How A Movie Breaks Records By Selling Fewer Tickets

Jurassic World Is Still Breaking Monetary Records and if it keeps up what it has been doing, it will soon be the fifth all-time money maker in the realm of movies!

I love it when a B-movie gets slapped around by professional movie critics about its "characters lack of depth," and "thin story line," then the movie stands up and roars to such an extent that it can't be ignored.

In this case, Jurassic World is screaming at critical film reviewers saying, "Hey, I know the depth of my characters don't meet your expectations, but guess what, the entire world of movie-goers loves my shit!"  Boo-ya!

And what's crazy is that it is setting records all over the place while selling fewer tickets than other movies in the record books!

Wait, what?  Let me explain what I mean, and how I an not bashing on that premise, but just pointing it out.

My opus-ed follows after the break:


Cost vs. Numbers

When we descry the success of a movie at the box office, it is always in terms of how much money it made.  And that is perfectly acceptable, considering there was money spent to make the movie, and money was spent to see it. Then the studios make a profit off the box office earnings.

ALL the news reports about box office records are focused on the money a movie makes and the movie consumer gets swept up in this news. Thus, box office records means (inflated) dollars spent.

What this does not say is how many people have gone to see a movie. For me that is one my biggest curiosities. Not how much, but how many?

The reason I wonder this is because if 1,000 people went and saw movie A at $5 a pop, setting records ($5,000) for its time. But then some years later, when movie tickets are more expensive and 500 people went and saw movie B at $25 a ticket ($12,500), then suddenly, despite only half the number of people seeing movie B, it sets records.

And the way box office numbers are spun up, you're thinking that movie B is all that and then some and you get excited about these new numbers and records being set by movie B. But truly, to me, movie A still has a great demographic record of how many people went to see it.

And when a movie sets records, the movie consumer gets excited and now, instead of pondering the idea of seeing the movie in theaters, they go see it because of the press it is receiving.

Are you following where I am coming from at this point?

(Case in point, Jurassic Park made $402M having sold 91M tickets. Jurassic World is eating that up, having hit the $414M mark after only two weeks, but did it after only selling an estimated 51M tickets. People want to see dinosaurs in 3D people! Can ya blame them?)


The price of things always goes up over time. Period. It is a given. For instance, the average ticket prices* over time, looked like this:

Year: Avg Cost (% Increase from previous number in chart)
1940: $0.24
1950: $0.53 (221%)
1960: $0.69 (130%)
1970: $1.55 (225%)
1980: $2.69 (174%)
1990: $4.23 (157%)
2000: $5.39 (127%)
2010: $7.89 (146%)
2015: $8.12 (103%)

As you can see, comparing 1940 to 2015, a 2015 ticket cost 3,383% more than a 1940 ticket. Plus, these estimated averages, today, include the cost of large format and 3D offerings. You can see from 2000 to 2010, the surge of 3D sales started to effect the numbers. And the 2015 number is only half that of most of the calendar benchmarks.

So with inflation and such, this trend is more or less, completely expected.


3D and Large Format Ticket Prices

My other focus on box office records is the fact that these days more than half the screenings at the movie theaters are in 3D or large format, like IMAX.

No matter who I chat with, there are those that whole-heartedly embrace the idea of 3D movies. To them, it is the next and necessary thing since the invention of sliced bread or the wheel. They seem to think it is the only way to go with the future of film.

Then there are folks like myself who think it is cute and at times, in the right movie, awesome fun. But it is not critical for watching a movie if it has a good story.

And then there are those who are "allergic" to the technology and the tech makes them ill.

These unique formatted screenings can cost 50% more than a 2D movie experience, plus, the way screenings are being scheduled, they make up more than half the screenings in a day. This forces folks to either buy a 3D ticket or hopefully find a 2D screening time that fits their schedule. Or scrap their entire day, period.

When The Avengers was out, when I went looking to catch a screening, I had 8 2D and 16 3D/IMAX opportunities. Looking at a local theater for screenings of Jurassic World, I have 17 3D/IMAX times and 9 2D options.

At least there are still 2D options available, spread out across the day.

But that's a lot of 3D and those sold out theaters contribute to the recent average ticket prices, or the $8.12 noted for 2015.


