×

Why Box Office Tracking Is Still Off for Diverse Movies Like ‘Crazy Rich Asians’

Crazy Rich Asians,” with a $35 million five-day opening, over-performed initial box office estimates, which had pegged the picture to open to $18 million just three weeks ago.

As with other groundbreaking films featuring diverse casts, tracking projections underestimated the opening weekend — the same thing that happened with “Black Panther,” “Wonder Woman,” “Girls Trip,” “Coco,” and others over the last few years.

Estimating the opening haul for any film is an inexact science, part market research and part gut feeling. Films with black, female, Asian-American, or Latino leads — groups grossly underrepresented in Hollywood — can be even harder to predict because of the lack of comparable films, or comps, some box office trackers say. Of course, studios are also conservative in their estimates, eager to not look bad by over-shooting the potential opening number.

One thing tracking can’t take into account for films like “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians” is concerted social-media campaigns encouraging moviegoers to attend during the opening weekends. Hashtag challenges have been effective at getting the word out and attracting wealthy benefactors and organizations to buy out theaters or ticket blocks.

The #BlackPantherChallenge resulted in hundreds of sold-out theaters and “Crazy Rich Asians” had a similar social-media campaign using the #GoldOpen hashtag on social media. Lena Waithe, Vanity Fair editor Radhika Jones, “Crazy Rich Asians” screenwriter Adele Lim, and university alumni groups were among those who bought out theaters or purchased ticket blocks to support the picture.

“#GoldOpen is a movement to educate our audience about the importance of opening weekend and how critical it is to go out to the theaters during that first weekend,” said Michelle K. Sugihara, executive director of the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment.

Sugihara said Asian-American artists and activists have taken a page out of the playbook by African-American artists who have shown strong support for each other’s film projects. The #GoldOpen campaign first began in earnest with last summer’s “Gook,” the Justin Chon film that looks at the 1992 Los Angeles riots through the lens of Korean-American shop owners.

The effort is also highlighting other films featuring Asian-Americans behind and in front of the camera that are being released in August. Other films include “The Darkest Minds,” directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson; “Dog Days,” written by Elissa Matsueda and Erica Oyama; “The Meg,” an American-Chinese co-production; and the Netflix release “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” based on the novel by Jenny Han and starring Lana Condor.

Sugihara is heartened by the impact of the #GoldOpen campaign. She said there have been a number of screenings organized by CAPE at AMC Century City, and she has heard anecdotally that some exhibitors have had to add last-minute screenings to meet demand for “Crazy Rich Asians.”

“It’s been really amazing to see it all come together. It’s a moment that has turned into a movement,” Sugihara said.

But why are diverse films so often under-estimated?

“At best, often tracking is difficult, particularly with films that have a diverse cast and original IP,” said comScore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “It reminds me of the housing market. When you have something that doesn’t have a lot of comps, it becomes difficult to use for comparison purposes.”

Finding films to compare to “Crazy Rich Asians” is tough. Jon M. Chu’s “Crazy Rich Asians” represents one of the few major studio films featuring a predominantly Asian-American cast. The last predominantly Asian-American cast in a major studio production was 1993’s “Joy Luck Club,” a period piece released when ticket prices were much lower, making it a poor comparison. “Trainwreck,” in 2015, was the last rom-com to earn more than $100 million domestically, while this year’s “Overboard” topped out at $50 million. But “Trainwreck,” unlike “Crazy Rich Asians,” was rated R.

Other films with diverse casts have also had their box office appeal severely underestimated. “Coco,” the 2017 Disney-Pixar film set in Mexico, saw early estimates for its Thanksgiving five-day opening of $55 million and up. It ended up with a much stronger $71 million for the five-day period. “Girls Trip,” last year’s No. 1 comedy, saw early estimates of $25 million for its opening weekend and instead went on to make $31.2 million. Before “Black Panther,” the disparity in tracking black films was often so far off, that observers coined the expression “Black don’t track.”

Ultimately, the more diverse films that are released, whether flops or hits, the easier it will be to find comparable films. Maybe then, box office trackers won’t be “surprised” every time a diverse film over-indexes.

More Film

  • Beyonce poses for photographers upon arrival

    Beyoncé Releases Music Video for 'Spirit,' Her 'Lion King' Soundtrack Contribution

    Beyoncé fans are stampeding across the web veldt to get a look at her just-released music video for “Spirit,” the original song she co-wrote and sang for the “Lion King” soundtrack. The track is also included on the companion album she executive-produced and will release Friday, “The Gift.” Clips from the computer-animated film are interspersed [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez Takes Down Wall Street Crooks in New Trailer for 'Hustlers'

    According to Jennifer Lopez, basic pole dancing movements all revolve around a few foot positions. But as she tells her stripper student Constance Wu, it’s not just about the dancing. In the new trailer for “Hustlers,” Lopez and Wu swindle a number of high profile Wall Street clients in an effort to bring their white [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    Writers Guild Leaders Warn Members About Contact With Fired Agents

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America are warning members about being contacted by their former agents — asserting that such efforts are an attempt to undermine the WGA and its members. The missive, sent Tuesday from the WGA negotiating committee, came with the guild in a bitter three-month standoff with talent agents that appears [...]

  • Apollo 11

    Film News Roundup: 'Apollo 11' Re-Release Set for Moon Landing Anniversary

    In today’s film news roundup, Neon is re-releasing “Apollo 11”; “Sesame Street” gets moved; “Supersize Me 2” is set for Sept. 13; Will Ropp gets a “Silk Road” deal; and Apple makes a movie deal. RE-LAUNCH Neon will re-release Todd Douglas Miller’s documentary “Apollo 11” in theaters on July 20, the 50th anniversary of the [...]

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Michael B. Jordan's 'Just Mercy' Moves to Awards Season Slot

    Michael B. Jordan’s upcoming legal drama “Just Mercy” has been shifted forward three weeks from Jan. 17 to Dec. 25 for an Oscar-qualifying theatrical release. “Just Mercy” is based on the case of Walter McMillan, an African-American death-row prisoner who was exonerated in 1993 after being convicted five years earlier for a 1986 murder in [...]

  • Harry Styles to Play Prince Eric

    Harry Styles in Talks to Play Prince Eric in Disney's 'Little Mermaid'

    Harry Styles is going under the sea. The former One Direction frontman is in early negotiations to play Prince Eric in Disney’s live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.” Halle Bailey will portray the Ariel, a mermaid princess who dreams of being a human, while Melissa McCarthy is playing her evil aunt Ursula. “The Little Mermaid” [...]

  • Stuber Movie

    Disney Left With a Slate of Film Flops After Fox Deal

    Is Disney having buyer’s remorse? The studio would be forgiven if it were having some regrets after absorbing 20th Century Fox, the company that once generated big box office with the likes of “Avatar,” “Life of Pi,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” After “Dark Phoenix” bombed earlier this summer, Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista’s action comedy “Stuber” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content