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Year in Review: Theatrical Hits and Misses

December 29th, 2010

With 2010 nearly over, this week we start to review the performance of the movie industry over the past year. Since the conventional lists of top-grossing movies are easy to find (our summary is here, by the way), we thought it would be interesting to look at some unconventional measurements of success. For our first analysis, we'll look a which movies performed best and worst in theaters in 2010, from the perspective of the exhibitors.

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While we usually think about movie box office in terms of the weekend top 10 and how much movies make in total, if you're running a movie theater, your main concern is not how much a movie makes nationally, but how much it makes in your theater over the weekend. So, for this analysis, we're going to look at the per theater average for movies over the course of their run.

In the analysis, we define each weekend a movie plays in a theater as an "engagement". So, if Avatar played in a theater for six weekends, and earned $60,000 in that theater over those six weekends, it would have had six engagements with a "engagement average" of $10,000. From a theater's perspective, the bigger the engagement average, the better.


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By this measure, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I is the best-performing movie of the year so far, with an engagement average of over $10,000. Note, however, that it has currently been in release for only six weeks, and its performance will decline over the next few weeks as audiences decline. (In fact, since these charts are updated dynamically, you can come back in a week or two to see how the figures finally worked out.)

Among movies that have completed their box office run, Alice in Wonderland comes out on top, thanks to its healthy 3D ticket sales (and the fact that it disappeared from theaters fairly rapidly once Summer came). Iron Man 2 is second and Avatar third, among movies that are no longer in theaters.

Some interesting names jump out on the list. Black Swan and The King's Speech both are clearly doing great business, and justify expansion into more theaters. Magnificent Desolation shows that niche IMAX movies can churn out big revenue over the years. And Dabangg and My Name is Khan highlight the profitable performance of Bollywood movies, which tend to play for only a week or two, but produce healthy revenues for the theaters where they play.


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The list of worst-performing movies by engagement average is basically a run down of the studio misfires this year: the films that basically found no audience at all, in spite of playing in a lot of theaters. Top of the list (by a fairly wide margin) is The Virginity Hit, which averaged just over $300 per engagement. Assuming $8 a ticket, about 35 people watched the movie each weekend it played in a theater. If there were four shows a day, that's under three people in the theater for each show. Ouch.

Letters to God, in second place, was a Christian-themed movie that failed to find an audience, but stuck around in theaters for a total of 12 weeks trying to find some fans.

While the top two movies on this list were aimed at niche audiences, which provides something of an excuse for the studios involved, the third movie on the list was a disaster however one looks at it. MacGruber played over 5,000 engagements and just scraped an average over $1,000. That's about 10 people per show, assuming 12 shows per weekend. There's really no way to sugar coat that.

The rest of the list is basically the films from 2010 that the studios would rather we forgot. In most cases, we'll be happy to oblige.


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Previous analysis:
- Measuring the Studios
- Why You Should Be Making a Romantic Horror Comedy
- Crunch Time for Video Sales
- OpusData Reveals the Top Leading, Supporting and Voice Actors of All Time.