Sunday 5 May 2019

10 Reasons Why a Game of Thrones Movie could NEVER make $1 billion in 1 day at the Global Box Office

The title of this blog post says it all really. But just to give you some context, I had an argument a heated discussion with a couple of coworkers the other day, which started after one of them had said something along the lines of, "If Game of Thrones was a movie, it would make $1 billion in 1 day at the global box office." This was right after the long-awaited Season 8 premiere, a time during which all our social media timelines were flooded with posts related to the TV show. So I guess they could be forgiven for basing their argument on the sheer size of its social media buzz at that time.

What I can't forgive though is choosing to ignore the many variables and subtle nuances that go into making box office projections. Things like advance ticket sales, marketing budgets, early twitter reactions, critic reviews and audience demographics; all these things and more are used by box office analysts to come up with and refine their projections. And even with these details at their disposal, their projections still end up missing their mark more often than not, which is why most analysts allow for a margin of error by giving their projections as a range rather than a single number.

The purpose of this post, therefore, is to highlight the inherent flaws in such a projection, as well as detail all the things that would effectively prevent a Game of Thrones movie (or any movie for that matter) from attaining such a high number on its opening day. During our heated discussion, I'd used the then box office opening weekend record champion, Avengers: Infinity War, as a point of reference. (And I was summarily dismissed for being a Marvel fanboy for doing so, as silly as that sounds). But for this post, I'll be using its sequel, Avengers: Endgame, instead, since it just released and has already broken every conceivable opening weekend record there is.

Before I dive into the task at hand, there are a few clarifications I need to make. First off, when reporting box office numbers, domestic refers to its take at the US box office, international refers to its take from other territories, while global refers to the two figures combined, its overall take. Secondly, we are primarily concerned with how quickly the movie rakes up money from the global box office, not how much it is expected to make during its entire theatrical run. In other words, we are looking at it becoming the fastest grossing movie of all time, not the highest grossing.

So, without further ado, here are 10 reasons why I think a Game of Thrones movie could never make $1 billion worldwide on opening day:

1. The Size of its fanbase

I am starting with this point mainly because this is what the opposing party's argument was based upon. Game of Thrones is big. Scratch that, it is huge. The season 8 premiere was shown to a record 17.4 million people when it aired three weeks ago. Aside from that, you don't need to look any further than your nearest social media platform of choice to see just how big of a following it has. For example, on Instagram, the official Game of Thrones account currently boasts 9.5 million followers. That's a lot of followers.

But guess who has even more fans and followers than that? Marvel Studios, makers of Avengers: Endgame and the 21 films that preceded it. Their official Instagram account currently boasts 19.2 million followers, twice that of Game of Thrones. But I guess this is to be expected. I mean, the first Game of Thrones book came out in 1996, and the TV shows didn't start airing until 2011. Marvel on the other hand has been selling comic books and winning fans over since the 1960s, while their Marvel Cinematic Universe brand of movies have been making waves since 2008.

The point I am making though is that if Marvel Studios, which clearly has the bigger following based on the aforementioned numbers, needed 5 days to gross over $1 billion worldwide (a previously unheard of record by the way), then what hope does a Game of Thrones movie have to gross that amount in the span of a single day?

2. There Aren't Enough Cinemas

Going back to Avengers: Endgame as a reference point, it was pretty commonplace for moviegoers who'd gone to the cinema during the movie's opening weekend to find that the movie was sold out. Heck, some theaters had to stay open for 72 straight hours just to meet the demand of people that wanted to see the movie within its first three days of release. Over here in Nigeria, we had some cinemas dedicating most of their screens to showing just this movie, with round-the-clock showtimes every 15 to 30 minutes all through the day.

