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Common Cents or Film 101

Posted By Ted Baehr On 03/16/2006 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

It’s shocking to find out that reviewers don’t have a philosophy of art or knowledge of basic literary criticism. It’s even more shocking to find that Christian reviewers don’t have a theology of art. But, then, to discover that Christian reviewers don’t know the economics of the film industry is beyond the pale of common sense.

Recently, a reviewer for a well-known Christian magazine took us on when we said that “The Last Temptation Of Christ” lost a lot of money at the box office when it made only $8.3 million. Instead of checking their facts, they made allegations that were patently foolish. They alleged that the movie was made for around $5 million. However, at the time it was released by Universal Studios, the president of distribution said it was produced and distributed for over $50 million, including the extra security and excessive advertising that the studio invested in the movie, hoping that they would make a tremendous amount of money on the film.

So, this reviewer got his facts wrong, but, for his benefit, let’s assume that it was made for $5 million. To earn money at that amount, it would’ve had to make $12.5 million, and it only made $8.3 million.

For the benefit of those reviewers who do not know Film 101, a movie needs to make two and one-half times what it costs to produce at the box office to break even.

Why? Well, the theater has to make money. So the theater, at a minimum, takes from 20 to 60 percent of the ticket price to cover its overhead and profits. If it takes a standard 50 percent of the ticket price, then the movie will have to earn twice its production cost to start making money.

Ah, but we’ve forgotten somebody. The distributor needs to earn money to cover print costs and advertising. So, if the theater takes 50 percent of a $10 ticket, the distributor has to take a portion of the remaining $5. Usually, a distributor takes 50 to 80 percent. If they take the minimum, that’s $2.50.

Ah ha! That’s where Variety derives the rule that it takes 2.5 times to break even.

If “The Last Temptation Of Christ” cost $5 million (instead of the original amount claimed by the president of distribution at Universal, who probably knows better) then it would have to make $12.5 million to break even. Now, this is in the best of circumstances.

The interesting thing about this uninformed critic is that he backed off saying that “The Last Temptation Of Christ” did well at the box office because the believing Christian leaders voiced the fact that it was blasphemy and that people should not see it. He shifted the argument to say that the budget was so low that it actually made money.

If he had gotten his calculations correct, he would have discovered that the budget the movie needed to have to break even using his calculations would be less than $1.5 million, not $5 million, considering the costs of prints and advertising at that time.

Since he has neither the facts nor law to bolster his liberal opinion, he will have to resort to slander and malice. Of course, his allegations hold no water because he was not there at the time “The Last Temptation Of Christ” was produced. He misrepresents the history of the production and misrepresents the players involved. Even if he had common “cents,” one would have to challenge his argument with the age-old question: Were you there when they crucified my Lord?


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