TALES FROM TINSELTOWN: Box office claims have power to damage studio’s reputation

Following weekend movie box-office tallies has become as much of a spectator sport on Monday morning as catching up on the football scores. Yet the interest in these numbers has the studios wondering what they have wrought.

Following weekend movie box-office tallies has become as much of a spectator sport on Monday morning as catching up on the football scores. Yet the interest in these numbers has the studios wondering what they have wrought.

Following weekend movie box-office tallies has become as much of a

spectator sport on Monday morning as catching up on the football scores.

Yet the interest in these numbers has the studios wondering what they

have wrought.



Universal recently had to shuffle out of a rather embarrassing episode

involving weekend receipts when the studio over-reported the opening

weekend gross for the Bruce Willis-Michelle Pfeiffer film The Story of

Us by dollars 700,000.



After the figures were adjusted, the film ended up with dollars 9.7

million in receipts, placing it third in the standings.



On the other hand, 20th Century Fox under-reported the gross for Fight

Club by dollars 700,000. Following the official tally on Monday, the

Brad Pitt film ended up with dollars 11 million, vaulting ahead of

Paramount’s Double Jeopardy and Story to claim the October 15 weekend

championship.



While the figures given out on Sundays to news outlets are estimates,

it’s rare for studios to be this far off the mark. And since these

numbers are more widely disseminated than the adjusted sums, corrections

rarely follow when mistakes are made.



The difference between Universal’s Story estimate and the actual haul

caused many to question the studio’s intentions. But rather than admit

to dining heavily on fudge, Universal went on the defensive.



Universal and 20th Century Fox led the charge of studios ordering the

National Research Group, an LA-based research firm that polls audience’s

opinions of pre-released films, to cease distributing estimates of how

films are expected to perform. While these numbers are proprietary, they

are often leaked to the press by the studios and used in stories

predicting the outcome of upcoming weekend competition. Universal

executives are right to be sensitive to the leaking of NRG figures -

which estimated that Story would gross between dollars 16 and dollars 20

million.



But while Universal may wish NRG’s estimates be more closely guarded,

it’s unfair - not to mention ironic - to blame a research firm for

heightening expectations of films that don’t deliver the goods.

Moreover, studios blame the press for using box-office stats to cover

the industry, but it’s hard to take the complaints seriously when you

see two-page ads flaunting The Mummy’s ascension to the rarified ranks

of dollars 100-million earners.



The importance of box-office rankings has become almost farcical, even

leading to some fun-poking at the process. Last summer, New Line Cinemas

ran an ad for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me which screamed, ’See

the no. 1 comedy ... that’s a sequel by a Canadian who’s left-handed.’



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