The initial importance of the opening weekend figures is obvious. Films cost a lot of money to make and almost as much to market. Producers want their movie to make as much money as possible and the opening weekend is the start of that. The box-office returns tend to diminish exponentially over time, so a strong opening is essential. Then you have the cinema/theatre owners, who depend of a packed audience so they can sell their real money maker, refreshments. One thing you can guarantee is that however good or bad a film is, there will always be a handful of new releases the following week to take its place. To add to this, for most people a trip to the cinema is no longer a cheap night out, audiences want the reassurance of a film that other people like.
A little research online tells me: There are two basic ways a cinema pays for the right to show a film. The first and less common way “Bidding” requires the cinema to pay an agreed fee for a set period of time. They then keep the box-office takings making a profit or loss depending on the success of the film. More common, is a percentage of the box office sale. The cinema’s share of the box-office tends to go up each week. But then there are more complicated deals where second, third and future weeks may be decided depending on the success of the opening. A cinema and distributor cannot wait until Thursday night to do this, as by this time the prints (or digital equivalent) will be in place, the listings printed, the schedule published and the posters up in the foyer. So what do they do? They decide based on the opening weekend. Then you have the smaller and independent cinemas that may not get a film in the first week, they have to decide what films to take based on how they have performed in other venues. Or the large cinemas who have a staggered release for some films, how they perform in the opening weekend could decide how many screens the eventually make it into.
As a film fan and regular cinema goer, I used to check the press for preview screenings of films I really wanted to see. They were normally two or three days before general release, sometimes they were ten days before. There would only be one screening. Then things started to change. The preview would be the weekend (That’s Saturday and Sunday – as we will come onto later a weekend is something different in cinema) before release, or the two or three days leading up to the official release date. When this happened the one off screening became a whole day, or several days of screenings.
The all important opening weekend runs from Friday to Sunday. But here, is the catch. If a film previews before the opening weekend, the box-office from the preview is added to the opening weekend take. An extra midweek date will certainly help but how much difference will it really make? If you want to guarantee your film will be a “number one box-office smash” you may want more than one extra day. That is exactly what happened last month. Neighbours (know as Bad Neighbours here in the UK) opened on Friday 9th May, it previewed from Saturday 3rd May, giving it a nine day opening weekend. It came as no surprise that it topped the box-office that week, as described by Mark Kermode.
In an interesting twist on the story. When on Friday 23rd May Picturehouse Cinemas compiled their top five films for the week ending on Thursday 22nd X-Men: Days of Future Past came sixth, only narrowly missed out on a place in the top five despite only being open for one day. Does it matter? To be honest I’m not sure. I watch films because I like the sound of them or because they are made by filmmakers I like. I don’t pick a film because it is successful, I haven’t actually seen Bad Neighbours yet and like Mark Kermode, I actually like Transcendence. But where will all this end? will Thursday or Wednesday become the normal opening day for films? Will we see a nine day weekend become the norm? Does it need to be stamped out? I’m not sure that it does but if the list makers want to stop it and level the playing field it would be an easy fix. Only take the Friday to Sunday take into account when calculating the box-office take.