And yet the movie didn't make $1 billion in 1 day, since there was clearly a bottleneck in the number of patrons cinemas could admit in a single day. This shows that for a Game of Thrones film to manage that feat, we'd first need to have the available infrastructure in place. In other words, more cinemas would need to be built, with enough screens to accommodate enough showtimes to generate $1 billion in ticket sales. Either that, or ticket prices would need to be hiked up significantly, and that is of course assuming that moviegoers would still be willing to see the movie at those hiked-up prices, which brings us to my next point.

3. The Price of Admission

A cursory Google search tells me that the average movie ticket price is around $9. By comparison, a one-month subscription to HBO Now costs $14.99. But we all know that HBO's streaming service is not the only way to actually watch Game of Thrones. The sad truth is that a vast majority of the people who watch the show do so via illegal download and streaming websites, which basically costs them nothing. So here's the question: would the same people that watch the show for free be willing to shell out 9 bucks for a movie ticket? The cynic in me does not think so.

But let's even assume that they were all willing to shell out 9 bucks. All 54 million people who streamed and downloaded the season premiere for free according to the article I linked to above. Add that number to the 17.4 million people that actually paid to watch the show legally and you have 71.4 million rabid fans, just waiting to storm theaters to watch the Game of Thrones movie on its first day of release. Multiply 71.4 million by $9 and what have you? $642,600,000, a number that is $357,400,000 short of the assumed $1 billion our GoT movie is supposed to make.

4. Game of Thrones is not Family Friendly

Aside from the fact that its earlier seasons were renowned for subverting viewer expectations by killing off its main characters, Game of Thrones is also known for its gratuitous depiction of sex and violence. It is a show geared towards adults after all, and its tendency to divulge key plot details in the midst of its many sex scenes helped coin the term, sexposition. But all those naked bodies and beheaded characters could only ever mean one thing for a Game of Thrones movie: it would be slapped with an R-rating faster than it would take Gendry to run to the Wall from the frozen wilds of the North.

So what does getting slapped with an R-rating have to do with the movie making $1 billion you say? Well, everything. Because in the history of cinema, no single R-rated movie has ever grossed over $1 billion during its entire theatrical run. The highest-grossing R-rated movie till date is Deadpool, which had managed an impressive $783 million at the worldwide box office, despite its potty-mouthed hero and his tendency to decapitate his foes. And we are talking lifetime grosses here mind you, not single day grosses. There have in fact only been 39 movies that have managed to gross over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office, and a vast majority of those were family-centric.

Because let's face it, the movies in mega franchises like the Avengers and Star Wars wouldn't be half as successful as they are if they weren't appealing to and safe to watch by entire families. In other words, for a Game of Thrones movie to have any kind of a fighting chance at making a billion dollars worldwide, it would first need to be severely edited down to at least a PG-13 rating, a decision that I am pretty sure would not sit well with fans, which is a good segue for my next point.

5. China

Once upon a time, the US box office was the be-all-and-end-all when considering a movie's global box office prospects. Not anymore. During the first quarter of 2018, the Chinese box office overtook the US. This was at a time during which Black Panther was raking up cash from American moviegoers mind you. It also explains why a movie like Warcraft, considered a box office failure in the US for making just over $47 million against a $160 million production budget, could still go on to make more than $400 million globally. So long story short, a movie's viability at the Chinese box office is sure to affect its overall box office prospects.

This leads me to the question: how popular is Game of Thrones with Chinese audiences? The reason why I ask is China is infamous for its strict censorship of films, a practice that has been extended to the TV show over the years. So assuming it is just as popular over there as it is elsewhere in the world, we still know that a Game of Thrones movie would never be allowed to see the light of day, unless of course its makers are willing to produce a super-clean cut that would pass its censorship standards. At which point one has to wonder what the point is, since Chinese audiences are also known to favor piracy as a means of getting to see the show in its original, unedited form. Speaking of which....

6. Piracy

Game of Thrones is the most pirated TV show in the history of online piracy. This is yet another measure of its overall popularity, for sure, but as I already discussed under Price of Admission above, its popularity doesn't exactly equate to a general willingness to spend hard-earned cash on it. Heck, it can even be argued that its popularity has been fueled by its availability through piracy. After all, all those people sharing tweets and memes all over social media must have caught the latest episode somehow, and the show is not even legally available everywhere in the world.

