The Ebb and Flow of Box Office Receipts

February 25, 2008
Source: New York Times

The Ebb and Flow of Box Office Receipts

While box office earnings are one of the last things we care about here on, the New York Times has put together a pretty interesting graph looking at the Ebb and Flow of Box Office Receipts from 1986 to 2007. I just love the look and dynamic of this graph and it really puts into light how the movie business works, or at least how much money it makes. The graph was made by putting in each week's box office earnings as well as total earnings and listing it out over time. From The Color Purple all the way to Jumper, you can find it on this graph.

As NY Times explains: Summer blockbusters and holiday hits make up the bulk of box office revenue each year, while contenders for the top Oscar awards tend to attract smaller audiences that build over time. Here's a look at how movies have fared at the box office, after adjusting for inflation. Click the photo below to be taken to the full interactive graph.

Ebb and Flow of Box Office Receipts

If you're trying to decipher this graph, let me help explain. The size (the height of each hill) is based upon how much money a particular movie made that week. Each new week another hill is added and the two are connected, so the graph flows horizontally. The color of each hill is equal to the total earnings of the movie, so the darker the color, the more it made overall (by the end of its run). So essentially, movies that made a lot on opening weekend have a huge hill to start that evens out as it goes to the right.

It's hard to write any real commentary about this graph, because it's really just a cool graph more than it is anything else. There is a lot that can be discussed about it and interesting things to note, but in general, each year seems to be as different as the last. I can say that opening weekends have obviously gotten bigger over time, so as much as the movie industry might try to claim that piracy is hurting the industry, it seems apparent that box office earnings are still consistent, if not growing. What it comes down to is the quality of movies and the quantity of good money-making movies.

One of the other things I've noticed is that some of the strongest performers really don't stand out. For example, Juno is very hard to find, because it started out very low and worked it's way up very solidly. So its graph is a very long and "flowing" one, but it doesn't stand out at all. Yet everyone knows that this is one of the most successful independent movies in history, but it doesn't show up in the "big picture" of box office earnings when graphed out this way. Not sure if I'd call that a flaw in the NY Times' graph or just something to look at in terms of the business. As in, how big of an impact will Juno really have?

Find more posts: Cool Stuff, Editorial



I am a big Box Office person, but for the life of me I couldn't understand that chart.

Ryan on Feb 25, 2008


Hey Ryan, I update the post with a paragraph about deciphering the graph. Hope it helps... If not, let me know, and can try and help explain it further. It is a bit confusing at first but it'll all make sense soon enough...

Alex Billington on Feb 25, 2008


If you go to the NY Times website and play around with the chart it becomes easier to understand. I was amazed at how extensive it is.

Nunya on Feb 25, 2008


That's a pretty interestingly detailed graph, it also looks some what edible.

Keicharones on Feb 25, 2008


Thanks Alex.

Ryan on Feb 26, 2008


Um, yeah. I guess it's a good graph. It kinda looks like "female parts" to me, but maybe I'm just a deviant.

avoidz on Feb 26, 2008

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