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24 March 2010

Empty Movie Theater - War Is Hell at the Box Office! We think there's something seriously wrong with the people who make movies in Hollywood. Specifically, the people who keep spending millions and millions of dollars to make box office flops in pursuit of making the definitive modern anti-Iraq war/War on Terror movie.

Fortunately, that's all over with now that The Hurt Locker has definitively been crowned as the best modern anti-Iraq war/War on Terror movie ever made, thanks to its winning of the Academy Award for Best Picture of 2009. Finally, Hollywood's power elite can turn its collective attention back to making big screen versions of old television shows!

And just as definitively, The Hurt Locker turned out to be a complete flop at the U.S. box office, having accumulated an estimated $16.4 million in receipts throughout its 147 days in the theaters, spanning 26 June 2009 through 19 November 2009. With a production cost of $15 million though, at least it wasn't a complete bust on that level, although Hollywood's notorious accounting will say otherwise....

Still, what brings all this up is the performance of Green Zone at the box office during its opening weekend. Here, according to Reuters, the movie collected $14.5 million in just its first three days, which was a major disappointment:

"Green Zone" opened at a distant No. 2 in North America with $14.5 million. Distributor Universal Pictures, which axed its top executives last fall after a poor run at the box office, had hoped for a slightly better showing.

"It's a bit of a disappointment," said Nikki Rocco, president of distribution at the General Electric Co unit.

Damon plays a U.S. soldier questioning the supposed existence of weapons of mass destruction shortly after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Reviews were mixed.

The $100 million movie was directed by British filmmaker Paul Greengrass, who collaborated with Damon on the second two movies in the "Bourne" action trilogy. Those opened to $52.5 million and $69 million, respectively.

Rocco noted "Green Zone" did better than most other entries in the Iraq war genre, including Oscar best picture winner "The Hurt Locker," which has earned about $16 million since June.

That made us wonder. Is Rocco right? Should she be trumpeting the relative performance of Green Zone with respect to the other members of the anti-Iraq war/War on Terror film genre?

We decided to find out. We went back and got the box office data for both The Kingdom and Rendition, 2007's most noteworthy efforts in that acclaimed film genre, with The Kingdom being the top grossing major release in the genre and Rendition as the previous title holder for the lowest. Let's look first at how these two films performed back in 2007, when they went virtually head-to-head against each other in the fall of that year.

Daily Gross per Theater, The Kingdom vs Rendition, 2007 USD Comparing the daily gross per theater of both The Kingdom and Rendition from Box Office Mojo, we find that Rendition's financial performance was truly awful. Released three full weeks after The Kingdom, as the number of theaters showing that film dropped to 1,730 from its peak of 2,836 theaters in the previous week, Rendition barely had a higher total box office take per theater, despite being brand new and showing in 2,250 theaters, some 520 more than The Kingdom. Small wonder then that Rendition got pulled from theaters after just 21 days.

Next, to compare these movies with Green Zone, we adjusted the daily gross per theater data for each to be expressed in terms of 2010 U.S. dollars.

The Kingdom vs Rendition vs Green Zone 
Daily Gross per Theater, 2010 USD Our next chart then compares each film's daily inflation-adjusted gross per theater for each day of its release, which allows us to do a direct side-by-side comparison of their box office performance. By this measure, we see that Green Zone falls between both The Kingdom and Rendition, at least through its first ten days of release. We also see that Green Zone would appear to be holding its relative position with respect to the daily gross per theater by day of release generated by its 2007 peers in the film genre, even as it is being shown in over 3000 theaters, which perhaps accounts for its larger overall gross.

This observation suggests that Nikki Rocco is right, although that's certainly not much to brag about in the low revenue generating genre of anti-Iraq war/War on Terror films.

It occurs to us though that daily gross per theater isn't what defines a Tinseltown bomb. Instead, what decides if a major motion picture is a flop is how much it makes at the box office with respect to how much it cost to produce.

What we did next then was to look at each movie's total take from the ticket window during its opening weekend, which would be the point at which movie studio managers would be making key decisions about how long they would really keep each movie in the theaters, converting this figure into constant 2010 U.S. dollars. Since we observe that each of the films maintains a relatively steady position with respect to each other for each day of release, this approach of just looking at the relative success of each based on its opening weekend performance should be sufficient to evaluate the financial performance of each with respect to each other.

We then divided the inflation-adjusted opening weekend gross for each movie by its cost of production, converting the results into a percentage value. Our following chart illustrates what we found.

Percentage of First Weekend Gross per Theater* with Respect to Production Budget, 2010 USD We see that The Kingdom made back 23.4% of its production cost in its opening weekend, confirming its place as the top grossing film in the anti-Iraq war/War on Terror film genre. Things get more interesting though when we compare Rendition with Green Zone.

Here, we see that Rendition actually outperformed Green Zone at the box office! Rendition made back 14.8% of its production cost in its first weekend, while Green Zone only collected 14.3% of its production cost in its opening three-day weekend.

It would seem then that Green Zone is a bigger box office bomb than Rendition. Worse, unlike The Hurt Locker, it's unlikely that Green Zone will remain in theaters long enough to recoup its production costs and make money. We would estimate its total life expectancy at the box office to be somewhere around 5-6 weeks. Nikki Rocco is wrong!

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