You're Wrong: 20 Common Box Office Misconceptions

By Josh Tyler 2011-04-12 01:07:26discussion comments
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You're Wrong: 20 Common Box Office Misconceptions image
When you spend as much time writing and talking about movies as we do here at Cinema Blend, you start to notice certain things repeated over and over again. For instance, every time we write about Superman, someone will invariably leave a comment discussing what a huge flop Superman Returns was. Last year, while everyone was talking about Tron: Legacy, nearly ever blog post you read on any site but this one dismissed the original, 1982 Tron as a box office flop. Repeat something long enough and perception becomes reality, even if it's just not.

We've all done it, sometimes the wrong facts get stuck in your head. I'm sure we've repeated at least two or three of these fallacies at some point ourselves, right here on Cinema Blend. Today that ends.

Last year we set a few things right with You're Wrong: 10 Common Movie Blog Reader Misconceptions. Now let's take another step towards reality, by following the money. To clear the air I've put together a list of twenty of the most commonly said, but completely wrong, box office perceptions. Some of them may be a pleasant surprise, others (like the one about M. Night Shyamalan) are enough to make a grown movie lover cry.

Some of these things you'll have heard before, some of them you haven't (we've heard them all). Some of them will surprise you, even if you hadn't already bought in to the fallacy. For better or worse, it's nothing but the facts. Read on!

Misinterpreted Modern Movie Trends

PERCEPTION: R-Rated movies are no longer profitable.
REALITY: You'll often hear Hollywood executives say this, right before editing all the good parts out of one of their movies to earn it a PG-13 rating. But it's not true. In 2009 R-rated The Hangover was the sixth most popular movie released, beating out dozens of PG-13 movies with bigger budgets, and bigger marketing. In 2004 R-rated The Passion of the Christ was the third most popular movie of the year, beating out such PG-13 juggernauts as Harry Potter and National Treasure, mainly by catering to exactly the kinds of religious moviegoers The Weinstein Company attempted to court earlier this month by releasing a censored, PG-13 version of The King's Speech. In fact the R-rated version of The King's Speech managed to earn $384 million worldwide. Meanwhile the PG-13 King's Speech recorded one of the lowest per-screen averages of the year, and is already vanishing from theaters. The top grossing documentary of all time is an R-rated movie, Fahrenheit 9/11. The numbers say ratings don't really matter much, if there's something there people are interested in, they'll show up to see it.

PERCEPTION: M. Night Shyamalan's recent movies are failures.
REALITY: Three of M. Night's last four movies were huge, huge, box office successes. The Last Airbender cost $150 million to make and earned $319 million. The Happening cost $48 million and earned $163 million. The Village cost $60 million and made $256 million. Lady in the Water was the closest he's come to failure, but even that cost $70 million and managed to take in $72 million. Much of his earning power can probably be attributed to international audiences, who (except for Lady in the Water), seem to turn up in large numbers for anything he does, no matter how much critics might hate it.

PERCEPTION: Traditionally animated movies are no longer profitable
REALITY: Actually, the handful of big-budget, traditionally animated films released in the past decade haven't really earned all that differently from many of their computer animated counterparts. Let's take just Disney's releases as an example. Their last traditionally animated film was The Princess and the Frog. It earned $267 million worldwide. That's nearly $100 million more than the computer animated Meet the Robinsons made Walt's company, with its meager $169 million take. Frog's $267 isn't all that far off what movies like Bolt and Chicken Little earned. Those two films brought in around $300 million worldwide, the difference is that they cost $150 million to make while Princess only cost Disney $105. I'd call that a wash. A look back at all of Disney's recent traditionally animated movies reveals a similar pattern of ups and downs, many earned around $250 million, a couple didn't, and all of them cost less to make than similar computer animated movies. That may be changing. Tangled, released last fall, was Disney's first animated movie to really break the mold, earning $576 worldwide. Yet the similarities between box office totals for their computer animated and traditionally animated movies released before it suggests that the success or failure of Disney films may have more to do with the stories they're telling, than the format those stories are told in. Tangled might have done just as well if someone had drawn it.

