Everyone's talking about the disappointing box office for The Lone Ranger's opening weekend, but what does that mean for us movie fans? Sure, it's a bad sign for Disney, as they're reportedly out to lose a lot of money on the action Western, yet a low gross doesn't mean low interest or low quality. The movie, which hit theaters last Wednesday, has received very negative reviews from critics. However, the general audience seems to like it for the most part. Its Cinemascore (polled from exiting moviegoers on opening night) is a decent B+. Its Rotten Tomatoes audience rating (measured from more than 55,000 members) is 68% positive with an average of 3.6 out of 5. And on IMDb, from more than 8,000 votes it is currently at an above average 6.7 stars out of 10.
Naturally, based on those numbers more people ought to be enticed to see The Lone Ranger. Unfortunately, those are not the numbers that are highlighted by the media. The box office figures and the angle that it's a flop are the focus on the news and throughout the entertainment-based Web. A lot of people who might have wanted to see The Lone Ranger but just didn't have the chance yet (not everyone is able to go to a new movie on its opening night) could be discouraged by the mistaken translation that bad box office means bad movie. Even when they hear positive word of mouth, the response of "but it bombed" is common, as "bomb" has a connotation of "it's a dud."
The power of opening weekends to make or break a movie is still a young phenomenon. It certainly wasn't the case when there were fewer screens and sell outs were still regularly possible (I'll always recall it taking three weekends of long lines before my family finally got in to see Beverly Hills Cop 2, which was initially supposed to be a birthday treat for my stepfather). And only a decade ago we could see a movie become a hit slowly and surely over many months, a la Crash. We rarely even see sleepers like that, at least with star-studded Hollywood productions. Now it's just a shame if, say, White House Down can't hit big from the start even if it gets both some good reviews and an A- Cinemascore. Not that suddenly nobody is going to see it, but it's far fewer than in those first three days.
And Hollywood is probably happy with that being the case, even if it might lose a lot of money on titles that aren't quick moneymakers. Since they get more money from ticket sales the closer to opening week, the distributors would much rather the majority a movie's tickets be sold that first week. Disney might not care if The Lone Ranger finds its audience later if that means the theater gets more of that money. Opening weekend is also important in a different way to the industry with indie/limited releases. Those films have a better shot at expanding if they're successful in their opening weekend. The distributor can market it as a hit before it heads to other cities. Never mind that they start in L.A. and NYC, where there are so many options and so many very busy people that might plan to see the film later on.
There are occasional instances where box office might get my attention. Recently there was a case where a Bollywood movie called Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani cracked the top 10 (not that many mainstream media outlets noticed), and I got very curious about it. But I like many Bollywood movies anyway. I also tend to be interested in seeing movies that do surprisingly well in their opening weekend because I want to be a part of any pop-culture discussion, and high-grossing releases do at least mean a lot of people saw a movie. Whether or not they liked it is another matter entirely, but in my line of work either can lead to an interesting conversation. I actually want to see The Lone Ranger more now that it bombed yet has people talking about it favorably than had it been a hit yet entirely lacked any sort of engagement.
Does opening weekend box office influence your decision to see or not see a movie?
Here are some responses received so far via Twitter:
Join in the next discussion: