Box Office Power Rankings: January 4-6, 2008

What’s the best way to platform-release a movie? The two top films in this week’s Box Office Power RankingsJuno and Atonement — suggest that a faster path is better in terms of box office.

Yes, they’re very different movies. But they’re both strong candidates for a Best Picture Oscar nomination, and they were both released initially in the first full week of December.

Juno’s release has been more aggressive, from 40 to 304 theaters on December 21, 304 to 998 theaters on December 25, and 1,019 to 1,925 theaters on January 4. Atonement grew from 32 to 117 theaters (December 14), 117 to 297 theaters (December 21), and 310 to 583 theaters (January 4).

Atonement’s per-theater average was actually higher than Juno’s this past weekend (they ranked first and second in that criterion). But the period drama’s weekend-gross-box-office ranks have fluctuated (15, 9, 11, 13, 14, 14, and 10) while the comedy’s have risen steadily (17, 11, 10, 9, 5, 5, and 2).

I think that Juno’s release strategy has served it better, but we’ll get a better sense after this weekend, when Atonement opens wide.

Box Office Power Rankings: January 4-6
(Rank) Movie (last week; box office, per-theater, Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic: total)
(1) Juno (1; 9, 9, 10, 8: 36)
(2) Atonement (-; 1, 10, 8, 10: 29)
(3) National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2; 10, 7, 4, 4: 25)
(3) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (3; 2, 5, 9, 9: 25)
(5) I Am Legend (4; 8, 4, 5, 5: 22)
(6) Charlie Wilson’s War (4; 5, 2, 7, 6: 20)
(7) Alvin and the Chipmunks (6; 7, 6, 3, 3: 19)
(8) The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep (8; 3, 1, 6, 7: 17)
(9) One Missed Call (-; 6, 8, 1, 1: 16)
(10) P.S. I Love You (9; 4, 3, 2, 3: 12)

Methodology

Culture Snob’s Box Office Power Rankings balance box office and critical reception to create a better measure of a movie’s overall performance against its peers.

The weekly rankings cover the 10 top-grossing movies in the United States for the previous weekend. We assign equal weight to box office and critical opinion, with each having two components. The measures are: box-office gross, per-theater average, Rotten Tomatoes score, and Metacritic score.

Why those four? Box-office gross basically measures the number of people who saw a movie in a given weekend. Per-theater average corrects for blockbuster-wannabes that flood the market with prints, and gives limited-release movies a fighting chance. Rotten Tomatoes measures critical opinion in a binary way. And Metacritic gives a better sense of critics’ enthusiasm (or bile) for a movie.

For each of the four measures, the movies are ranked and assigned points (10 for the best performer, one for the worst). Finally, those points are added up, with a maximum score of 40 and a minimum score of four.

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