“Jurassic World” is undeniably a massive hit, notching $208.8 million for the biggest domestic opening-weekend performance of all time.
It's a hugely notable achievement. But in all the superlatives showered on the film's box office, it’s worth taking a closer look at how the numbers break down. Opening weekends, after all, are just one measure of a film’s success — and given how much moviegoing has shifted in recent years, not always the most instructive in making historical comparisons.
Other factors — number of theaters played, inflation and the steroidal power of 3-D — all have to be taken into account. And that’s just the weekend itself. Hollywood releases -- or at least some Hollywood releases -- can have long runs that go beyond an opening weekend. In other words, the biggest opening weekend ever is a far cry from a movie being the biggest hit ever.
Here’s a closer look at "Jurassic World" and how it stacks up.
One factor that should strongly be taken into consideration in analyzing domestic returns: theater count. Since the number of screens that movies open on has scaled up in recent years, the raw box office number has also naturally risen. The better indicator of a film’s popularity across eras, then, is per-screen average--it essentially filters out that distorting factor of more screens. (Think of it as the movie business' equivalent of sports' efficiency statistics -- it measures not the unqualified bottom-line totals but how an entity makes use of a given possession.)
And that's where things get tricky. Yes, the films right behind "Jurassic" on the domestic opening-weekend chart were all in roughly the same number of theaters, so per-screen averages were all commensurately lower than "Jurassic." "Avengers: Age of Ultron,” for instance, came out just a month before in virtually the identical number of theaters (4,276 to 4,274). And its opening weekend number was $17 million lower, making its per-screen average $4,000 lower than "Jurassic World's" $49,000.
Per-screens for the rest of the top five on the all-time openings chart are also lower than "Jurassic" --the first "Avengers," "Iron Man 3" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," all of which came out in the last few years and, like "Jurassic World," were all available in 3-D (more on that factor in a second).
But go back further, and “Jurassic World” faces some competition. In 2002, “Spider-Man" had a $31,000 per-screen-average in its opening weekend (it opened on about 600 fewer screens). When adjusting for inflation, that puts “Spider-Man” at $41,000 per screen.
But that isn’t the end of the comparison either. Sales also have to be controlled for 3-D ticket prices. Movies that didn’t open in 3-D or didn’t attract a big number in 3-D (“Spider-Man” falls in the first category) will misleadingly come in with a lower opening than a movie that did have a big 3-D presence; the premium pricing of 3-D is simply going to inflate the numbers for the latter film. And “Jurassic World” had nearly half its sales in 3-D (48%).
Since a 3-D ticket price is about 20% to 30% higher than the average ticket, that means a chunk of the $49,000 per-screen average for “Jurassic World” is distorted up by the premium ticket pricing — without it, the per-screen number would be under $40,000.
What does this all boil down to? That the first Spidey actually has a slight edge over "Jurassic" in how much it packed audiences in over its opening weekend.
The two “Dark Knight” movies also give “Jurassic World” a run for its money. Neither was in 3-D, so those numbers were not distorted by higher pricing either (there was some indeed some Imax mixed in). And the per-screens for each were a hefty $36,000 — or $40,000 when adjusting for inflation in the case of 2008’s “The Dark Knight.” That puts it on the same plane as “Jurassic World” too.
And all of this, of course, just deals with opening weekend. “The Dark Knight” continued to streamroll along long after its opening weekend. Ditto for several James Cameron hits. ”Avatar" was still winning the weekend two months into its release. That kind of longevity — legs, in box-office parlance — helped the movie reach a whopping $750 million in domestic receipts, or nearly 10 times the opening weekend. (Most movies end up at a multiple between two and three times their opening-weekend total.)
Of course, even a lack of legs would still lead to an eye-poppingly high number for "Jurassic World" -- a modest 2x multiple would still mean that the film would come in at $415 million. That's a larger total than any movie to come out in all of last year by a wide margin, and good for the top 15 on the all-time (unadjusted-for-inflation) chart. That's still pretty gargantuan, even if it's not close to the biggest hit in history.