Minority Report vs. Lilo & Stitch

By David Mumpower

June 25, 2002

Stitch takes a bite of the box office pie.

There has been an unusual amount of debate in the past two days about the studio estimates for Lilo & Stitch and Minority Report. Many cynics were quick to point out that Fox was being unusually outlandish in their three-day estimate for their film, Minority Report. To these critics, it appeared obvious that since Lilo & Stitch had the higher box-office total on Friday, it was a no-brainer that the family film would easily walk away with the weekend. After all, the family film genre is notorious for having the highest internal multiplier of any movie genre. This is due to the obvious reason that it's much easier for families to get the theater on Saturday and Sunday when the kids are out of school and the parents are not working. Seems cut and dried, right? 

Not so fast.

Before we go any further, for those of you who do not read David Parker's columns here at BOP each Saturday (for shame!), I need to explain one bit of terminology.  An internal multiplier sounds like a complicated mathematical term, but it really isn't, I swear. All this term indicates is how much box office a film will have over the weekend as compared to its Friday single-day performance.  If a movie makes $12.0 million on Friday and $36.0 million for Friday-to-Sunday, we say that it has an internal multiplier of 3.0.  See, that's not so tricky/scary, is it? We use this calculation because, with enough experience and understanding of box-office behavior, movie analysts begin to demonstrate the ability to accurately forecast an entire weekend from one day of box-office data.

Using this knowledge, we learn to spot trends in behavior specific to the various movie genres. For instance, horror and teen films tend to have lower-than-normal internal multipliers because there is a first-day rush factor. This is simply explained as fans of these genres being more likely to see a movie when it first comes out rather than wait a day or two, thereby lowering the film's internal multiplier. It's simple mathematics; after all, that if there is a larger total on Friday, a film with the same business the other two days will have a lower multiplier.  If I've lost anyone here, let's do a couple of quick demonstrations.

Film X makes a hypothetical $8 million on its first Friday, $10 million on its first Saturday and $7 million on its first Sunday. The movie has made $25 million over the weekend with an internal multiplier of 3.125 ($25 million for the three days divided by $8 million on Friday, or 25/8). This would be indicative of your standard movie performance, since the average weekend multiplier is a factor of 3.15 times Friday box office.

Had the same film made $10 million on Friday without making more on Saturday or Sunday, though, its internal multiplier would have declined all the way down to 2.70 ($27 million for the first three days divided by $10 million on Friday).  Overall box office has risen, but the multiplier has declined. This is what box-office analysts mean when they refer to frontloading. The movie made as much Friday as it did Saturday and then fell on Sunday. When a release does this, it tends to have smaller legs, because a lot of the demand has been met on opening day.

Now consider a few recent movies. In the case of a recent horror release, Jason X made $2.61 million on its first Friday. The film made $6.65 million over its first three days. That's an internal multiplier of 2.55, well below the 3.15 we just discussed. Similarly, The New Guy, a film with a teen demographic as the core audience, made $3.22 million on its first Friday and $9.00 million in its first three days for an internal multiplier of 2.79, again well below average.

We now consider these facts alongside the average family film, which, as I've discussed above, generally has a very high internal multiplier due to the Saturday and Sunday matinee shows being much easier for families to attend than Friday shows. Two recent examples would be Stallion: Spirit of the Cimarron and Ice Age. Spirit opened to $4.58 million on its first Friday and made $17.77 million in its first three days for an outstanding internal multiplier of 3.88. Ice Age had an incredible three-day opening of $46.30 million after a Friday debut of $13.47 million, for an internal multiplier of 3.41. This is even more impressive because we showed above that it's harder to have a larger-than-normal internal multiplier when the Friday performance is strong.

Using this information, it's obvious why analysts would infer that Lilo & Stitch should easily beat Minority Report, since the Disney family film made $12.34 million on Friday while the sci-fi action mystery made $11.66 million.  There have been numerous saber-rattling comments made, by analysts and studio execs alike, indicating foul play on the part of Bruce Snyder and his Fox cohorts. The always-quotable Chuck Viane of Disney was even unusually pointed in his comments this weekend as he stated, "We're both public companies, and I'm confident the estimates will be corrected on Monday morning."

So, it's obvious that Disney wanted their film to pull off a huge upset and overtake the Tom Cruise/Steven Spielberg film for first place. Why did this not happen? Why did Minority Report still win? Was there some sort of Rupert Murdoch conspiracy at work?

Not at all.

When it comes to Disney animation in the summer, an odd thing happens. The normal rules are thrown out the window and kids become quite adult and oddly uniform in their fan-boy behavior. Just as a teen-ager would rush out to see a horror film on opening day, a kid is motivated to get the folks to take them to see a spectacular Disney animated film on Day One. This is made easier by the fact that school is out, so there is not the normal impediment against Friday afternoon matinees. As long as they can find some adult to get them to the theater, they will go on Friday rather than wait till Saturday or Sunday, as they would be forced to do during the school year. Consider the chart below.

Recent Summer Disney Animated Film Performances
First Weekend Gross (M$)
Friday Gross (M$)
Internal Multiplier
Lilo & Stitch

 Do you notice how uniformly Lilo & Stitch fits in with the other listings? Now contrast that with other recent summer family films which were not Disney animation releases. You'll note that the WORST internal multiplier of the films below is The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle at 3.21. In comparison, the BEST Disney animated title still only manages a 3.13 multiplier.

Recent Summer Non-Disney Animated Film Performances
First Weekend Gross (M$)
Friday Gross (M$)
Internal Multiplier
Disney's The Kid
Thomas and the Magic Train Engine
George of the Jungle
The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle
Chicken Run
Inspector Gadget

In short, all of the criticisms directed toward Fox were based upon a solid knowledge of box-office behavior. In this instance, however, said knowledge actually works against the analysts drawing the conclusions, because Disney summer animation is its own entity. It behaves uniquely and flies in the face of conventional wisdom.

Conversely, Minority Report's box-office behavior was not the least bit unusual. It opened to $35.68 million after making $11.66 million on Friday. That's a multiplier of 3.06, a number which we now know to be fairly ordinary, if not a bit below average, for a film which skews largely adult.

Despite what you've heard or what others have inferred, the key to Lilo & Stitch beating Minority Report on Friday but then barely losing out for the total weekend has little to do with Fox (though I'm sure they were rounding up whenever possible to boost their film's total). Instead, Fox execs have been damned in the press because of an odd quirk in kiddie movie attendance driven largely by the marvelous ability of Disney to get kids to theaters on opening day in order to experience the wonder of classic Disney animation.

(Of course, I say it's karma on Fox execs for the recent cancellations of The Tick, Undeclared and Futurama)