With all that being said, here's the curious end-all of my point:

At present, Jurassic World sits 18th** on all time ticket sales, at $402M, Avengers: Age of Ultron sits 7th, at $449m in ticket sales. 2009's Avatar sits on top of the domestic charts with $760M in ticket sales just above 1997's Titanic, at $658M.

**Well, it sat 18th this morning when I looked it up. This afternoon, it now sits 15th, with $414M in sales. HEY! Who is going to see movies on a Tuesday? You should all be at work or something like that!

But check this out: Here's that ticket number thing: Even though Titanic sits second, $101M behind Avatar, it has been estimated that Titanic sold 135.4M tickets versus Avatar's 97.3M tickets. Or just over 38 million more tickets than Avatar. (Or as I pointed out earlier how JW already beat JP by selling only half the tickets to date.)

That's what I find cool. How many folks visited a theater to see a movie and the idea that fewer people can help set a record than what was previously needed.

With that in mind, here's the top-10 all-time domestic box office winners*:

1 Avatar $760,507,625 2009^
2 Titanic $658,672,302 1997^
3 Marvel's The Avengers $623,357,910 2012
4 The Dark Knight $534,858,444 2008^
5 Star Wars: Episode I $474,544,677 1999^
6 Star Wars $460,998,007 1977^
7 Avengers: Age of Ultron $449,447,357 2015
8 The Dark Knight Rises $448,139,099 2012
9 Shrek 2 $441,226,247 2004
10 E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial $435,110,554 1982^

(I bet after the weekend following this post, Jurassic World will be sitting in the No.5 spot)

But check out the all-time leaders, with the number of tickets sold*:

1 Gone with the Wind 202,044,600; 1939^
2 Star Wars 178,119,600; 1977^
3 The Sound of Music 142,415,400; 1965
4 E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial 141,854,300; 1982^
5 Titanic 135,474,500; 1997^
6 The Ten Commandments 131,000,000; 1956
7 Jaws 128,078,800; 1975
8 Doctor Zhivago 124,135,500; 1965
9 The Exorcist 110,599,200; 1973^
10 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 109,000,000; 1937^

(BTW: Jurassic World sits 94th on this particular list with 51M tickets sold, so far.)

My gut impression is that more of us see 3D movies, but that may not necessarily be our first option. Much like how over 75% of people who walk on a car lot weren't looking to buy, and yet... Marketing is what it is and it works. If it did not, advertisers would not spend around $18B a TV season on television commercials.

Regardless, many fervent supporters say 3D is here to stay because the people want it. When I try to mention how the domestic market seems to be getting the 150% marked up priced 'D' tickets shoved down their throats, they swap statements to how the overseas market is eating it alive too. (which does appear true.) A fan is a fan and I think we all get that.

And to be honest, it can be a cool gimmick, and "we" do end up biting the bullet and paying for the screenings. That alone would indicate the consumer is wanting 3D or is just going to 3D because of the coincidental timing of when they are at the theater.

So sure, it seems the consumers are buying into 3D, regardless of how the consumer feels. Me, I'll take most of my films in 2D, with the occasional crazy CGI-filled popcorn flick in 3D.

My schedule (and my wallet) is such that sometimes I just have to bide my time and wait until the flick comes to PPV (Pay per view) and pack the house full of friends to watch it with me. That way we get our monies worth! Or worse yet, wait until it comes to HBO or FX, who is snatching up all the TV rights to the blockbusters.

Yes, FX snagged the television rights to Jurassic World right after its opening weekend, so now we can get our four-hour, ad-riddled experience with it on TV!

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These are merely my thoughts and I'm looking to inspire conversation. FRIENDLY and insightful conversation.

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 (sorted chart by tickets sold)

*The above estimates of what the average movie ticket costs per year, the number of tickets sold, and various other facets of my numbers stem from the website, Box Office Mojo. It is a pretty cool and thorough website in how it keeps track of the numbers we hear about in the news.

On their page where they address this particular issue of ticket prices, they have a great chart where you can switch and swap out the various columns for what is what, and in the upper right corner is the "Adjuster" window, where you can choose a year, and see what the estimated average ticket cost then.

They also explain how they come to these numbers in the page, because basically, me trying to do the same thing will double the length of this piece!

The link from whence I grabbed my data is all mostly at the DOMESTIC GROSSES page of the site.

THANKS FOR COMING BY and reading this op-ed, opus piece from Cinema Static.


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