Weekly change at the UK box office

Among the many pieces of information you are given for the weekly box office data of films on release in the (and elsewhere) is the percentage change in the 3-day weekend (i.e. Friday to Sunday) gross. Typically, this will be a negative figure as box office declines over the course of a films release – a clear example of this can be seen in the US box office for Mamma Mia! here. But as I have written about elsewhere (here, here, and here), looking at the weekend box office in isolation may produce a misleading picture of what audiences are doing – particularly in the UK. How does the change in box office for period Monday to Thursday compare to the weekend? And how does this effect the total weekly change? These questions are not easy to answer because films tend not to hang around to long on British cinema screens and so there are not so many weeks to serve as data points – because this involves comparing grosses for the whole week a difference cannot be calculated for the non-weekend change until the weeks 2 and 3. We can, however, look at those films that had enough legs to make it worthwhile – Mamma Mia!, The Dark Knight, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, and Avatar.

Broadly speaking, the patterns of change in box office gross are similar for the week and the weekend – although there are occasions when a decline the gross of one part of the week is not accompanied by a decline in the gross for the other, this would appear to be rare.The change in the total weekly gross falls somewhere between the two (but is not the average of the two).

Mamma Mia! has a general pattern of decline, but shows no consistent pattern over the course of its release. In some weeks the weekday and weekend grosses fall by over 20%, in other weeks one falls by a large amount while the other changes little, and on other occasions one part of the week declines while the other grows. Weeks 7 and 8 are the exception here. Mamma Mia! gross £6,594,058 and by week 15 had grossed £65,932,575, so that its opening weekend accounted for only ~10% of its gross to this point. Unlike so many films – and an example is given below – where the opening weekend is everything, this was not the case for Mamma Mia!, and the varied nature of the week-on-week percentage change may reflect that the audience for this film did not attend in any predictable pattern.

The pattern for The Dark Knight changes somewhat abruptly from week 12, but this may partly be due to the relatively small amount of box office grossed at this stage of a film’s release and where a modest increase in gross can cause a large swing in the percentage change – but it is worth noting that this apparently only affects the weekday and not the weekend gross. Like Mamma Mia! there is a general pattern of decline, but for The Dark Knight this pattern is consistent for the first 11 weeks, and shows none of the same fluctuation of the other film.

Harry Potter follows a consistent pattern of decline with no positive changes in gross; and the large change at week 9 occurs at the beginning of September, when the school holidays end and the term starts. This film took £19.8 million (including previews) for its opening weekend, and by the end of week 15 had gross a total of £50.7 million. Based on these figures alone (i.e. not the final UK gross you may see quoted elsewhere), the opening weekend accounted for approximately 39% of this film’s gross. The earning pattern for this film – unlike Mamma Mia! and Avatar – was all about its opening. It is unlikely that a Harry Potter has or would suffer a poor opening weekend – but if it did then this would be catastrophic.

Avatar has supplanted Mamma Mia! as the top grossing film of all-time in the UK, but like Mamma Mia! its opening weekend was a modest affair. The opening weekend gross is given by the UK Film Council box office archive as £8,509,050, and its gross after 15 weeks was £91,053,002 – giving a ratio of ~9.4%. The grossing pattern of this film was also disrupted by the fact that cinemas in the UK are closed on Christmas Day (unlike everywhere else in the world) and so the very large increase in the percentage change that can bee seen in Figure 4 for week followed by the decline into week 4 is the film settling down to something more like a normal pattern. Of course, Avatar being Avatar this did not actually happen, and the percentage change for weeks 5 to 8 are atypical of anything you might encounter at the UK box office. The huge increase in the weekday box office gross for week 10 can be attributed to the impact of school holidays on the ability of a large part of the audience to attend. This calls into question the wisdom of relying on the percentage box office for the 3-day weekend gross: the weekend gross for week 10 of Avatar fell by ~15% during a week when there was a huge increase in the proportion of cinemagoers attending this film during the week.

Figure 1 Percentage change in UK box office gross for Mamma Mia!

Figure 2 Percentage change in UK box office gross for The Dark Knight!

Figure 3 Percentage change in UK box office gross for Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Figure 4 Percentage change in UK box office gross for Avatar


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 July 1, 2010, in British Cinema, Film Industry, Film Studies, Motion Picture Exhibition and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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