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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

question of the day: Why does Hollywood underestimate how well kids’ movies will do at the box office?

For a while this weekend, we experienced a rare moment of Hollywood suspense: it looked like Cowboys & Aliens and The Smurfs had tied at the box office. Estimates put them both at $36.2 million for their opening weekend. This was particularly surprising and upsetting to some box-office watchers because Cowboys had been expected to debut in the low $40 millions while Smurfs was assumed to be headed for an opening in the low $20 millions.

Such wildly off-the-mark guesses happen often with kiddie flicks. Say Dorothy Pomerantz at Forbes:

Unless an animated movie is part of a successful franchise (like Ice Age) or comes from Disney/Pixar or DreamWorks, people usually underestimate how much the movie will earn. Earlier this year Hop was expected to open to $27 million. Instead it earned $37 million its opening weekend. Pundits expect Gnomeo and Juliet to earn $16 million opening weekend. It earned $25 million.

So why does Hollywood seem to so often underestimate when kid films will earn?

As Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations points out, studios don’t have direct access to children between the ages of 6 and 12.

“And we all know, kids ultimately have the say in what families do over the weekend and which movies they see,” says Bock.

Not being able to poll kids can’t be the only reason, however, especially because by this point, the prognosticators would know that and simply revise their numbers upwards. Even Pomerantz’s own explanation doesn’t seem to cover it:

As a mother of two young kids… I’d take my kids to see almost anything. Going to the movies, especially during the hot, underscheduled summer months, is fun. Clearly a lot of parents feel the same way.

So what else could be going on?

Why does Hollywood underestimate how well kids’ movies will do at the box office?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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