A better way to measure movie success

Lisa
Lisa Goudy
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Lisa Goudy

Disney has done it again.

On Wednesday it was announced that Walt Disney Studios made more than $4 billion at the worldwide box office for the first time in history, according to variety.com.

But if we truly want to know how well movies and studios are doing compared to the past, we should measure it by the number of ticket sales, not in terms of dollars and cents.

Then we’d know how many people saw a particular movie.

In mid-November, Disney reached a record when Thor: The Dark World gave Disney the push to make more than the 2010 record of $3.791 billion. In one month the Thor sequel has made more than $559 million.

Because of Iron Man 3, Disney was the first studio this year to make $1 billion in the domestic box office in the United States for the eighth year in a row and made $2 billion worldwide for the fourth consecutive year in August.

But this news isn’t as big of news as it first appears to be. Of course Disney made more money and broke previous records because over time, prices at the theatre have gone up.

Add in the surcharge for 3D movies and, if you’re in Regina or any other city with an AVX theatre in Galaxy Cinemas, add yet another surcharge, especially in 3D, it’s easy to see my point. Now of course prices are adjusted to ticket price inflation, but that can’t be entirely accurate.

It turns into more of a best-guess scenario. If we had the number of tickets sold, I doubt the list of highest movie moneymakers would be the same as it is now. Or maybe it would. I don’t know. Either way, movie and box office records will continue to be broken because prices go up and surcharges exist. So naturally studios will make even more money.

Take IMDb’s list of the all-time records for the U.S. box office as an example. The list states all amounts are in U.S. currency and include “theatrical box office receipts (movie ticket sales),” the website said.

James Cameron’s 2009 movie Avatar holds the all-time record for the highest-grossed movie in the U.S. at approximately $761 million. It is followed by Cameron’s 1997 movie Titanic at approximately $659 million. In third place is Joss Whedon’s 2012 blockbuster The Avengers at $623 million. Christopher Nolan’s 2008 film The Dark Knight sits at $533 million followed by George Lucas’ 1999 movie Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace at $475 million.

I wonder if more people did in fact go to see Avatar than they did Titanic. Seeing as it’s not measured in movie tickets sold, but rather in prices we’ll never know for sure.

But think about it. Avatar was released in 3D. Titanic ended up being re-released in 3D in 2012. The Avengers was also released in 3D.

I would love to know the number of tickets sold to compare movie successes in that way, but that hunger will never be fulfilled. That is why all lists of movie moneymaking records are pretty hard to believe or take seriously.

So don’t sweat it when you hear about a movie breaking a record or a studio breaking a record. Unless we count the number of people who went to see a movie, not how much they paid to go see a movie, those statistics will never be a way to tell just how successful a movie is.

All they tell us is how much the studio made from it — and records will continue to be broken.

Follow Lisa Goudy on Twitter @lisagoudy.

Organizations: Walt Disney Studios, AVX theatre

Geographic location: United States, Regina

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