Every Picture Tells A Story, Don't It?

05/25/2011 12:40 pm ET
  • Eric Alterman Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York

The news everywhere is that the new Batman movie has set a new box office record for a single day by besting Spider-Man 3 by about $2 million. Thing is, those numbers are all pretty much nonsense, as is well known by the people writing them and editing them (and certainly sourcing them). Everyone but you, dear reader.

The fact is these numbers are made up by the theaters, and then turned over to the studies who add their own fictional spin, and then given to the PR departments, who then spoon-feed them to reporters, etc.

Does anyone verify them? How could they, given the speed with which they appear? And in whose interest would it be to pay for it? As Edward Jay Epstein explained in his excellent book The Big Picture: The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood, here:

To begin with, the Sunday numbers are not actual ticket sales but "projections" furnished by Nielsen EDI, since the Sunday evening box office cannot be counted in time to meet the deadlines of the morning papers. Variety, to its credit, corrects the guess estimates on Monday with the actual weekend take. Yet even these accurate numbers leave in place four other confusions about who earns what.

What's more, for many other reasons, they have little if anything to say about actual profitability. So if you're interested in who's giving you careful, honest news-reporting, check and see what qualifications are used in the reporting of these self-serving and largely fictional numbers.


For the rest of today's Altercation blog, click here.