The reporting of movie grosses is very fast, even all over the world. How do they do this?


3 Answers 3


After a bit of googling, I discovered a neat article on Slate, from 2006. Things might have changed in 11 years, but according to the article:

These box-office "results" released over the weekend are simply a studio's own estimate of its movie's weekend performance... Making a weekend projection on a Sunday morning is quite similar to how the media call political elections when they have the results of only a handful of precincts: You compare the numbers you have against some past results to make an educated guess.

The numbers ... come from one of two box-office tracking firms, Rentrak and Nielsen EDI's Flash service. These services get sales results directly from theaters and place them on a secure Web site; only a select number of studio executives have access to this enormous information database.

So the grosses they release are a combination of actual numbers mixed with past performance of similar films. They cannot rely entirely on the tracking firms, since they only cover a percentage of cinemas. But it allows the studios to develop a fairly accurate idea, and quote it to the public. (Then, later, they get the actual receipts and can modify the numbers, but by then nobody is really paying attention)

Definitely read the article. It's more complex than my summary, but an interesting and entertaining read.

  • 1
    Indeed, most cinema point of sales systems are automatically programmed to report flash grosses to the studios via Rentrak (now comScore). If not, then it gets called or e-mailed in nightly. This is required in the exhibition contracts for all studios, so failure to do this will result in negative consequences to the theater.
    – theMayer
    Sep 19, 2017 at 21:27

The studios (The production/distrbiuting companies) report it themselves.

From box office mojo, here's how:


Weekend box office charts show gross receipts for a given weekend, which is Friday through Sunday unless otherwise noted. Studio estimates for the weekend are reported on Sunday mornings, generally between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. Pacific Time and reflect estimated Friday and Saturday box office receipts plus a projection for Sunday. As with daily box office, weekend estimates do not reflect all movies playing in theaters, but at least the Top 12 plus select movies below that may be reported.

Actual weekend box office receipts are reported Monday, generally after 1 p.m. Pacific Time, and reflect most movies currently playing in the marketplace. A final update to the chart may be made Monday night or later in the week to reflect grosses that are reported late.

Also in the link, other details about when and how they (box office mojo) estimate the numbers sometimes.

  • 1
    This doesn't answer the question. The question isn't 'how are they reported', but 'how are they reported so fast?' Do the studios sample certain theaters to get a number to extrapolate from? Does each theater submit their totals at the end of the day directly to the studios?
    – aryxus
    Apr 13, 2017 at 17:55
  • It's a studio estimation! (mentioned In the bolded sentence in the answer) "Studio estimates are reported on Sunday mornings, ....reflect estimated Friday and Saturday box office receipts plus a projection for Sunday" while "Actual weekend box office receipts are reported Monday....... A final update may be made Monday night or later in the week to reflect grosses that are reported late. Also like mentioned, the link have more details about how this estimation work if OP interested in more details.
    – madmada
    Apr 13, 2017 at 18:36

It has to do with the leasing agreements a theater has with the movie distributor. When a theater shows a movie they lease it for X number of seats (a seat is a possible ticket sale). A theater will often lease a movie to be shown on multiple screens at the theater.

When a movie is released on as "limited release" it means that only some theaters have leased the movie for showing. Other movies on full release might be shown in all theaters owned by a distributor, but those theaters still have a lease agreement with the provider of the movie.

It now becomes a matter of mathematics. If you know the number of theaters, number of screens, number of show times and total number of seats. That's the maximum possible sales for that movie at that theater. The distributors know these max numbers because they signed the lease agreements with the all theaters, and theaters want to only lease the minimum seats so they can show other movies.

Theaters adjust their lease agreements based upon customer demand. If a movie does poorly over the weekend they'll reduce the number of screens they show the movie in, and show something else that is more popular. These changes are made to the leases of the movies which translates to new numbers the distributor can calculate for max sales.

If theaters sign up more seats to show the movie then this is an increase in ticket sales, and if a theater decreases seats then this is a decrease in ticket sales.

The performance of theater leases and past box office sales are tightly correlated together. A distributor with high accuracy can predict box office sales based on theater lease changes.

There are many theaters that are old school and non-digital. So ticket sales are reported at the end of the month, but they must phone a changes to their leases if they want to show the movie more or less based upon demand.

This even works before a movie is released to the public. A distributor can predict a strong opening weekend by early demand by theaters to open more screens for the movie. Theaters will often have a Friday viewing which triggers the signing for more screens for the coming weekend.

So yes, the distributor know what the box office sales are because this data is easily correlated with past data. It's a simple math formula that can be updated the second a lease agreement is changed, and theaters can make these changes now via computers immediately.

The reporting of movie grosses is very fast, even all over the world. How do they do this?

There really aren't that many movie screen around the world. For a corporation to track a few hundred thousand screens is easy, done by computers and the total number of screens predicts sales accurately.

  • So, this answer is really not accurate from a conceptual standpoint. Theaters make master agreements with the studios, then book movies on a film-by-film basis. The only movie where I've ever seen a studio care about the number of physical auditoriums it played in was Star Wars, where they asked for it to play in the biggest house for all four weeks (most theaters have the best sound/projection tech in the big house). In general, a theater is going to program enough show times across all their theaters to efficiently satisfy demand.
    – theMayer
    Mar 27, 2018 at 14:34
  • Additionally, grosses are either phoned in to ComScore nightly, or they are digitally collected from the point of sale system (probably done electronically for 95% of theaters out there).
    – theMayer
    Mar 27, 2018 at 14:36

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