Gross ratios in the UK and the US

In some earlier posts (here and here), I have used the 3-day gross ratio as a statistic for looking at when audiences attend films at the UK box office. What stands out from looking at the proportion of a film’s gross accumulated during the three-day weekend of Friday to Sunday is that the major part of a film’s weekly gross is taken during the week (i.e. Monday to Thursday), and that typically less than half of a film’s gross for the week is taken at the weekend. In fact, it appears to be approximately 40% of the gross that is accumulated at the weekend on average. This suggests that British audiences prefer to attend the cinema during the week than at the weekend. In fact, looking at the box office gross, we are actually underestimating the proportion of tickets sold during the week due to pricing variations. Cinema ticket prices are largely invariant when it comes to different films, but there are variations from one day to another. For example,  a single adult ticket purchased online for the 20:20 screening of Prince of Persia: Sands of Time at the Wakefield Cineworld on Tuesday 1 June 2010 was priced at £4.90; compared to £6.70 for the same screening on Saturday 29 May, 2010. So some tickets sold during the week are cheaper than the ones sold at the weekend; and, therefore, for a film to gross, say, 60% of its box office during the period it must sell more than 60% of its tickets during this period. This is another example of why the weekend gross should not be used to rank films.

Does the US box office show similar patterns? From my earlier posts, we would expect this not to be the case; but we can get a clearer idea by comparing films released in both the UK and the US and looking at their mean 3-day gross ratios for the same time periods. Here I have selected 30 films and calculated the mean 3-day gross ratios using data from the UK film Council and Box Office Mojo. Some of this data has appeared in my earlier posts. Unfortunately, a direct one-to-one comparison is not possible, because many of the films in my original UK sample were not released in the US. Using these small samples we can get an inkling of any differences. The films are sorted by the gender categories that were employed before. Unless otherwise noted, the mean ratios are calculated based on weeks 2 to 8, inclusive, of a film’s release. I have calculated the difference between the two mean ratios for each and the mean difference for each group of films, but I have not calculated any test statistics for these results as they would not really be representative due to the fact many films in the original study were unreleased in the US. The results are presented in Tables 1 through 3.

Table 1 Mean 3-day gross ratios for UK films released in the US and UK, 2007 to 2008, in which the main character(s) are female

Table 2 Mean 3-day gross ratios for UK films released in the US and UK, 2007 to 2008, in which the main character(s) are female/male

Table 3 Mean 3-day gross ratios for UK films released in the US and UK, 2007 to 2008, in which the main character(s) are male

There are three main results that stand out:

  • Films at the UK box office typically take less than half their box office at the weekend, while films in the US take more than half during the same period. The mean ratios were greater at the UK box office for only three films (Penelope, The Golden Compass, and Run, Fat Boy, Run). Only 28 Weeks Later has a mean 3-day gross ratio of less than 0.5 in the US, and even then it is 0.4926! If we can infer that UK audiences like to go to the cinema during the week, then we can also infer that US audiences prefer to attend at the weekend.
  • The films at the UK box office exhibit a greater range of values for the mean 3-day gross ratio than films at the US box office, suggesting that the behaviour of UK audiences is more varied. In the UK, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day has a mean 3-day gross ratio of 0.2905, while Penelope has a mean ratio of 0.6332; giving a range of 0.3427. (Neither of these films were the most extreme values in the original post that looked at 50 British films). The range for films in the US is 0.2118.Films at the US also appear to show less dispersion when the main character(s) are female or male.
  • The differences between films in the US and the UK appear to be related to the gender of the main character(s): the differences between the mean ratios for the ‘female’ films are typically greater than those differences for the ‘male’ films. There does not appear to be the same difference between ‘female’ and ‘male’ films in the US that I noted before for the UK.

All in all this suggests that British and American audiences have different socialising and viewing habits, and consume films at the cinema at different times of the week.

An interesting way to explore this further would be to compare the time series of a film’s box office gross day-by-day for the two countries, in order to identify the trend over several weeks and the seasonality over the course of each individual week. It is possible to get daily box office data for the US from Box Office Mojo, and Figure 1 presents this information for Mamma Mia! for the first 75 days of its release. We can see that the overall trend is downward as the earning power of the film declines over time; but the weekly variation is very strong, with the peaks of the 3-day weekend (centred on Saturday) and the troughs of the period Monday to Thursday (though note the high value for a Monday at day 46 which coincided with the four day weekend of a US national holiday).

Figure 1 Daily box office gross for Mamma Mia! in the US

What would a similar graph for the UK look like? We would probably still see the peaks at the weekends, but the differences between week and weekend would not be so pronounced. We may, for some weeks, even see a peak during the week given the apparent nature of filmgoing in the UK. Unfortunately, daily box office data is not available for the UK and so I cannot produce a similar graph to make the comparison.

Having a British equivalent to Box Office Mojo, whereby detailed and update box office data is made freely available would allow us to make a big step forward in understanding the behaviour of audiences in the UK, but what we have available at the moment is not up to the task. The UK Film Council archive only provide data for the top 15 films, opening releases, and UK films; and so we cannot even track Hollywood films on release for more than four or five weeks unless they are particularly successful. The Research and Statistics unit at the UK Film Council needs to improve the range, variety, and quality of the information it provides. The data that is publicly available on the Film Distributor’s Association and Cinema Exhibitor’s Association websites is equally poor (and in some cases of lower quality to the UK Film Council’s) and often not kept up to date.

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About Nick Redfern

I graduated from the University of Kent in 1998 with a degree in Film Studies and History, and was awarded an MA by the same institution in 2002. I received my Ph.D. from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2006 for a thesis title 'Regionalism and the Cinema in the United Kingdom, 1992 to 2002.' I have taught at Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Central Lancashire. My research interests include regional film cultures and industries in the United Kingdom; cognition and communication in the cinema; anxiety in contemporary Hollywood cinema; cinemetrics; and film style and film form. My work has been published in Entertext, the International Journal of Regional and Local Studies, the New Review of Film and Television Studies, Cyfrwng: Media Wales Journal, and the Journal of British Cinema and Television.

Posted on June 10, 2010, in British Cinema, Film Industry, Film Studies, Hollywood, Motion Picture Distribution, Motion Picture Exhibition and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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