Box (office) lunch: WSJ offers a tasting menu

For anyone who’s ever been even mildly interested in movies, and the grosses they produce, the Wall Street Journal today offers a must-read piece.

Carl Bialik, the self-titled “numbers guy” for the Journal, points out that unlike TV, there really is no (and there is likely never to be) an independent means to find out how many people really saw a film.

“”People in the industry are so excited about these numbers that a lot of people get up early Sunday morning,” says Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Company Inc., the Encino, Calif., company that compiles North America box-office data. He gets the numbers via a flurry of faxes, emails and phone calls — sometimes made by studio executives themselves when the news is good. “It’s a great marketing tool,” says Mr. Dergarabedian. Gitesh Pandya has compiled box-office estimates on his Web site,, since 1997. “In the early ’90s, studios realized they could get a lot of publicity by reporting Sunday estimates,” he says. “It’s a way to publicize those films a day earlier. The numbers aren’t as fresh on Tuesday morning.” Maybe not, but Tuesday morning’s numbers are more accurate: On Monday morning, when studios have actual Sunday box-office totals and more-complete reporting from the less-wired theaters, the Sunday numbers get tweaked. There’s no way to independently verify these estimates, because the studios are the only ones to release them — and even these final numbers include some estimation because of the telephone surveys.”

In other words, if no one likes a Monday morning quarterback, the press really doesn’t like a Tuesday morning quarterback – even though he’s the most accurate of them all.