Twilight: New Moon Broke a Record, Except it Didn’t

11/24/2009 10:50 AM |


Yesterday’s headlines were abuzz with the news that the new film in the “Twilight Saga” had defied industry expectations by earning not just a lot of money in its opening weekend, but, like, a lot. Insiders had projected the film to take about $100 million; it took $140 million instead.

As such, it entered the record books as the third highest North American opening weekend of all time, behind The Dark Knight and Spider Man 3. It displaced Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Except it didn’t—not really.

Not that these sorts of records matter. But if the media are going to cover them, they may as well do it right. The coverage highlights a common problem in journalism: the failure to adjust for inflation. To measure money in sheer numbers is meaningless; it’s the actual value that counts.

Adjusting for inflation doesn’t require slide rules or a phone call to a NASA: the Department of Labor Statistics has created a calculator so easy to use even an entertainment blogger could do it.

And when we adjust Pirates 2‘s take for inflation, we find that $135.6 million in 2006 dollars is the equivalent of $145.4 million in today’s, just about $5 million more than the new Twilight film made. Which means that no records, at least those that might mean something, were actually broken.

Shouldn’t the New York Times know better, though? It’s possible that news organizations are simply desperate for Twilight news: the franchise is a guaranteed hits generator. I reviewed the original film on my blog last year, and it quickly became one of my most-visited pages of all time, beating out reviews that had a few year’s headstart to accumulate hits. (Most of the visitors came through Google Images, presumably girls perusing for printable Pattinson pin-ups.) As news organizations fret over the future of their collapsing business models, a little web traffic couldn’t hurt.

5 Comment

  • The inflation-adjusted $145.4 million the pirate movie made was during much flusher times; arguably $140 million during a recession is slightly more impressive.

    I mean, that’s a more subjective judgment than adjusting for inflation (which I thought we always did because duh Snow White, ET, etc). But as long as we’re going to talk about how much money a movie makes — which is important, eventually, from a historical perspective — the current economic climate is not an uninteresting factor (Hollywood’s box-office is a standby factor in any history of Depression-era America).

    None of this changes anything you said, of course.

  • Yes, the economic context could make for an interesting story; but, isn’t the conventional wisdom that downturns are good for Hollywood, because movies are considered “affordable” entertainment? Which makes $140 million less impressive!

  • Actually, I find that inflation-adjusted stuff is talked about RE: box office much, much more than it was, say, ten years ago. It doesn’t show on charts, much, but I wouldn’t say that it’s completely ignored. A lot of box office articles have at least a cursory mention of this — or when a 3-D movie with higher ticket prices makes a ton of money, articles will often note that it had higher prices.

    Also, isn’t it a little silly to say that because if you adjust Pirates 2 for inflation, it made a little more than Twilight 2, hence “no meaningful records were broken”? Was #3 Opening Weekend really that meaningful to begin with? I mean, a record was still broken — #4, or #5, or whatever it “actually” is if you adjust for inflation. And, of course, if you do that, Pirates 2 itself might not actually claim that spot in the first place.

    I’d argue, too, whether the “only” way to measure these things is to adjust for inflation. There’s a school of thought that says, look, we don’t measure attendance, because attendance doesn’t determine profit (nor does a $140 million opening weekend, though in this case, because these Twilight movies are so cheap, it happens to do the trick). Other industries don’t report profits by saying “well, yes, we broke a record this year in terms of money, but if you compare the value of the dollar in 1985…”

    I don’t necessarily agree with this being the standard, but I do think it’s a narrow to suggest that attendance is The True Way to measure these things. I mean, the fact that a $140 million opening weekend is now possible certainly speaks to the super-saturation and faster burnout that has become typical of film releasing, too. But changing conditions (or inflated ticket prices) doesn’t somehow *not* make this a lot of money.

    Not to say that this huge sum is something to celebrate, and not to say that it isn’t weird that movie box office is reported in revenue rather than the units-sold model of albums and books… but I don’t know if it’s any more relevant to compare every movie to Gone with the Wind’s inflation-adjusted total, say.

  • Also, one could argue that pirates are more likable than vampires– which makes the feat even more remarkable… or vice versus in which case it’s incredibly unimpressive. I think if you take subject matter into account The Story of the Weeping Camel is still the no-brainer record holder with a nearly 2 million gross. As far as I can tell, Twighlight New Moon was a measly 368 on the charts taking subject matter into account.

  • Edward has a flat face. Bella’s hair is too dark.