PERCEPTION: The Incredible Hulk was more successful than Hulk
REALITY: Actually the two movies were just about the same amount of successful. The Ang Lee directed Hulk cost $137 million to make and earned $245 million when it was released in 2003. The Incredible Hulk cost $150 million to make and earned $263 million in 2008. Mix in a little inflation plus five years of rising ticket prices and Ang Lee's Hulk may even have done slightly better than Marvel's Incredible attempt to reboot the franchise five years later.

PERCEPTION: Mike Myers is a major comedic force
REALITY: The Love Guru didn't sink Mike Myers, the truth is he was never much of a comedic force in the first place. You can't count Shrek, they're animated movies and let's face it, they'd be just as successful with or without him. Most of his movies have been borderline flops at best and utterly loathed cinematic disasters at worst. Cat in the Hat barely made its budget back after international grosses, amidst a chorus of boos from all corners. Wayne's World 2 was a commercial failure. Absolutely no one saw So, I Married an Axe Murderer and even fewer know View from the Top exists. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery barely cleared $50 million and the successful sequels were only greenlit after unexpected video sales. His entire career has been a struggle, filled with ups and downs, and recently a pretty long string of terrible movies, one after another, since after the success of the second Austin Powers. He's only ever really had 3 really big box office successes out of dozens of movies, and one of them was the third Austin Powers which personally, I'd rather forget.

PERCEPTION: Casino Royale saved the failing James Bond franchise.
REALITY: James Bond was doing just fine without it. The last Pierce Brosnan film before Casino Royale was Die Another Day. It made $161 million domestically. Casino Royale? It made $167 million domestically, except Casino Royale cost $150 million to make and Die Another Day only cost $142 million. Do the math and the number you'll come up with is that Casino Royale did almost exactly as well as the last James Bond movie before it. Even if you count international box office, Casino Royale only did slightly better than the already profitable Die Another Day, and that's even after four years of ticket price inflation between the two films. Bond was immensely profitable before Casino Royale and remained just about as immensely profitable afterward.

Fuzzy Memories

PERCEPTION: Conan the Barbarian was such a big hit, that it made Arnold Schwarzenegger a star.
REALITY: Conan the Barbarian made roughly as much money as a similar film released that year called The Sword and the Sorcerer. You've probably never heard of Sword and the Sorcerer, but back in 1982 people bought just as many tickets to see it as Conan and, though Conan did well it was still only the 17th on the highest grossing movies of the year and made more than $300 million less than the top grossing film of 1982, E.T..

PERCEPTION: The Little Mermaid was a huge hit, revitalizing Disney and bringing the struggling studio back from the abyss.
REALITY: The Little Mermaid was not the most popular movie released by Disney in 1989. It wasn't even the most popular family movie. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids made Disney a cool $130 million, good enough for the year's 5th place earner. Little Mermaid made a solid, but unspectacular $84 million, good enough for 13th place. To put that in perspective, Disney's second re-issue of Snow White in 1987 made $46 million. It wasn't until Aladdin that Disney animated movies really started to make big money. That film was the biggest earner of 1992 with a total domestic gross of $217 million.

PERCEPTION: Hoosiers captured the imagination of a nation.
REALITY: When Hoosiers was released in 1986, people were about as interested in seeing it as they were in seeing Wildcats, a throwaway football comedy released that same year and now far less well remembered. Hoosiers was only the 35th most popular movie released that year, earning $28 million and coming in far, far behind movies you've never heard of like Gung Ho and Nothing in Common. It did about as well as Disney's The Great Mouse Detective, a film regarded as one of their flops and one of the final nails in the coffin for their at the time, floundering animation division.

PERCEPTION: America instantly fell in love with The Princess Bride.
REALITY: America barely noticed The Princess Bride in 1987. It was the 41st most popular movie released, beaten handily by such similarly themed but ultimately inferior movies as The Witches of Eastwick and Mannequin. The next year in 1988, Willow managed to make nearly twice as much as Princess Bride. The now classic Rob Reiner film actually made about as much as Ernest Saves Christmas. And let's be honest here folks, that was not one of Ernest P. Worrell's better efforts.

PERCEPTION: A Christmas Story was an instant, family classic.
REALITY: A Christmas Story was one of the least watched movies released in 1983. It made $19 million, roughly about as much money as that infamous failure Krull, also released in 1983.

