Tuesday, March 02, 2004

That was a long hiatus from blogging

Alan Little discusses a list of the most successful 50 films ever in Germany by number of tickets sold.

This is actually an interesting metric, and one I have not seen before. Normally there are two ways of comparing box office grosses. The simplest is simply the nominal box office gross. This is simply the number of dollars spent on tickets for the film, with no adjustment for inflation at all. This is fine for comparing films released in the same year, and quite meaningful for films released in the same decade, but after that it becomes highly misleading if it is read in a simple way. The other was is inflation adjusted box office gross. It should be noted that the inflation rate that is being adjusted for is not the general inflation rate, but the inflation rate in cinema ticket prices. The box office gross for the film is divided by the average ticket price for the year in which the film was released, and the resulting number is multiplied by the average ticket price now. (This may be a multi-step process if a film has features multiple re-releases in different years).

Therefore, in crude terms, the inflation adjusted gross compares the films in terms of the total number of tickets sold. This is probably a better metric that simple (nominal) box office gross, but it is still a flawed one. The population of the US and other countries has increased considerably over time, so that the same number of tickets sold today means that a substantially smaller percentage of the population has seen a film than was the case in 1950. On the other hand, there are many other alternative forms of entertainment that people can spend their money on these days, so the comparison isn't really a direct one, but a key point is that it is possible for more people to see a film than in the past simply because there are more people.

And why did I say "crude terms" above. Well, the inflation adjusted box office gross would be a direct comparison in terms of ticket numbers sold if the average ticket price was the same for all films, and this is manifestly not so. Children's tickets cost less than adult tickets, and therefore the average ticket price is quite a lot lower for children's films than for films aimed at adult audiences. Therefore, if you carefully took this factor into account, and genuinely attempted to rank films by numbers of tickets sold, then children's films would jump considerably higher up the list than they do actually appear. Which is what appears to have been done wiith this German list. Grosses and numbers of tickets sold is further boosted for Disney films by the fact that Disney for many years made a lot of money re-releasing each of its its classic animated films every nine years or so, on the basis that there was a new generation of children every nine years who hadn't seen them. (Disney still does rerelease its old animated films from time to time in the cinema, but this is less of a big deal than it used to be because most of Disney's revenues on its old animated films now come from DVD and VHS).

And this, apparently, is the kind of list Alan is looking at. It has lots of children's films on it, precisely as one would expect in these circumstances. It has lots of recent children's films, which is unsurprising given that the current generation of people between about 10 and 25 (the "baby boom echo" generation) is the largest in history in purely numerical terms. Which is why the first Harry Potter film features as high as it does.

This is why the exhibition industry was so unhappy that there was no Harry Potter movie last year. Exhibitors make most of their money from selling Coke and popcorn, and the amount of Coke and popcorn sold is proportional to the total number of people there (and children may even consume more on average than adults). And the number of people who were there for the Harry Potter films was just gigantic.

As for The Jungle Book being at the very top, this isn't that surprising. It is one of Disney's finest animated films, and although it would not be at the very top of a similar list calculated for the US, it is possible that it might be in or near the top ten. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the highest grossing Disney animated film in inflation adjusted US terms, but the fact that it was first released in 1937 would have meant there were certain obstacles to its performing at the box office in Germany in quite the same way it did in the US. (Just out of interest, Disney a couple of years back chose what they considered the ten best (or at least the ten potentially most commercially lucrative) of their animated movies for special "Platinum editiion" treatment on DVD. The ones they chose were Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Bambi, The Jungle Book, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Lady and the Tramp, and 101 Dalmatians. Maybe the list is a little heavy on 1980s/90s Ashman/Merkin, or maybe not. (This genuinely was a golden era). But The Jungle Book always ends up on any list of Disney's best.

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