The movie Creature distinguished itself recently - only not in a good way. It became the worst opening-weekend grossing movie, per screen, for a film premiering on at least 1,500 screens. It's total per screen? A paltry $220!
This event raises the question... Why does a movie perform horribly at the box office? Below, I've tried to compile a list of the relevant factors.
- Marketing - You can't go see a movie you don't know exists. I, for one, didn't even know Creature came out before I saw the news article about it tanked. While you can't force audiences to show up in droves to watch a piece of trash the power of marketing is undeniable. There's a reason why you see Happy Meals, toys, clothing, and lunchboxes all themed to a property of a successful movie along with print and television ads. A good marketing campaign puts the film's images everywhere so potential audiences can't forget about it. If your film is invisible, so will be the box office.
- Quality - Movie audiences are discerning. They can smell a stinker a mile away by watching a trailer. Quality films, as a general rule, obviously do better at the box office. Going to the movies is expensive now days and people want to have a reasonable chance of getting their money's worth when they take the time to drive to the movie theater.
- Word-of-Mouth - This one can work both for and against a film. Even if a bad film manages to get a large audience for its opening weekend negative word-of-mouth can eliminate future box office potential. Likewise, sometimes a movie that goes unnoticed originally (perhaps due to a lackluster marketing campaign) can garner big box office numbers due to positive word-of-mouth. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is one example of this. Certainly every film at the top of the highest-grossing film lists from E.T. to Avatar to Titanic had people who saw the movie telling their friends to see it.
- The Built-In Audience - Movies that are based on a recognizable property such as Transformers, Spider-Man, The Help, and Mortal Kombat all come with pre-made fans. These are people who are chomping at the bit to see the film no matter what. Sequels also fall into the category and it is the big reason so many sequels are made. We don't have to wonder what Ghostbuster 3 will be about and the studio doesn't have to waste time selling the concept to the public. With a movie like Creature, however, you have a concept that the public has no knowledge of previously. If your film doesn't have a built-in audience it better have a strong marketing campaign. Otherwise, it's, "Welcome to obscurity and financial failure!"
So, there you have it. You don't have to wonder why The Hunger Games, 21 Jump Street, or World War Z was a success or failure at the box office. Just ask yourself how the film ranks in the above four areas and you'll have your answer.