It doesn t matter which film tops the box office this weekend. It doesn t matter if Despicable Me 2 Pacific Rim or Grown Ups 2 ends up number one on Sunday morning. When it comes to box office rank is a patently irrelevant statistic. Pacific Rim is going to gross what it s going to gross. It may in fact do the $30 million that tracking has estimated. It may surge higher than expected and hit $40 million $50 million or beyond. Grown Ups 2 is probably going to do around $35 $45 million or about on par with the first film s $40 million gross. Neither of these films may have the numbers to topple Despicable Me 2 which could fall 50% and still end up at $41 million for the weekend. But none of these films are competing against each other. They are all competing against only themselves.
Box office is not poker. It s not about new releases and holdovers attempting to make more money than the other movies in the marketplace. Box office is blackjack where it s only the film itself against the house . The house in this case being an individual film s budget and specific (reasonable) expectations about what would qualify as success. If Pacific Rim opens with $30 million it will arguably not be a domestic success even if it s number one for the weekend. If Pacific Rim muscles its way to $50 million it will arguably be a success whether it s in first place of tenth place. The individual numbers are what counts. It doesn t matter how high a film debuts nor does it matter how long it stays in the top five or top ten of the box office. It s about how much money a specific film makes in relation to how well that specific film has to perform.
Yet too much box office coverage is dominated by ranking turning each weekend into a horse race where films are pitched in a fierce battle for the top spot or the runner up spot. Back in January 2012 pundits breathlessly followed the box office fortunes of Chronicle and The Woman In Black. There were constant updates over which film would open at the top the box office as if a $20 million debut for either movie (both were well reviewed films which cost around $15 million) wouldn t quality as a massive win for the entry that came in at number two. And in October 1999 there was a switch in terms of ranking regarding the Sunday weekend estimates and the Monday actuals. The top three films all made $10 $11 million but the alleged third place finisher Fight Club ended up in fact being number one. But do you think 20th Century Fox Fox was now thrilled that their $70 million picture had opened with just $11 million purely because the film happened to make more than the other films playing that weekend and was now the number one film in America
The horse race mentality is all too similar to what has infected and severely damaged political journalism. Every election year political pundits breathlessly cover who wins a given presidential primary even in states where it s not winner take all . Even in situations where two candidates were so close that they received an identical number of delegates such as Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum during the 2012 Iowa Caucus pundits breathlessly debate which candidate won the night. But even that makes a little more sense as primaries of course eventually end with a single champion whomever gets the party s nomination. But a film in a marketplace isn t attempting to crush all combatants and become king of the mountain. It s merely attempting to make enough money to justify the financial investment. The box office fortunes of a given motion picture lie only how well each film does in relation to its own demands for whatever happens to constitute success.
So yes Kevin Hart Let Me Explain is a big success by virtue of its $17 million five day gross while The Lone Ranger is a relative failure with its $48 million five day gross. Different films have different needs for financial success. And come Sunday morning Pacific Rim and Grown Ups 2 should be judged not over which film topped the other but by how much each film debuted with in relation to their own specific box office needs. The studios don t care how much all of the films in the marketplace made in a given weekend if their film tanked. And studios don t care if their film was number one or number two as long as the actual weekend gross is to their liking. Paramount was thrilled that World War Z opened with $66 million last month and they surely didn t care too much that Monsters University was still the top film of that weekend. And if Pacific Rim can open substantially higher than its tracking (and/or make a killing overseas) Warner Bros. surely won t care too much if it makes more or less than the likes of Grown Ups 2 or Despicable Me 2. And we shouldn t care either.
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