Saturday, January 23, 2016

The "Top-Heavy" 2015 Box Office

Recently the BoxOfficeMojo's Brad Brevet noted the "top-heavy nature of the 2015 box office," in which a handful of high grossing movies accounted for a larger share of the record total.1 In 2015, 34.5 percent of all tickets were sold by just the top ten movies. The closest any prior year came to that was event-packed 2012 (the year of the first Avengers, Hunger Games and Hobbit movies, The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall), when 29.7 percent of the year's gross came from the top ten.

However, this pattern reflected not just the performance of the outliers, of which there were so many in this year of still more Avengers and Hunger Games and Bond (plus Furious 7, and of course, Star Wars), but the underperformance of the lower-earning movies (relatively speaking). He chose the $25 million mark as a point of measurement, and considered that only 91 films managed to hit that--in contrast with an average of 104 these last fifteen years.

Considering inflation changes this image somewhat. Taking not $25 million but its equivalent in ticket sales as the standard, then for the last fifteen years 87.8, not 104, has been the average.1 Additionally, within this average there is a long-running tendency for the number to fall. In 2001-2005 the average number of movies to hit Brevet's mark was 94.4. In 2006-2010, the average was 88.2. In 2011-2014, it was 87.25. Twenty-fifteen (in which the equivalent mark was $36.8 million) saw just 65 such films--and by itself would knock the average for the last five years down to 82.8. This was an especially sharp drop--but the point is that a downward trend was already quite evident, continuing in a measurable way, and reaffirming the view that today, more than ever, a movie is a must-see-it-right-away-on-the-big-screen event, or not very much at all in commercial and pop cultural terms.

And that is likely the last thing that those dissatisfied with the narrowness of the range of Hollywood's higher-profile product must want to hear.

1. The numbers for the different years are as follows. 2001-91. 2002-96. 2003-98. 2004-92. 2005-95. 2006-96. 2007-85. 2008-90. 2009-85. 2010-85. 2011-92. 2012-91. 2013-82. 2014-84. 2015-65.

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