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Quite often when rating a film's success, the numbers often quoted are the budget of the film vs the amount earned at the Box Office.

However, the money made at the Box Office is the total ticket sales, which of course includes the cinema's own cut as well as the costs of distribution, etc. So to know if a film is a success you can't just compare the Box Office earnings to the films production cost. An $80,000,000 budget vs $100,000,000 "at the box office" does not mean a $20,000,000 profit.

So why is it reported this way, and how can we really tell if a film made a profit? Is there an average percentage of the Box Office earning that we can use to work out if the film was actually financially successful?

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There is no hard and fast rule but according to Wikipedia it's around 40-45%

Box-office figures are reported in the form of either gross receipts or distributor rentals, the latter being especially true of older films. Commonly mistaken for home video revenue, the rentals are the distributor's share of the film's theatrical revenue i.e. the box office gross less the exhibitor's cut.

Historically, the rental price averaged at 30–40% when the distributors owned the theater chains, equating to just over a third of the gross being paid to the distributor of the film.

In the modern marketplace, rental fees can vary greatly—depending on a number of factors—although the films from the major studios average out at 43%.


So why is it reported this way,

Because it's easy to calculate and it's only one indication of a movie's success.

and how can we really tell if a film made a profit?

You probably can't. It's not in the studio's interest to let you know whether a movie made money or not. It's really only the exceptions (huge losses or huge profits) that provide any interest to the general public.

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  • Also there are tax reasons why the question "did the movie make a profit?" might have very different answers in different contexts. My understanding (and this might be out of date) is that for example the production company doesn't want to make a profit, because it doesn't want to pay tax. It wants the people involved (e.g. producers) to make money, which isn't the same thing. And the distributor might want to (or have to) account profits differently in different countries. – Steve Jessop Aug 12 at 0:58

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