So for our billion-dollar-opening Game of Thrones movie to work, online piracy would need to be taken out of the picture completely. And that my friends is where we start to enter into the realm of fantasy. Simply put, there is no way to put an end to online piracy. I mean, just look at how many times the authorities have tried to shutdown popular torrents websites like The Pirate Bay and YTS, yet they still exist today in one form or another. Just don't ask me for links. 😉

7. Counter-programming

As popular as Game of Thrones has become, there are still a lot of people out there that simply can't get into it. And I mean a lot. Some are put off by its medieval, fantasy setting, with its dragons and undead wights preventing them from enjoying the deep family drama and politics at its core. Others simply can't stomach or overlook its graphic depiction of sex and violence. For such people, Game of Thrones is simply not their cup of tea. And rival movie studios are aware of the fact and fully prepared to capitalize on it.

This is where counter-programming comes in, because for every tentpole release like Avengers: Endgame, there are smaller-scale movies like The Intruder and Long Shot that manage to thrive in its shadow by targeting a totally different demographic. And these other movies would of course eat into the available screens theaters have to show the tentpole release (remember that we already don't have enough screens and theaters to begin with). So for our Game of Thrones movie to hit its projected opening day gross, we have to assume that it would be the only movie showing at the cinemas, and that everyone would be willing to go see it on the first day, whether it is their cup of tea or not.

8. Marketing

Game of Thrones has come a long way since its early season 1 days when major battles used to take place off-screen. Over the years, it has left us with episodes full of pure spectacle like Watchers on the Wall, Hardhome, Battle of the Bastards and most recently, The Long Night. It's increased success has meant that HBO could afford to budget $15 million to produce each episode of its final season. That's $90 million total. And that's not even considering what it must have spent on marketing in the lead-up to its final season, because let's face it, if it wasn't for all those ads and endorsement deals it had been throwing in our faces over the months, no one would've remembered to tune in on April 14th when the first episode aired.

But guess who has even more money than HBO to spend on marketing? Disney, owners of Marvel Studios, the 800-lb gorilla in the ring of movie studios. Avengers: Endgame is one of the most expensive movies of all time, with a production cost of over $350 million. And with a further $200+ million spent to market the film, it is hard to see how HBO could ever match or surpass that amount. And once again, it took Avengers: Endgame 5 days to gross $1 billion worldwide, not one day.

9. That Other Game of Thrones Movie

Believe it or not, we've actually gotten a Game of Thrones movie before. Well, it was not technically a movie, but a special screening of the final two episodes of Season 4. It was shown at 205 Imax locations in the US, where it managed to gross $686,000 on its opening day. A far cry from $1 billion dollars, for sure, but we're talking far fewer screens here. That's a per-screen average of roughly $3,350. So indulge me for a minute as we do some wonky math.

A quick trip to Statistica tells me that we had over 182,000 theater screens in 2018. What do you get when you multiply 182,000 by our $3,350 per-screen average? $609,700,000, which is once again shy of our projected $1 billion opening day gross. And this is assuming that every single available theater screen in the world has been dedicated to showing our Game of Thrones movie. But like I said, the math above is wonky at best, but even in its wonky state, it still adequately illustrates just how unattainable a $1 billion opening day gross is.

10. Historical Data

In the history of cinema, no other movie has remotely come close to grossing $1 billion in a single day. Even going beyond movies to entertainment in general, the fastest grossing product in the history of entertainment remains Grand Theft Auto V, a video game developed by Rockstar Games that managed to gross $1 billion in 3 days. And mind you, those 3 days included the several months of pre-orders that preceded the game's release, which resulted in a first day gross of over $800 million. A mammoth achievement, no doubt, but we also have to consider that the game debuted for $60 retail, not $9. And it still wasn't able to gross $1 billion in a single day.

