Well, we’ve made it. After two years worth of weekly Box Office Breakdowns, this is my final one.
Instead of breaking down this week’s top five (where “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” yet again led the way), this final column is going to be more of a retrospective. Let’s take a look back at the history we witnessed, the calculations we did and reflect on the column overall.
Box Office Breakdown began at a precarious time. The first column was written in August of 2021, well amidst the pandemic box office. “Candyman” led the way and it was the week before “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” was released to theaters. While many films did well during this time period, it was a deflated box office. The pandemic was still a major problem for theatrical exhibition, theaters were closing down, moviegoers were turning to video on demand and streaming platforms. It was a difficult time.
Then a hero swung in. While many say that it was “Top Gun: Maverick” that saved theatrical exhibition, it was really “Spider-Man: No Way Home” that brought large crowds back to theaters. It did well enough to become the third-highest grossing film of all-time domestically, even amidst the pandemic environment. Releasing in mid-December, this wrapped around to the 2022 box office, helping it get off the right foot. Films like “Uncharted,” “The Batman” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” all did quite well early on in the year. This continued with “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Jurassic World: Dominion,” “Minions: The Rise of Gru” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” Then of course, 2022 closed out with a legendary run from “Avatar: The Way of Water,” which became the third-highest grossing film of all time. And what do we close out this column on? An incredible run from “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” which is all but guaranteed to cross $1 billion in the coming weeks.
Suffice it to say, over the course of this column, the box office came back from the dead.
Often when writing Box Office Breakdown, I would estimate the breakeven point for movies. It’s a difficult task because public budgetary information is limited, but with a production budget estimate and an educated guess on marketing, you can figure out almost any film’s breakeven.
This has been one of the more popular components of the column, helping get it cited on “Encanto”’s Wikipedia page and also starting a heated argument on an MMA messaging board.
So what was the formula?[Text Wrapping Break]
First you take the production budget — let’s say it was $100 million. For most $100 million movies, your marketing budget is probably $70-$80 million, so let’s say $75 million. That makes your total estimated expenses $175 million.
Now with revenues, for every film you split income in three — domestic, international and revenue in China. Domestically, films earn around 50% of box office earnings, with the remaining 50% going to theater owners. Internationally it’s 40% but in China it’s 25% unless a film is a Chinese co-production.
But in calculating break-even points, you don’t know anything but those ratios and the expenses estimate.
Below is the shell equation you’re working with every time.
You don’t have your ending revenue numbers, but that’s okay. You can use the ratio between the revenues to figure out how much it needs to earn.
Let’s assume that our example film is not releasing in China, making that part of the equation naught. Let’s also say this film has a 60:40 domestic to international revenue ratio. That means that your domestic revenue equals 1.5x your international revenues. Using substitution you can enter that into the above equation and find out the international revenue has to be $152.17 million. Then, with our previously calculated domestic to international ratio, we can calculate the necessary domestic revenue which is $228.26 million, adding for a total estimated break-even revenue of $380.43 million.
Is this a perfect method? No, but it captures a large portion of film expenses and factors theatrical share of revenue, making it a relatively accurate portrayal of the box office model’s profit structure. With this, you can get a fairly accurate estimate of a film’s breakeven, especially if you use opening weekend domestic to international ratios.
But why is this interesting? At the end of the day, other than C-suite executives, who cares if certain films earn enough to profit? Shouldn’t the point of entertainment just be to entertain?
That’s true — the film industry often gets caught up in these numbers as end all, be all things. Not every film needs to profit through the box office, some deserve to be made for purely art or entertainment’s sake.
What I hoped this column showed is that these are more than just numbers. Behind every number is a story. The opening weekend gross, the second weekend drop, the necessary multiplier, the placement on the all-time charts; all these numbers tell something. Combine the numbers with the story behind every film’s production and macroeconomic conditions, every weekend there’s something new to explore at the box office.
Ticket sales in themselves are just incredibly fascinating data points. Box office information is one of the few public consumer statistics. People don’t just buy tickets on a whim; it takes effort — you have to go out of your way to seek them. Every dollar made on a movie means someone wanted to go see it. The numbers tell the story of people — what they want to see, what they want to experience, how they want to spend two hours of their lives.
Though this is my final Box Office Breakdown — this isn’t the end of the box office.
We will keep on rolling into the summer, with films like “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” “Fast X,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” storming the charts.
Which films will succeed? Which films will fail?
I certainly don’t know. Every week will bring something new, something fascinating to discover.
I would like to thank all The Daily Campus copy editors, designers and digital producers who worked on this column throughout the years, fixing my mistakes and making it look incredible in print and online. I also want to thank my former Life Editors Hollie Lao and Gino Giansanti for accepting and stewarding this column; this would not exist without your help and support.
Lastly, I would like to thank everyone who has read Box Office Breakdown. Of the finite minutes of your day, you took the time to read this column and for that I can’t thank you enough.
Is this the end of Box Office Breakdown?
I don’t know.
Perhaps this is the end, perhaps this is a new beginning.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from two years of Box Office Breakdowns — it’s that you just have to wait and see.