July 29, 2013

UPDATED Weekend Box Office: “The Wolverine” Falls Some More


On Sunday mornings, the devout go to church, and movie studios lie.  (There’s not much overlap between the two groups.)  The studios lie (or fudge, if you’re sensitive about the L Word), fundamentally, because they can get away with it:  when “estimated” box office returns are announced on Sunday mornings, they’re simply repeated–one might say as gospel–even by the publications who should know better, without any scrutiny of  figures that don’t make sense.  The lies exist because of spin, as the studio either wants its new release to hit a newsworthy milestone, like the highest-grossing of a franchise or of the year, or alternatively to avoid a bad one.  Normally, the studios restrain themselves somewhat, fudging by no more than a few hundred thousand dollars lest their own competition call them out, but sometimes they go overboard.

Anyone with a clear eye could see that the reported weekend estimate for THE WOLVERINE (20th) was fishy.  since in order for the movie to hit its $55M mark, it would have had to have a remarkably low 15% Saturday-to-Sunday drop, even though it had already fallen a substantial 13% on Saturday, traditionally a much stronger box office day.  Also, Fox had the motivation to keep the weekend number above $54.5M, since that was the previous low for an X-Men branded opening (the original, back in 2000)–plus claiming a big Sunday furthered the studio’s spin that the movie was getting exceptional word of mouth.  Now that the real numbers are out, we can see that the studio was fudging from the start.  Fox originally reported Wolverine‘s opening day at $21M, narrowly ahead of the $20.8M opening for X-Men.  In fact, Wolverine was at $20.7M, already the lowest start for any installment in the series.  Then on Sunday, far from slipping just 15%, Wolverine had a more normal 22% decline.  The result was a weekend that was a whopping $1.9M lower than the Sunday estimate, at $53.1M easily the lowest-grossing entry  in the 13-year history of the franchise (even though this was the first to benefit from 3D ticket prices).

It’s worth noting that the other studio with a motive to play footsy with its numbers this weekend was remarkably on the money.  BLUE JASMINE (Sony Pictures Classics) claimed the highest-ever opening average for a Woody Allen movie, with $102K in each of 6 theatres edging out the $100K for Midnight In Paris, and today’s actuals show the estimate to have been about as exact as one can be, off just $156 per theatre and keeping Jasmine at the top of Allen’s box office pile.

The Weinstein Company, which has been accused of overly aggressive estimates more than once, was quite accurate this weekend, with FRUITVALE STATION (Weinstein) just $67K off its estimate at over 1000 theatres.  And both THE WAY, WAY BACK (Fox Searchlight) and THE TO-DO LIST (CBS) actually exceeded their estimates a bit, by $145K and $45K respectively.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."