It's Monday, so everyone is talking about who is #1 at the box office and who isn't, but there's an element to the box office that a lot of media don't report, which is very important.
That element is the "per screen average."
The per screen average is how much a movie is making at each showing, and how that can help distributors, especially independent distributors gauge the film's performance, and whether or not it has legs, or the ability to either have a long run, or a wider release.
Let's look 1 major release, and two small releases this past weekend and see what stories they tell us...
Elysium, the economically questionable sci-fi action epic, scored $30,400,000 in its crucial opening weekend. Failing to match its director's previous outing's $37,000,000 opening, but that's not the point of this piece. Elysium played in 3, 284 screens in North America, which means that it had a pre-screen average of $9, 257.
The analysts are looking at that and thinking that the film is probably due for a big drop, and that drop could keep the film from breaking even on its $115,000,000 production costs, let alone the tens of millions spent on prints and advertising.
Sure, it's number 1 now, but probably doesn't have the legs to make it in the long run.
Now let's look at two "little" films, the biopic Lovelace and the Sundance darling In A World.
Lovelace tells the story of 70s porn star Linda Lovelace, played by the doe-eyed Amanda Seyfried, whose skills as a cinematic fellationist in the film Deep Throat sparked the pornography-as-mainstream-entertainment fad that lasted about five minutes during the 1970s.
It opened this past weekend and raked in about $184,000 at the box office.
The second film is In A World, about competitive voice-over artists that was written-directed-produced and starring actress Lake Bell. This film's opening weekend raked in a total of $71,000.
Now who do you think is the big winner of the weekend?
It's In A World.
Lovelace raked in more money overall, which I'm sure its distributor is happy with, but when you realize that it played in 118 screens, it only made $1,559 per screen.
In A World, made less than half of Lovelace overall, but it only played on 3 screens. It made an average of $23,667 per screen. More than 15x the per screen average of Lovelace, and more than double the per screen average of even Elysium. Add on the fact that Lovelace had a much bigger ad-budget as well and the promise of Amanda Seyfried doing scenes all nikked, and it's performance is even more impressive.
Now you're probably wondering "Does this mean if In A World played on as many screens as Elysium it would have made over $60 million at the box office?"
The answer I'd give is "No."
In A World is a specialty release. It's target audience are people who like independent films as a rule, so it's not really a threat to a heavily pitched blockbuster wannabe like Elysium.
However, it is a threat to Lovelace.
Theater owners pay close attention to per screen averages, because that's their bread and butter, and would probably be more willing to move Lovelace out of some screens and move In A World into a few that serve the film's target audience.
And that's why per-screen averages are important.