not be fooled: box office records are fraudulent statistics, propaganda by any other name, and should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (TFA), we are told, has been laying waste to box-office records since its release in December. The first victim to the power of the force was Jurassic World, a film that held the record for largest global opening weekend for less than six months. Since then, other records have fallen by the wayside, including: the largest four-day total; the fastest film to reach $1 billion; biggest Disney international opening; highest grossing film of all-time in North America (surpassing Avatar along the way); and a welter of other records. Based upon these statistics, TFA should be sitting comfortably at number one, or thereabouts, in the history books.

Not so. I briefly commented upon this in my last post, but I think this deserves further attention considering that box office receipts and records are false and misleading when one readjusts commercial performances according to inflation. (Such blatant distortion of facts reminds me of my father who repeatedly harkens back to his halcyon days when a pint of beer was only 10p without mentioning that wages were only five pounds a week).

Critics marvelled at the James Bond film, Skyfall, as it surpassed all previous contenders to become the first billion dollar film in British history. And that is true, from a certain point-of-view. But once we readjust for inflation, Skyfall's box office performance is almost half that of Thunderball, which remains literally the most economically successful Bond film in history. To be sure, Skyfall is still a monumental success story in many ways - it is currently ranked as the number three Bond film in history and demonstrated that rebooting the franchise with Daniel Craig in the tuxedo was a smart manoeuvre. But inflationary readjustment means that the first billion dollar Bond film was actually the first Bond film, Dr. No, which raked in over $1.5 billion in 1963. In fact, there are only two Bond films that have failed to breach the coveted $1 billion dollar mark (The Man with the Golden Gun and The Living Daylights).

Before that, critics rejoiced in the success of the Harry Potter series. According to Katie Franklin of The Daily Telegraph, Harry Potter had succeeded where many spies, assassins and femme fatales had failed: by bringing James Bond to his knees (in box office terms). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1562834/Harry-Potter-films-bigger-than-James-Bond.htm Franklin reports that the Potter Films reached a global figure of $2.2 billion whereas the Bond series has only managed $2.8 billion. Nonsense. Piffle. Once again, readjusting for inflation, the Bond films have raked in $5,628,632,900 (that's over five trillion dollars!). Harry Potter's coffers are but a drop in the ocean comparatively.

So, then, where does TFA stand in real money? According to box office mojo, the film is ranked at number 18 on the all-time box office charts once inflationary adjustment is calculated. Despite the fact that the first prequel film, The Phantom Menace, had been almost universally maligned since its opening in 1999 - a fact complicated by many of my students and other fans who cherish the prequels - TFA has not yet surpassed the box office standing of Episode I while Jurassic World does not even break into the top twenty.

Not that this means that TFA is not an economic triumph. It will surely pass The Phantom Menace soon, if it has not already done so. And it is one of two films in the top 20 that was produced this side of the new Millennium. But still standing stoically at the apex of financial success as the number one film in history is Gone with The Wind, a remarkable achievement given that that record has stood for over seven decades. The second film is, of course, the first Star Wars film released, retitled A New Hope in 1980 (over $1.5 trillion!).

So, next time you hear about box office records, take a step back. And don't believe the hype.

Figures from boxofficemojo.com