It has been remarkable watching the “King Kong is a bust” meme take hold. I first saw it on the Drudge Report — Matt Drudge: the one-man Memeorandum — the day after the movie opened last week, but it has since spread everywhere, with there this widespread belief that director Peter Jackson’s mammoth new film is failing financially.
I disagree. Leaving aside the film’s artistic merits, or your view of its lack thereof, people are misunderstanding the numbers here. Yes, King Kong didn’t set any records on its opening day (a Wednesday) or its opening weekend, but that is largely meaningless.
Why? A couple of reasons, the most important of which is that the film is 187 minutes long and a long film cannot be played as many times in a given evening at your local multiplex as a shorter film. There’s no non-wormhole way around the problem, the upshot of which is that you can play a typical hundred-minute film almost two times for every time you can show a King Kong. Given that theaters don’t charge more for longer films, and given that the number of theaters is fixed in the short and medium run, the implications for a longer film’s short-run box office take is direct.
So, how should we think about King Kong’s box office? As the following table shows, King Kong actually had among the best opening weekends of any long-ish film in recent memory. For example, it outperformed Titanic, which went on to a not-flop-like $600mm domestic box office.
(Yes, Kong underperformed the opening weekend of Pearl Harbor, but the latter film’s crumminess (as shown by the RT (Rotten Tomatoes) column in the table) dragged it to a sub-$200mm take. And yes, Kong also underperformed Jackson’s longer Return of the King in that film’s opening weekend, but RotK had a built-in audience as the final film in a trilogy.)
Not to belabor the point, but my estimate is that King Kong will do a domestic box office of $400mm to $500mm, and a total international box office of something like $1.2 billion.
A financial flop? I think not.