The current fastest opening movie of all time is of course Avengers: Endgame, which made $157 million on its opening day in the US alone, with a further $108 million made from China where it had opened two days earlier. That's $265 million already, off the two largest movie markets in the world. Factor in other opening day grosses from around the world and you have something closer to half a billion dollars. That is huge. Astronomical even. Now times that number by two and just think of all the hurdles our Game of Thrones movie (and the movie industry as a whole) would have to cross to get there.

And once again, we find ourselves in the realm of fantasy and wishful thinking, where the only movie being shown at cinemas is our Game of Thrones movie, and everyone is being forced at gunpoint to go and watch it. If that were the case, then sure, the movie would gross $1 billion in a single day, easily. Heck, why stop there when it can as well gross $10 billion? But wait, aren't there like over 7 billion people in the world today? Imagine if all of them were to turn up for our movie on opening night. 7 billion times $9 is $63 billion. HBO would be swimming in money right now.

And that, my friends, is why box office projections are based on very real facts, like historical data, not assumptions. Records are made to be broken, for sure, but never by the magnitudes being suggested here. By the time you read this post, Avengers: Endgame would've crossed the $2 billion mark, on its way to outgrossing Titanic to become the second highest grossing movie of all time. Will it eventually hit $3 billion and outgross Avatar by so doing? Maybe. Only time would tell at this point. But what I am driving at is this was a record that was set in 2009, and it has taken this long for us to get another movie with a remote chance of breaking it.

There is no denying the fact that a Game of Thrones movie at this point in the TV show's popularity would've been huge, provided it was well-made and marketed. It could very well had been the first ever R-rated movie to cross the $1 billion mark. But to make that same amount in a single day? That's a different type of suspension of disbelief that this film and box office enthusiast is simply incapable of.

But that's just me. What do you think? Could a Game of Thrones movie (or any other movie for that matter) actually make $1 billion in 1 day?


  1. Another factor is that people can sit in the comfort of their living rooms to see Game of Thrones. Going to the movies requires effort, and despite the ticket cost, more money as it takes gas to get there and a lot of people get snacks. Plus people have been watching Game of Thrones on television for a small price and some for free - why would they pay a chunk of change to go to a theater to see it? Most television shows to movies don't make a lot of money.
    And yes, let's not forget China and foreign markets. If you look at the billion dollar movies, most of them average around seventy percent foreign take. (Star Wars is the exception.) If you hope to have a shot at a billion, it has to do well in foreign markets.
    You'll be fascinated by the infographic I am posting Monday that adjusts those billions for inflation. We end up with a new winner, by a lot.

    1. You know, I never even considered the cost of actually getting to the theater and the jacked-up prices moviegoers have to pay for drinks and popcorn. This is yet another factor that could easily dissuade anyone already used to watching the show from the comfort of their home. Thanks for bringing it up, Alex, plus I am looking forward to seeing your infographic on Monday.

  2. To your observation that Game of Thrones isn't family-friendly, I'm really sure its popularity happened at all because it was designed to be a version of Lord of the Rings that wasn't family-friendly. And even at its height, Lord of the Rings never really made crazy money. And that was before three additional (Hobbit) films torpedoed its wide appeal. And after a finale that's proven divisive? Game of Thrones has no chance. At all.

    1. I just looked up numbers at Box Office Mojo. Return of the King and An Unexpected Journey both cleared a billion globally. The two other Hobbits also cleared $700 million internationally. But I think interest in further Middle-Earth adventures still reflects my above statement.

    2. Lol. Yeah. That finale pretty much served as the nail on the coffin for the prospects of any potential movie of any sorts. But yes, the show's adult themes definitely helped raise its profile among fans of fantasy and such.

      I'm curious to know how the Lord of the Rings show being developed by Amazon fares though. Lots of potential there, even though a part of me feels it is too soon for that story to be retold or revisited.

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