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By Hammad Zaidi | March 11, 2014

Welcome to Going Bionic #202. Today we’re discussing Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, because it just became the single highest per screen average for a limited release live action release in the history of cinema.

Side Note: For those of you who are not familiar with what a “Per Screen Average” is, or how it is calculated….

Per Screen Average is a simple mathematical calculation of a film’s weekend box office total, divided by the number of screens it played on. That’s it. It is that simple. While this average is meant to give an idea of how much interest a film garnered, it does not factor in a) the difference in seating capacity from theater to theater, b) what percentage of theater seats were sold, or c) the fluctuations of ticket prices from city to city.

We’ll also discuss why a film’s “Per Screen Average,” is a vital tool distributors use to release their pictures these days.

The Grand Budapest Hotel’s “Grand” Per Screen Average
Just one week after taking home the Best Picture Oscar for 12 Years a Slave, Fox Searchlight struck gold again when Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel scored an astounding $200,000 per screen average on four screens in New York and Los Angeles over the weekend.  The $200,000 mark, (and $800,000 total) smashes the previous record, which was Paul-Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012), which earned a $147,262 per screen average on five screens, totaling $736,311. Thus, the Grand Budapest Hotel earned over $63,689 more than The Master, and it did so on one less screen.

The Road to 1,000 Theaters
Over it’s Friday to Sunday release, on four screens, The Grand Budapest Hotel wrangled $260,000 on Friday, (a $65,000 per screen) $298,000 on Saturday ($74,500 per screen) and $241,000 on Sunday ($60,250). The Saturday to Sunday numbers only dipped 19.1%, which is admirable.

The Grand Rollout
Given the picture’s record-setting success, The Grand Budapest Hotel will be released on 1,000 screens over the next five weeks. The road to 1,000 screens will most likely be paved incrementally, as the film picks more screens over the next one or two weekends. Then, when the critics have checked-in, and the filmgoers spread a groundswell of positive word-of-mouth, Fox Searchlight will pull the trigger on a large chuck of screens as the film moves into its wide release.

How Word-of-Mouth Stops Wide Releases
Distributors of films with limited releases rely heavily on word-of-mouth, because if it’s not wildly positive, then distributors often times opt to halt the expansion of screens. Whether you believe such a move is a cost-cutting measure, a lack of “belief ” in the film by the distributor, or a smart business move, these days bad, or even average word-of-mouth can be more detrimental to a new release than most film critics can be.

What This All Means for You, the Filmmaker
Whether you’re planning on four-walling your film’s release in one or a few theaters, or whether you’re looking to land a distributor who is willing to pay for your release, it would behoove you to focus on the per screen average. This is because if the per screen average tanks early, your film’s release won’t live to see its second weekend. However, if it balloons to five figures or more, you can pretty much expect your film to expand its release. Simply put, the per screen average is the collective voice of the moviegoers. Thus, if you get poor returns on your opening weekend, it’s smarter to cut your losses and pull your limited theatrical release, and then focus on. What you shouldn’t do is spend more money on your theatrical release, once audiences have spoken with their (lack of) dollars. Instead, you should focus your energy and money on distributing your film on other platforms like VOD,  DVD and cable/satellite.

Okay, filmmakers. That’s what I have for you today. As always, I thank you for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them again next Tuesday. Until then, enjoy your week! I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.

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