Hey, all you Friday number crunchers: There's a reason it's called weekend b.o.


Projecting a film's weekend performance on the basis of one day's grosses is a fool's errand.

Which is why I've been given that assignment, I suppose. A few months ago, The Hollywood Reporter joined a growing number of Web sites posting Saturday morning stories based on Friday boxoffice performances.

In theory, such coverage offers an early bead on how new releases will fare during their first weekend. In reality, the more one knows about boxoffice, the less likely one is to hazard a guess.

The spread of ultra-early weekend reporting is traceable to a rise in boxoffice awareness among the general public. Once mainstream newspapers began running gee-whiz stories about films opening with nine-digit sums, even readers in Peoria started following weekend movie rankings.

Personally, I still pull up short of calculating a weekend projection on Saturday mornings and simply state whether Friday grosses are in line with prerelease expectations. Others are less shy, rushing in with breathless predictions based on shaky studio calculations or, worse yet, the whispers of studio executives eager to enhance their pics' prospects and undermine rivals' releases.

The spin is unsurprising, but it's remarkable how inaccurate studios' officially generated projections can be -- so much so that it's tempting to imagine the errors are intentional. But an informal survey of the situation suggests the studio blunders are tied less to bad motives than bad methodology.

On Saturday morning, studio execs simply take pics' Friday grosses and combine them with historical data based on genre and target audiences to calculate likely weekend tallies. That's too simplistic an approach; projections should be tweaked further to account for obvious idiosyncrasies of individual releases.

For instance, Warner Bros.' release last weekend of "Where the Wild Things Are" -- director Spike Jonze's quirky, moody fantasy based on the popular children's book -- targeted adult and family moviegoers, so it never was going to enjoy as big a Saturday uptick from Friday grosses as does most matinee-fattened family fare.

But based on a $12 million Friday, Universal projected its rival's film would fetch $41.7 million for the weekend. A Hollywood blog similarly predicted "Wild Things" would enjoy a $40 million-plus opening; that likely was based on the studio's internal projections, which often are distributed to select journalists.

The forecasts were wildly wrong: "Wild Things" registered $32.7 million during its first three days.

Industryites often try to inflate expectations for rivals' releases to set them up for failure, but how to explain Universal projecting $37.2 million for its own "Couples Retreat"? It ended up topping the weekend boxoffice with $34.3 million.

Further confusing the situation that Saturday, another blogger predicted "Couples" would ring up only $28 million. The same Web site often posts weekend projections Friday night, based on a day's receipts from East Coast theaters.

Like Universal, Paramount regularly projects weekend performances in a spreadsheet distributed internally and shared Saturday mornings with select journalists. But its track record hardly is better.

For Paramount's "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," the studio predicted a three-day opening of $60.3 million. It bowed with $54.7 million.

As disconcerting as studio errors can be, bloggers and journalists are their own worst enemies when they accept projections or studio spin from execs with obvious axes to grind. As a result, the media's collective boxoffice reporting can be utter chaos many Saturdays.

The lunacy of the situation was particularly apparent in the summer.

Consider the case of Disney/Pixar's animated feature "Up." A blogger predicted the May tentpole would gross $85 million during its first three days; by Sunday, the figure proved to be $68 million.

It's worth noting that when July opener "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" bowed on a Wednesday, offering a three-day track record when Friday grosses were added into projections Saturday, most forecasters were able to nail what proved its eventual weekend tally. But how sad is it when accuracy represents an exception to the rule?

I wonder whether a deck of tarot cards might help.
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