Do Film Critics Not Understand Inflation?

See if you can spot the theme here. First up, it’s Hollywood Reporter:

Sleeper hit Midnight in Paris has become Woody Allen’s top grossing pic of all time in North America, a sizeable victory for the filmmaker and Sony Pictures Classics.

Starring Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams, Midnight in Paris grossed an estimated $1.9 million for the weekend, pushing its total to $41.8 million and overtaking Hannah and Her Sisters, which cumed $40.1 million in 1986 (not accounting for inflation).

Next up, we have the Independent Film Channel’s blog:

Every decade or so there is a felt need among the cognoscenti to reassess the value of proto-American indie director Woody Allen’s work. In his “European Period” – or, more accurately, his “European Financing” period — Allen is, at present, enjoying unprecedented success. “Midnight in Paris” has now, against all odds, surpassed “Hannah and Her Sisters” as Woody’s biggest hit. How the heck did that happen?

And here’s here’s Entertainment Weekly:

‘Midnight in Paris’ becomes Woody Allen’s all-time biggest hit. How the heck did that happen?

One word, fellas: Plastics. Inflation.

And maybe we can add three more words as well: press release journalism. Kyle Smith of the New York Post explains the way the world works (to borrow from a memorable Jude Wanniski book on economics) to the rest of his industry: “Sony Pictures Classics Nears Fake Milestone:”

Saying “Midnight” is about to set a record is like saying a baseball slugger is about to set a home run record in an era when they move the fences in five feet every year. “Midnight” is going to gross maybe $42 or $45 million in its entire run. “Annie Hall” grossed $38.3 million — in 1977. That’s the equivalent of $143 million today. “Midnight in Paris” is nowhere near being Woody Allen’s biggest hit. Why does SPC care? Because they want to be able to run print and (later) DVD ads proclaiming that this is Woody Allen’s biggest hit ever. In other words, they want to have an excuse to blow some money proclaiming their own marketing genius. The movie hasn’t even broken even yet.

Prior to Midnight, Woody’s biggest box office hit was Manhattan, which both foreshadowed Woody’s very public downfall as a mensch (but that’s a whole ‘nother post) and which grossed $39.9 million in 1979. According to Box Office Mojo, the average movie ticket price in 1979 was $2.51. (No, really.)

If my math is right, that equals almost 16 million Americans watching Woody’s black and white Panavision ode to the glories of Elaine’s and Gershwin on the big screen in 1979. IMDB shows a slightly smaller gross than Hollywood Reporter for Hannah, but let’s go with the latter’s numbers. A 40.1 million gross with ticket prices then at $3.71 a pop in 1986 means that a little under 11 million Americans saw Woody’s most popular Mia Farrow-era film.

Today, according to Box Office Mojo, ticket prices average $7.86. Which means that less than 5.5 million Americans have seen Woody’s newest film.

So while Woody’s actual movie audiences grow increasingly more “selective,” as Spinal Tap’s manager would say, his studio’s press releases are conversely becoming more florid, as their PR department is hoping the real numbers become lost in the shadows and fog.

It’s not exactly a crime, nor a misdemeanor, but that’s the sweet and lowdown on press release journalism. Because gossip really is the new pornography, y’know.