Death of the Blockbuster

Chris of passed along Chris Anderson’s recent Long Tail blog entry on the death of the blockbuster (see also Boing Boing). Anderson’s argument is not unfamilar, as he emphasizes the continuing decrease in domestic box office revenue for Hollywood’s big-budget spectacles:

[T]he fraction of total box office that comes from the blockbusters (top 25 films) has been steadily falling, even as the cost of making those films (expressed here as a percentage of total box office revenue) has been rising.

Bottom line: even in Hollywood, the home of the blockbuster, hits are losing their power. It’s not nearly as dire as in music, but it’s trending in the same direction. Does this mean the end of movies? Not at all–there have never been more films made, just as there has never been more music available than today, despite the fact that the bestsellers sell less.

Anderson’s argument is compelling, but like many of the poeple who have commented on his entry, I’m not quite sure his conclusions are supported by the evidence he offers (and this is where some of my conclusions are likely influenced by Epstein and others who have written on this topic).

First, Anderson’s reading of box office numbers ignores the role of blockbuster films in marketing other products (product placement in the film, corporate tie-ins, etc). The theatrical box office for a film is just a small percentage of the film’s total revenue, and domestic revenue is now dwarfed by international box office. In addition, several commenters have noted that Anderson’s analysis of economic changes don’t completely measure up (I’ll suggest that you look at their explanations rather than attempting to summarize them myself). It’s also worth noting that Hollywood’s accounting practices would probably make an Enron executive blush. Finally, while it may be the case that more films are being made, it’s still incredible difficult to find a studio (indie or major) to distribute your film.

Anderson’s defense of his conclusions isn’t terribly convincing either. Without further evidence, it’s not fair to assert that domestic box office will necessarily predict international box office or DVD sales. In addition, because “home theater” systems are so widely available, many people are choosing to wait for films (including blockbusters) to show up on DVD.


  1. McChris Said,

    February 9, 2006 @ 10:28 am

    I do have a blog, even if it doesn’t look like it. I’m transitioning to WordPress, and you can see current posts at

  2. Chuck Said,

    February 9, 2006 @ 11:09 am

    I’ve been out of touch lately (long couple of months) so unfortunately missed that you were switching over.

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