Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Movie Advertisements

This is nothing new, but it's on my mind. How often to find yourself watching or listening to an advertisement for a movie that just came out, and the ad boasts "Number 1 at the box office!" or "America's favorite comedy!" or some other similar claim? It happens often. Advertisers are trying to take advantage of our natural herd instincts or the bandwagon effect. What they're often neglecting to say, or saying in fine print so as not to get busted for false advertising, is that the movie was #1 at the box office for just a day or a weekend. A movie may have a huge opening weekend, then bomb as everyone who saw it lets their friends know how bad it was (Jurassic Park 2, seriously), but the ads focus on that opening weekend stat. That "favorite comedy" might be the only one out at the time among dramas and action flicks. They don't give you the parameters of their comparisons. There is a Superocity comic strip that comments on the phenomenon.

So, advertisements like that are not relevant to your decision-making process. They are inherently misleading. How, then, do you decide what movies are worth seeing? Find people with similar tastes to yours, and ask them what they enjoyed. There will always be people who go see a movie the opening weekend without any valid ability to predict the quality of the movie. Let them take the risks while you benefit from their reviews.

Look at these two lists: Gross for 3-day Opening Weekend and All-time Gross (not adjusted for inflation, or else Gone With the Wind would be up at the top). Notice that 16 of the top 20 opening weekend movies are sequels, since quality could be predicted to some degree by the preceding movies, and 10 of the top 20 all-time are sequels. Jurassic Park 2 was the highest opening weekend movie of all time for four years, but 60th overall, because Jurassic Park was so good. We got faked out on that one. So, there may be a correlation between quality of a movie and quality of its sequel, but it's not a sure bet. Total gross minus opening weekend gross would be a better measure of quality that total gross itself. DVD sales would also be telling. Titanic, Star Wars ANH, and ET did so well because people told their friends to see them, and many people went more than once.

There are only a few reasons why anyone would rationally go to an opening movie instead of waiting for reviews from people with similar tastes:
To avoid spoilers. No one can ruin the twist ending for you if you see it first.
Opening night is a cultural event. Star Wars, Harry Potter, Serenity; dress up and party with the other fanatics.
You write movie reviews.

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