Box Office Power Rankings: October 30-November 8, 2009

carol.jpgAs people tell us time and time again, box-office performance is in the eye of the beholder.

Box Office Mojo wrote that Michael Jackson’s This Is It, in its debut weekend, did “exceptionally well for a concert picture or music documentary.” On the other hand, Disney’s A Christmas Carol “stumbled a bit out of the gate.”

Guess which one made $30 million and which one pulled in $23 million in its opening weekend.

Yep. The stumbler made more.

The two movies are within a couple hundred theaters of each other. Michael Jackson had literally no new-wide-release competition, and as you might have heard, Michael Jackson died suddenly in June. Charles Dickens had to fight off Goats, aliens, and whatever Richard Kelly is selling in The Box. And again: A Christmas Carol made $7 million more than This Is It, even though it had significantly weaker reviews.

It also earned $7 million more in its opening weekend than The Polar Express, made by the same director with the same technique for the same holiday. But as Mojo helpfully adds: “Polar Express ... was muted by opening a few days after The Incredibles whereas Carol had no such direct competitor.”

The unstated premise here — and it is truly unstated in these weekend roundups — is the size of the gamble. A Christmas Carol cost $200 million to make ($35 million more than Polar Express, by the way), while the production costs of This Is It had been spent before the decision was made to turn those rehearsals into into a movie. So any revenue generated by This Is It is gravy, while A Christmas Carol has far to go before it’s in the black.

I’m no defender of Robert Zemeckis or these motion-capture animated things, but I refuse to consider a $30-million, non-Thanksgiving November opening a disappointment, either in absolute terms or compared to a postmortem cash-in. (Yeah, I know it was assembled with affection and skill, but it’s still a postmortem cash-in.)

Others might be harsh in their assessments, but cheer up, Robert! You did win the Box Office Power Rankings, and Michael didn’t.

Box Office Power Rankings: October 30-November 1, 2009
Box Office RanksCritics’ Ranks
RankMovieLast WeekGrossPer TheaterRotten TomatoesMetacriticTotal
1Paranormal Activity19 ($16.4M)10 ($6.8K)10 (84)9 (68)38
2Michael Jackson’s This Is It-10 ($23.2M)9 ($6.7K)9 (80)8 (67)36
3Where the Wild Things Are26 ($5.9M)4 ($1.6K)8 (70)10 (71)28
4Law Abiding Citizen48 ($7.4M)7 ($2.7K)4 (23)4 (34)23
5Astro Boy64 ($3.5M)2 ($1.1K)7 (48)7 (53)20
6Saw VI35 ($5.3M)5 ($1.7K)6 (44)2 (30)18
7Amelia-1 ($3M)8 ($2.8K)3 (17)5 (37)17
8Couples Retreat97 ($6.5M)6 ($2.1K)2 (12)1 (23)16
9Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant82 ($3.1M)1 ($1.1K)5 (37)6 (43)14
10The Stepfather103 ($3.2M)3 ($1.4K)1 (11)3 (33)10
Box Office Power Rankings: November 6-8, 2009
Box Office RanksCritics’ Ranks
RankMovieLast WeekGrossPer TheaterRotten TomatoesMetacriticTotal
1Disney’s A Christmas Carol-10 ($30.1M)10 ($8.2K)7 (55)7 (55)34
2Michael Jackson’s This Is It29 ($13.2M)7 ($3.8K)9 (80)8 (67)33
3Paranormal Activity16 ($8.3M)6 ($3.2K)10 (84)9 (68)31
4The Men Who Stare at Goats-8 ($12.7M)9 ($5.2K)7 (55)6 (54)30
5Where the Wild Things Are32 ($4.2M)2 ($1.5K)8 (70)10 (71)22
6The Fourth Kind-7 ($12.2M)8 ($4.8K)2 (15)3 (34)20
7The Box-5 ($7.6M)5 ($2.9K)4 (47)4 (47)18
8Law Abiding Citizen43 ($6M)4 ($2.4K)3 (23)3 (34)13
9Astro Boy51 ($2.6M)1 ($1.4K)5 (48)5 (53)12
10Couples Retreat84 ($6.1M)3 ($2.1K)1 (12)1 (23)9


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.

Leave a comment