What is considered successful in the box office?

Many times I will get asked what makes a movie successful in the box office? Does a film have to make over $100 million domestic? Does it have to win an Oscar? There are many different factors that go into figuring out if a film is successful or not. Let’s take a look at all the different scenarios:

  • One of the main factors is if the film at least made up for the cost of production: Let’s say there’s a film called Wash The Blues Away that had a total production budget of $55 million (that includes production, salaries, marketing, etc.). Domestically, the film made $30 million, and overseas it made another $35 million. While not a blockbuster by any means, the film made $65 million total, which ends the film with over $10 million after expenses.
  • Now, let’s look at another example. A film called Death Comes A Knocking is made for $250 million. The film grosses $125 million in the US, and another $70 million overseas. While the total comes to $195 and made a good amount of money, the film overall will be deemed unsuccessful. It is really important to see how much the budget was (a la Superman Returns).
  • Films like Tommy Boy tanked in the box office domestically and overseas and didn’t even come close to recouping the cost of the film. However, with syndication rights (selling the film to channels like USA and TBS) as well as DVD/VHS sales, the film has been a cash cow for Paramount for over a decade.
  • Genre films (like westerns, science-fiction, exorcism, etc.) tend to have a harder time becoming successful in the box office. It’s not to say that these films are bad by any means, but genre films are generally catered to a certain audience and not the masses. To make a genre film successful, like the current hit True Grit, the main thing you need to do is bring in star power. Jeff Bridges who stars in the film has been a huge hit since Crazy Heart a few years ago. However, films like The Crazies, while a critically acclaimed hit, didn’t have any star power and thus wasn’t successful in the box office.
  • Finally, films that are a part of a series usually are successful. While some films drag it on (here’s to you Shrek) and the value of the franchise lessens, franchises like Harry Potter continue to make money long after they are made. While some of the films make a lot less than others, the overall syndication packages they can sell will bring in some big dough.

Of course, there are many more factors to it, and it always isn’t that easy. If you have any questions ask away!

Categories: Movies

2 replies »

  1. Where did you get your statistics on Tommy Boy? Box Office Mojo tells me it was #1 opening weekend with a gross of $8 million, and a total domestic of $32.68 million. I can’t imagine its production budget could have been even $16 million.

    • Good question. I wrote the article 3 years ago, and I think I was watching or reading a documentary on Chris Farley (The Chris Farley Show is a good read) and I think I remember them saying the film made no money on the front end. I could be wrong and thinking it was Black Sheep as well. Sorry I don’t have more of a definitive answer.

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