Could Wolverine's Leaking Have Helped It At The Box Office?

from the seems-possible dept

We still can't understand why Fox studios acted the way it did over the leak of the Wolverine movie. There were so many better options that didn't involve freaking out and eventually wasting FBI resources. We did note, when the movie was released, what a fantastic opening weekend it had. Of course, some argued that it would have had an even better opening weekend without the leak, but, of course, no one knows for sure.

However, Ross Pruden points us to an interesting analysis by Reid Rosefelt trying to more carefully analyze the leak's impact on Wolverine. Rosefelt compares Wolverine's opening weekend to lots of other highly touted movies, and then even breaks out the movies that were "the latest installment of a very lucrative franchise" (of which there were a bunch this year). In that class, Wolverine earned a lot more than any of those other similar movies, with the exceptions of Twilight and Transformers -- and, again, it's worth remembering that Wolverine got dreadful reviews. But it is worth noting that Wolverine outgrossed other highly touted "franchise" movies like Harry Potter's latest and Star Trek -- both of which got much better reviews.

Rosefelt also does a nice job pointing out how silly Hollywood's new favorite line is whenever anyone points out the record year at the box office. We've seen it from our usual cast of Hollywood insiders who frequent the comments here, where they say that the box office doesn't matter. Piracy is really impacting DVD sales and that's what will kill Hollywood. Of course, this is funny on a variety of levels, starting with the fact if Hollywood had had its way, the DVD player would never have existed, because home video machines (you may recall) were the "Boston Strangler" to the movie industry. It's also amusing because Hollywood has been working hard to prevent one of the biggest DVD buyers, Redbox, from buying its DVDs. Rosefelt points out that the data does show that DVD sales are down, but notes that rentals are way up. It appears that people just find it easier to rent than to buy -- and a large part of that may be uncertainty over HD format (and the ridiculous price put on many Blu-ray discs). Once again, it's looking like the decline in DVD sales might not be the fault of piracy, but of the industry and its own practices yet again.

Again, none of this shows for certain that the Wolverine leak helped at the box office, but it's hard to take seriously any argument that it was harmed. Wolverine did massively well at the box office and outshone many other movies from equally popular franchises, which received much better reviews.

Filed Under: box office, leak, piracy, wolverine

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  1. icon
    mdavidthomson (profile), 5 Jan 2010 @ 4:59am

    2009 Box Office Records aren't so simple

    As much as I agree with almost everything written by Mike on Techdirt about the movie business, it does always make me cringe slightly when you keep repeating the statistic that 2009 was biggest box office year ever. It was, but only under Hollywood PR rules.

    Sure... hit them with their own fluff, the MPAA can't have it both ways and you are in the right, but do take a look at the fundamentals.

    Execs in the business should just point out that if you take into account ticket price inflation and monetary inflation the movie industry box office business model did better in 2002 by quite a long way. Here are admissions numbers from NATO (

    2008 1.363
    2007 1.400
    2006 1.395
    2005 1.376
    2004 1.484
    2003 1.521
    2002 1.599
    2001 1.438
    2000 1.383
    1999 1.440
    1998 1.438
    1997 1.354
    1996 1.319
    1995 1.211
    1994 1.240
    1993 1.182
    1992 1.099
    1991 1.14
    1990 1.19
    1989 1.26
    1988 1.08
    1987 1.09

    With ticket price inflation and monetary inflation taken into account, the movie industry's best year (maybe since the 1960s or 1970s or earlier) was 2002.

    And then look at Avatar's this week. Don't misunderstand me here, they are pretty great, particularly in retention and midweek viewings. But they are less great when you figure in the huge ticket price hike for 3D (10%+ varying by theater) compared to other films currently in the top ten box office numbers (and older box office numbers are even more misleading). They are making more money, yes... but theatrical attendance may be decaying and no-one really knows why.

    Historically, according to the MPAA figures there was something like 4.1 billion tickets sold in 1946 and they continued to fall through to the mid 1970s where you have about 1 billion admissions, the then started to rise again in the 1990s to peak at 1.6 billion in 2002.

    A quick check on Box Office Junkie ( - I haven't checked their calculations myself) that monetary inflation rate for 1924-2009 was 1,120% whereas ticket price inflation 1924-2009 was 2,872%. Quite a bit more. And a lot of that is in the past 30 years too - ticket prices have more than doubled since 1989 ($3.97 average 1989 to $7.18 2009).

    So... all this means is that box office is actually a bit of a distraction when it comes to real movie profitability - at about 20% of all profits on a film. This is where the movie industry is in a slightly better place than the music industry. The largest profit center for a movie from what is described as anciliary markets - right now that is mainly DVD (and TV). That's why they're scared.

    But George Lucas isn't the richest man ($4 billion) in the business because of DVD's -- it's because of plastic toys and (special effects) technology. Two themes that frequently recur here...

    That's right. He sold looooooooooooots of T-Shirts.

    Why is there about 8 different versions of the same Star Wars movies out to buy? Why all the toys, tshirts, videogames? Well, it may be cynical and I now never want to see anything Star Wars again, but it certainly makes some kind of business sense.

    And Disney. I'd love to look at the real accounting numbers for Disney by movie property, who must make a fortune on movie related toys and stuff. If you look at the whole film ecosystem and include toys and games, the most profitable movies of all time might turn out to be almost entirely Disney movies (with I suspect, Star Wars still sitting up top...)

    Now my own analysis is that in truth, most people just don't want to go to the theater; they'd rather stay at home. I love it and I go more than twice a week sometimes. But even I think the theatrical experience is too expensive for what you get. It's simply too poor an experience to compete with delivery food, a big sofa, good sound and a big TV screen. That's why the industry is so scared. As much as they say the theatrical experience will never die, in their heart of hearts, they don't believe it.

    Actually, I don't think it will, but I suspect it eventually might go the way of opera or legit theater. Extremely expensive tickets in plusher auditoriums and more companies like IFC Films who own their own movies, TV channel and theater, the old Waverly in NYC. Studios need proper vertical integration as they used to in the old days of the studio system otherwise I can't see how they can control Loews or AMC or whomever from selling inedible sweets and popcorn and damaging their business.

    That said, they have vertical integration on DVD distribution and they have been pretty slow with innovating there because of the massive profits. (Just compare to Criterion Collection who sell movies that are sometimes out of copyright...)

    Ticket prices have gone up a lot since 89 - as has admission, which suggests that people are willing to pay for a better experience. I don't think movie theaters need to compete on price - especially if you figure in that people are spending money to get to the theater (and maybe hire a babysitter). A little extra for better service would seem to be a good idea (and there are examples of successful theater chains that do this).

    None of this grand sweep of the business should be affected by "piracy" it hasn't before, so long as they keep innovating (and if you really want a laugh, read up on why the movie business moved to Hollywood in the first place - to escape Thomas Edison's New York based patents). Movies didn't start out at 2 hours in a big theater, they started on small personal players for a nickel. It was the showmen the invented the big screen and the longer story by fighting against restrictive east coast patent laws. This is because it was a better way to get customers. So long as the business keeps giving the audience new and better ways to experience the core product: the storytelling experience.

    Which is why it wasn't called "The DVD Factory," it was called: "The Dream Factory".

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