PERCEPTION: Fast Times at Ridgemont High was an instant classic.
REALITY: Fast Times at Ridgemont High was the 30th most watched movie of 1982. Other similar comedies which were seen by far more people include Porky's and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. In fact, it was even outgrossed by the unremembered Porky's II, which was released in 1983 and made $33 million.

PERCEPTION: John Hughes' Sixteen Candles spoke to a generation.
REALITY: It was the 40th most popular movie released in 1984. Actually the modern day punchline Breakin' was the film that probably most connected with the kids that year. It was the 18th most popular film released in 1984. This holds true for many of John Hughes' early movies, actually. They may be regarded as classics now, but most of his films were near the bottom of the box office, in whichever year they were released. Weird Science was the 38th most popular movie of 1985. It wasn't until Ferris Bueller's Day Off that he scored a really big hit. It was the 10th most popular movie of 1986 and grossed more than $70 million.

PERCEPTION: Horror movies were more popular in the 80s.
REALITY: They filled much the same niche as your average horror movie does now, grossing modest sums and usually ranking near the bottom of the most watched movies released in any given year during the decade. For instance, in 1980 Friday the 13th made a little less than $40 million. The sequels quickly dropped off. Friday the 13th Part 2 only made around $20 million. In 2009 Friday the 13th the remake made around $65 million. Expect the sequel to make $32.5 million. Not much has changed.

Famous Flops Which Did Not

PERCEPTION: Superman Returns was a flop
REALITY: Most estimates put the cost of this film at $270 million. That number actually includes the cost of several previous, unrelated, failed attempts to make a new Superman movie and doesn't really reflect the actual cost of Superman Returns. Even if it did, Superman Returns made $391 million worldwide. That's even more than Batman Begins, totaling only $371 million in box office receipts worldwide. Yet Batman Begins is widely considered to be the more successful movie, so successful in fact that it spawned an entire series of even more successful sequels while Superman was abandoned to be completely rebooted years later.

PERCEPTION: Waterworld was one of the biggest flops of all time.
REALITY: Waterworld was an incredibly successful movie which just didn't do well in America. It cost $175 million to make, a massive sum back in 1995, and only made $88 million Stateside. But it made more than $175 million overseas, which means the studio raked in an easy $88 million in profit. Americans may not want to watch Kevin Costner drink his own pee, but apparently everyone else does.

PERCEPTION: Dick Tracy was a flop.
REALITY: Dick Tracy grossed $103 million domestically and only cost around $47 million to make. It was the ninth most popular movie of 1990 trouncing such better regarded films as Back to the Future Part III, Another 48 Hours, Misery, Goodfellas, and Edward Scissorhands.

PERCEPTION: The Black Hole was one of the biggest flops in history.
REALITY: The Black Hole cost around $26 million to make (including marketing costs) and grossed more than $35 million domestically. Modest totals, but not unreasonable in 1979 dollars. Had it been a flop, it seems unlikely that Disney would have later greenlit a movie like Tron.

PERCEPTION: Tron was a flop in 1982.
REALITY: Tron made more than twice its budget back at the domestic box office. The movie cost $17 million to make and grossed $33 million. Other movies released that year which didn't make as much money as Tron include The Road Warrior, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Blade Runner, none of which are regarded as flops or for that matter, cult films.

PERCEPTION: Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes remake was a flop.
REALITY: Planet of the Apes was the 10th most watched movie of 2001. It only cost $100 million to make but grossed $362 million worldwide, $180 million domestically. In other words after production costs the studio banked a cool $262 million dollars. Other movies released that year which didn't do as well include A.I. Artificial Intelligence, which only earned $78 million domestically and after international receipts only banked around $135 million in profit. To really put it in perspective, Batman Begins, a film which was so successful it went on to spawn a sequel, only made $222 million dollars in profit. Planet of the Apes wasn't just a success, it was a huge success for Fox.

Sources: Box Office Mojo, WikiPedia, IMDB, Cinema Blend

This list of twenty is just the beginning. Sick of hearing your friend insist that The Phantom Menace was a flop? Add to my list with other common box office misconceptions of your own in the comments section below.
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