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Don't Buy the Media Spin About Hollywood's Merry Christmas at the Box Office

Over and over and over we keep reading about how Hollywood’s holiday box office was some sort of silver lining in an otherwise dark cloud. But once again, the context-challenged entertainment media only tells us half the story. Here’s a sampling:

Box Office Mojo:

Based on studio estimates, the four-day weekend will end up at over $201 million, or up around 10 percent from the same four-day period last year.

DHD:

Let’s party hearty with the end-of-holiday box office for end-of-year 2011. Or let’s not (and say we did.)… [S]ources tell me this final weekend will definitely be up over last year.

Los Angeles Times:

Most films sold more tickets over the New Year’s holiday than the Christmas holiday, with family films benefiting from the biggest bumps. Overall, the weekend was up 10% compared with the same period in 2010.

Cinema Blend:

Sales were up considerably from last weekend’s Christmas holiday and the new year is off to a solid start.

Except…

Between Dec. 16 and Dec. 25 of this year, the following films went into wide release:

Alvin and the Chipminks: Chipwrecked

Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows

Mission : Impossible – Ghost Protocol

The Adventures of Tintin

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

We Bought a Zoo

War Horse

The Darkest Hour

That’s a total of eight big-budget, high profile offerings. However, in 2010, only four high-profile, big-budget films went into wide release during that same time period:

Tron Legacy

Little Fockers

True Grit

Yogi Bear

In other words, in order to get that 10% bump in sales, Hollywood had to invest in twice the amount of product.

For argument’s sake, let’s assume that after production and marketing costs, a mainstream film averages out to a cost of $100 million. If that’s the case, the industry invested $400 million more than they did last year — twice as much — to make 10% more in gross sales. That doesn’t sound like much of a success to me.

From what I can see, only The Wrap deserves credit for not buying or pushing that spin:

Conversely, distribution executives might think twice about celebrating their Christmas-week performances, given that they’re comparing their 2011 Yule haul to a 2010 holiday period that featured only two new wide releases — “Little Fockers” and “True Grit” — doing any significant business.

In fact, even though nearly twice as many movies were released in the run-up before Christmas this year, the market only grew marginally.

Ho, ho, ho …

You can’t fix a problem until you admit you have a problem. Too many in the entertainment media are too invested in the culture wars to look at the motion picture business as a business. They see a rejection of Hollywood as a rejection of their own personal values; they take it personally and therefore don’t want to believe or report it.

This is why we get spin instead of the kind of analysis that tells the real story.

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