yet another way hollywood is trying to trick us

Around this time of year, we always want to reflect back. Take a look at some of the things we’ve done and said over the year, and evaluate what we did wrong and what went well.

In that spirit, it’s time to resurrect a favorite gripe of PopRox — the antiquated notion of what constitutes a movie hit in Hollywood these days.

A special thanks to Avatar for reminding us of just how much studios still tries to fool us with box office numbers, changing its tabulation methods under our noses while we all just play ball and not even question it.

hey there dark knight, move ov- ... oh wait. never mind.

hey there dark knight, move ov- ... oh wait. never mind.

Again, this is thanks to Avatar and the announcement that it took in a wholly surprising $232 million on its opening weekend. Yowza! $232 million! That’s better than anything ever, right? Eff off, Dark Knight!

Eh. Not quite. That $232 million number being bandied about this morning is Avatar’s worldwide box office — its North American box office is $73 million. That $73 million good (bad?) enough for the 31st biggest opening weekend of all time and not even in the top 5 of the year. For a movie that was supposed to “change movies forever,” that’s just not good enough. I settled on about $80 million estimate for a variety of reasons, but ended up being too high.

In retrospect, $73 million sounds about right especially since about 40 million people were snowed in between Philly and Richmond.

But $73 million doesn’t even matter since the days of worrying about only the domestic box office are ancient. They barely matter anymore. Worldwide box office is how people will measure movies from now on, and rightfully so. In the past, studios only worried about the North American box office because they usually sold off the worldwide distribution rights as a hedge against a bad movie. If it played badly here, eh, no big deal, at least they had guaranteed money from overseas even if it never played a day in Italy. And if it became a hit, it was rare that it would be such a hit that studios would regret selling off those rights because for every Batman that made $160 million around the world, there was an Uncle Buck, which made about $12 million elsewhere. And most movies barely even registered.

Plus, it was extremely rare that a movie would release the same day in a different country that it would release here. But with more movie theaters going up around the world, and more movies releasing the same day around the world to guard against piracy, it’s perfectly understandable that studios would want to use world numbers.

what's that up there? oh, it's an inflated box office result.

what's that up there? oh, it's an inflated box office result.

It’s good PR too. If Fox said Avatar only made $73 million this weekend, people would start talking bomb, as ridiculous as that seems. But now Fox can say it made $232 million on its opening weekend and everyone says “Wow!” even though they’re being duped. Same happened with 2012 in November, when it made $65 million here and $225 million worldwide.

It’s just another way of lessening the impact of box office figures, a practice that has gone seemingly unnoticed by the rest of the world. Studios even still grasp at the $100 million mark for a hit even though they used that figure in 1984 when a Saturday night movie cost $4 and a big-time special effects movie cost about $30 million to make. Now it costs more than $150 million to make a tentpole-type movie. Just this year, domestically, Watchmen made $107 million against a $130 million budget, G-Force made $117 million against a $150 million budget and Terminator Salvation made $125 million against a $200 million budget. That means none of those are hits, but they all become hits when you factor in the overseas money (total worldwide gross in millions for those, in order — $185, $283, $372).

Good for studios, they’re making more money as the cost of making movies has gone up by about 7 and 8 times in the last 20 years. They can announce the box office numbers any way they want and hold on to whatever antiquated reporting system works for them to help them sleep better at night on their mattress stuffed with $100 bills.

That doesn’t mean we have to swallow it whole. Don’t be fooled, America.

Some more links for today:

RIP Brittany Murphy. This was one of those tragedies where you open up your first Web page of the day where it’s the top story and you look for a second in disbelief and give it the double-W treatment of “What? When?” She doesn’t really have a signature movie — especially for men — and never really separated herself as an elite Hollywood actress. She was good in 8 Mile, she was OK but forgettable in Sin City, and maybe that’s how she might be remembered — OK but forgettable. The worst part is that I’d probably say I remember her more from a trailer than anything else. In 2001, I think I saw the trailer for Don’t Say a Word (jump to the 2:10 mark) before every movie I saw. And I remember seeing the commercial about 7 katrillion times on TV that always ended with the annoyingly haunting, “I’ll never tell-l,” sung in a neener-neener-neerer voice. That voice was Brittany Murphy. Tough way to sum up a career that ended before it really seemed to start.

oh damon. you say such funny things.

oh damon. you say such funny things.

Excellent move by the CW to rerun the season so far of Vampire Diaries last week. I watched the pilot in September and liked it a good bit, but it lost my DVR battle to FlashForward, Parks and Recreation and now, Community on the most potent Thursday lineup of TV maybe ever. But with Parks and Rec and Community now being shown OnDemand (for free, finally) and FlashForward boring the holy hell out of me, I thought it might be worth giving VD — not the monogram the network was looking for, I’m sure — another shot. It’s now officially my 8 p.m. Thursday DVR selection when it comes back in January. It’s a very good show, and I’m ready to put bad vampire Damon in the category of “Best New Character” of the season with Sue Sylvester on Glee, Abed on Community and Brick on The Middle. It’s a smidge frustrating that it seems like a Buffy retread at every turn — did they really have to add a witch (like Willow) and make allusions to the fact that Tyler could be a werewolf (Oz much)? — but when compared with FlashForward, VD looks like freakin’ Shakespeare and is completely worthy of the DVR spot.

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