Hollywood Studios Are Beginning to Hide Box Office Receipts

'War of the Worlds'Credit: Dreamworks
We are used to streamers keeping the numbers from us, but now studios have joined in. 

One of the ways we measure success in Hollywood is by box office return. It's how we can tell which genres do the best, which actors matter, and if directors are worth an investment. And now that's being taken away from us and put behind closed doors. 

In a new article from The Hollywood Reporter, it's revealed that Searchlight Pictures is hiding the receipts for Nomadland because they don't want to create the false impression that the movie was a failure. Obviously, the pandemic has affected who's going to movie theaters. Numbers can hurt people's confidence. But this is the one time where I don't think investors or financiers would hold them against films. 

Everyone knows we are in a bad place. Studios cannot use this as a way to close communication. 

And it's not just Searchlight. A24 didn't give any numbers for Minari, which is playing in roughly 140 locations.

Universal, Disney (minus Searchlight), and Paramount have continued to report numbers in the normal fashion throughout the pandemic. But these other places are giving them an excuse to stop. Where there's smoke, fire can happen soon after. 

Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Box Office Pro, told THR he's sympathetic to the studios' concerns but believes transparency is the best course of action.

"To that end, any instances of studios withholding box office performances presents a conundrum," said Robbins. "It would be very concerning for such tactics to become part of the new normal as the industry rises back to its feet. At the end of the day, facts should always take precedence over controlled optics."

I tend to agree with him. The dangers here outweigh the potential benefits. Imagine if we had no idea that diverse movies made money. Studios could hide the numbers and instead force through less diverse offerings. The same goes for gender parity among directors. We should know whose movies make what, so we can assess why people do and do not get certain jobs. 

Box offices all over the world continue to rebound, and I hope the U.S. is next, once herd immunity and mass vaccinations are achieved. But we should always keep these numbers open to the public. To pivot to becoming like the streamers closes an entire aspect of the business to the public, and I think loses trust. 

Let me know what you think in the comments.      

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