Box Office Power Rankings: September 19-21, 2008

ghost-town.jpgIf you glance at the box-office top 10 this week, you might think that the supernatural romantic comedy Ghost Town was a bomb, finishing last among the four major new releases and eighth overall. But the movie’s title was almost a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Paramount/DreamWorks only exhibited it in 1,505 theatres — a sure sign the studio doesn’t believe in the movie. (Its opening-weekend competitors — Lakeview Terrace, Igor, and My Best Friend’s Girl — were all released in more than 2,300 theatres.)

Given a wider release and more marketing money, Ghost Town would likely have been a modest hit, easily making back its $20-million production budget in theaters. Consider that it was second-best-reviewed movie in the top 10 (behind only The Dark Knight), and that audiences liked it, too. Yahoo! users rated it B+ (compared to grades of B and B- for the other three big releases), while users of the Internet Movie Database gave it a 7.5 out of 10 (compared to a range of 5.2 to 6.5 for the new-release competition).

It’s unlikely that Ghost Town would have overtaken Burn After Reading in our Box Office Power Rankings this week with a more aggressive release, but its performance would have better reflected how people actually felt about it. This is a poster child for mis-released movies.

Box Office Power Rankings: September 19-21
Box Office RanksCritics’ Ranks
RankMovieLast WeekGrossPer TheaterRotten TomatoesMetacriticTotal
1Burn After Reading19 ($11.0M)9 ($4.2K)8 (79)8 (62)34
2Lakeview Terrace-10 ($15.0M)10 ($6.1K)5 (40)5 (46)30
3Ghost Town-3 ($5.0M)6 ($3.3K)9 (86)9 (72)27
4Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys25 ($7.3M)8 ($3.5K)7 (53)6 (49)26
5The Dark Knight32 ($2.9M)2 ($1.5K)10 (95)10 (82)24
6Igor-7 ($7.8M)7 ($3.3K)4 (28)4 (42)22
7My Best Friend’s Girl-8 ($8.3M)5 ($3.2K)1 (8)3 (36)17
8Righteous Kill56 ($7.4M)4 ($2.4K)3 (22)3 (36)16
9The House Bunny61 ($2.7M)1 ($1.0K)6 (41)7 (55)15
10The Women84 ($5.4M)3 ($1.8K)2 (10)1 (27)10


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 than gross receipts alone.

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.

When you mention that “Ghost Town” should have received more marketing money, what kind of marketing were you thinking it could go towards? Print ads, internet ads, the usual?

I only ask because, even though I don’t watch that much TV, commercials for “Ghost Town” seem to be running more than any other current or soon-to-be-released film. So at least in that area, it’s being marketed quite frequently.

I believe that marketing (also known as “prints and advertising” or “P&A”) budgets are not widely circulated, so I can only speculate on Ghost Town’s marketing.

Further, I haven’t actually seen any marketing for Ghost Town. (That, in itself, says something. I’ve seen lots of ads for Lakeview Terrace and Burn After Reading. Then again, most of what I watch these days is Red Sox games on a regional sports channel.)

The assumption I’m making for wide-release movies that aren’t awards bait is that comparisons of the number of theaters will roughly align with comparisons of marketing budgets. That is: A movie opening on 3,000 screens is a movie the studio believes in, and hence, it will spend more money marketing it than a movie it’s opening on 2,000 screens.

Is it possible that my assumption is incorrect? Absolutely.

So I don’t really have an answer to your question, except to say that all indications are that the studio didn’t have much faith in Ghost Town. You might have seen lots of ads for it, but that could be a function of where you live and what you watch on television.

We’ve mostly been talking about the volume of marketing, but another factor is bad marketing. Sometimes a movie doesn’t find its audience because the studio doesn’t target the right audience.

My original point, though, is simply that based on audience and critical reaction, it seems to me that the studio could have gotten a better return on its investment if it had marketed and/or released the movie better. What that might entail I’ll leave to sharper minds than mine.

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