ByTom Cox, writer at
Staff writer for Moviepilot. Tweet me @thomascox500
Tom Cox

Disney has broken records, making the modest sum of $1 BILLION in the first 129 days of 2016 alone; but with their mountain of cash, are execs laughing on a boat of gold, eating orangutan baby and building actual Iron Man suits?

Disney's Jungle Book was another 2016 big earner
Disney's Jungle Book was another 2016 big earner

Probably not, but it's imperative to figure out just how much money they have made. The box office is often held up as the holy grail of a movie. Perhaps too much so, as it is often criticized for not valuing the artistic merit effectively: a movie can be loved by critics but panned by the masses. Where does the box office figure actually come from?

Here's a breakdown.

Box Office: Origins

The term "box office" is a bit weird, isn't it? We don't watch cinema in FedEx packing containers. The ticket office is not encased in a disposable rectangular frame. So, why all this boxy nonsense?

The term may have roots in the 16th century when theater admission was accepted by a "box" on the end of a stick passed around the audience. It has clearer origins in the 18th century from the "boxes," or private seating areas, up high in the theater where posh people couldn't see much but the paupers beneath could see them.

The number comes from the mothership of box office data, Box Office Mojo. The website, founded in 1999, tracks theaters' revenue. The numbers they publish are a compilation of all the theaters' total ticket sales. These are "gross," meaning they show exactly what people have paid for the movie. When you buy a cinema ticket, it should directly bump the box office Mojo up $10, or whatever you paid.

When you hear that Civil War has pulled in $181.8 million, this doesn't mean Disney has raked in that amount. In fact, they're probably looking at approximately $90 million — about half the moolah goes to what is called the "House Nut," the expensive operating costs of a theater.

Mojo is a bit mysterious in having no details on how they "track" the theatrical box office earnings, but we can assume they compile all the data from cinemas nationwide electronically. This would mean it is open to some fault from smaller cinemas with less-digitized systems failing to submit their exact ticket take. They also make estimates. On their site Mojo describse:

Calendar Grosses are based on daily box office receipts or, when daily data is not available, estimates are used and are based on weekend and weekly data and historical box office trends. In cases where a final reported gross is different from its last reported gross for a given movie, the difference is assigned to the two weeks after the last reported gross date.

Mojo continues:

In most cases, this reflects receipts that have trickled in after a movie has stopped being tracked for reportage. Since box office has been more closely tracked in recent years, the calendar gross data is generally considered more comprehensive after 2001, while pre-2001 estimates are considered approximate. Accuracy of calendar grosses improves over a wider range of time viewed.

Basically, though Mojo does make estimates, unless the movie in question was released pre-2001 it will be pretty accurate.

Weekend Box

The saucy number from the weekend box office is generally held to be the oracle of success for a movie. If it flops on the opening weekend, it's certain it's doomed commercially forevermore.

The weekend is not the conventional weekend — Satursay and Sunday — but a long weekend, including Friday too. Mojo receives studio estimates on Sunday morning at 9 a.m. Pacific Time and the actual figures on Monday after 1 p.m.

Weekly Box

The dirty digit of the weekly box office is also not what you might expect of Monday – Sunday, but turns the week upside down with Friday – Thursday. The figure is the gross receipts paid in those seven days.

So, although it's fantastic news for a studio when they rake in $100 million at the box office, in real terms they are only getting around $50 million.

Is the box office always right?

Source: Box Office Mojo


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