A while back, I wanted to look at how important opening weekend was to total box office revenue. My theory was that it’s more important to crappy movies — i.e. movies that are reviewed poorly. My rationale is that if you’re releasing a bad movie, word of mouth will drive down future box office and your opening weekend will account for more of the total.
So how does quality of a movie affect the box office drop-off from opening weekend?
I wanted to create a chart that could help me pinpoint any trends. I came up with a grid which can help gauge how much of your total box office dollars you can expect to receive in your opening weekend by Metacritic score.
Up front to be honest, I’ll say that in the end, I’m not sure how useful the chart is, but we can gather some insights from it and confirm the general trend that better movies rely less on opening weekend.
How To Read the Chart
Left to Right – threshold for opening weekend as a percentage of total box office revenue decreases. As you move right, there is less reliance on the opening weekend; and by definition the % of movies that meet that threshold will increase to 100%.
Top to Bottom – the better the film is reviewed (as judged by Metacritic).
Color – the darker the box, the more movies meet the designated threshold at the top. Color corresponds to the % in the cell (darker being higher %).
So a darker green box, more left, means that a higher portion of films rely more heavily on the opening weekend. By definition, the cells will be darker on the right.
If bad movies are more reliant on opening weekend, then we’ll see more dark green at the top. And it should get lighter as we move down and right.
How It Can Be Used
- Say you have a basic expectation of total intake at the box office based on marketing spend and number of theaters. You could get a gauge on how much you expect to make the opening weekend based on what other similarly reviewed movies have done.
- Say you know what your movie made the opening weekend. You could get a gauge of what it will expect to do based on what similarly reviewed movies have done.
I started breaking them down into different success levels of total box office revenue. We’ll go from small to large.
Looking at Various Box Office Levels
Super Tiny Movies (Total Domestic Gross = $1-$5 million)
If you’re a small indie producer and plan to make a low budget film that gets limited release, there’s a fairly linear relationship between review and longevity at the box office.
Tiny to Small Movies (Total Domestic Gross = $1-$10 million)
Extending it to slightly more successful smaller films, we can see that for well-reviewed movies (>70 Metacritic), they rarely rely on opening weekend. But for poorly reviewed movies, they are extremely reliant on it — about 3/4 of movies under 30 Metacritic make more than 45% of their revenue in the first weekend. This likely means that with smaller movies, they get pulled more quickly from theaters if they’re poorly reviewed, but can stay in theaters longer if they are reviewed well.
Small Movies (Total Domestic Gross = $10-$30 million)
As we move up, we see an increase in the amount of dark green lower. This means that movies start to rely more on opening weekend, regardless of quality, as they make more money.
Medium Movies (Total Domestic Gross = $50-$100 million)
When we get into movies with real distribution and marketing, making non-negligible amounts at the box office, we notice that some of the dark green disappears from the left side. This likely means that at this level these movies will continue their theatrical run regardless of whether they are reviewed well or not. Critical reviews won’t affect distribution as much.
Large Movies (Total Domestic Gross = $100-$1,000 million)
If we move into studio releases, we can see that compared to smaller movies, there is less variation from top to bottom. This means that actually all movies have some base reliance on the opening weekend at the high end.
Large to Mega-Blockbuster Movies (Total Domestic Gross = $200-$2,000 million)
The key things to take away are (1) movies are more consistently reliant on opening weekend the more they make, (2) reviews have less to do with how important opening weekend is — it’s important regardless of how good the movie (3) really bad movies simply don’t make huge amounts — there are essentially no movies that make over $200 million with a Metacritic score under 40, and (4) longevity is still important — while most all movies make at least 20% during opening weekend, very few make over 45%.