The first big box-office controversy in the sixth months since I’ve been reporting erupted this morning as Paramount Pictures put the final three-day domestic total of Transformers: Age of Extinction at $100.038 million in its opening weekend. “They’re lying,” said one distribution head at a major studio. Said another, “I don’t get get it. Is it just arrogance? What is the point of inflating your box-office numbers? So they can claim the first $100M movie opening of the year? Oh please, who cares? It’s a great opening anyway.”
One insider at Paramount with knowledge of the financials told Deadline that there has been concerns that there could be more layoffs if the fourth installment of the Transformers series didn’t hit the $100M mark. So maybe that’s what’s going on. Even so, everyone in town — and I mean everyone — has it much less than $100M. Hey, as one my colleagues just said, the movie itself is inflated to 2:45 minutes, so why not the box office grosses, too?
One distribution executive put it this way, “Looking at Rentrak, at this time, the average for the three-days is $22.964M, representing a total gross for three days of $97.76M. Rentrak collected 97 percent of the grosses for the three days. In my humble opinion, it would be impossible for $100M to be reported.”
However, despite all other industry estimates that had the opening of Transformers anywhere from $97.5 million to $98 million-plus, Paramount is defying the general reporting and stated that they have reached $100.038M. The last time I saw this happen was many years ago, and the studio that did it — Fox with 2002's Minority Report — was also called out by others in the industry for fudging numbers.
Another distribution head at a major studio asked, “What are they doing?” and just laughed at the ridiculousness of it all.
“I don’t care what they report, if they want to lie, go ahead. I’d like to lie and say we did better than numbers than we did, but I can’t,” said another distribution head. “What they’ll probably do is shave a couple of million off the mid-week number and then pad it out. I do think it’s a little crazy that they are stretching like this.” What that means is that Paramount would under-report grosses a little bit each morning during the mid-week to make up the differences so they have an accurate and correct number down the road. The $100.038M gross will affect the following weekend’s three-day percentage drop also because it will be set against that figure (assuming they report accurately next weekend).
“There was a time you could do this,” said one distribution head at another major studio. “But today, Rentrak is so good and so sophisticated that they picked up everything but about 100 theaters and what they don’t pick up is the little guys. If you take the per-screen-average and multiply it by the number, it comes to a little over $97M. They are saying that the missing factor on those theaters were three times the national average. It’s not real.”
“I don’t know what they are doing. There is no way they could reach that number looking at the numbers I have sitting in front of me,” said another distribution head at another public company. And there in lies the rub. These are public companies and under SEC guidelines regulating disclosure requirements for publicly-held companies, Paramount must put forth true and accurate numbers to the public and its shareholders.
What does Paramount Pictures say to all this conundrum? “We reported our number based on the estimates we received from the theaters this morning. This is our final number,” said a Paramount spokeswoman. $100.038M? “Yes.”