Sometimes, pre-tracking surveys are wrong the other way, overestimating turnout. Last fall, pre-release surveys suggested the Michael Jackson tribute film "This Is It" could ring up "$40 million or more" on its first weekend. The actual figure was a lot less: $23 million.
"Despicable Me" is a great example of the "out-performed expectations" story line. The Universal cartoon with the inept bald-headed villain who learns to love and parent three young girls grossed $56.4 million in its opening weekend, although the "experts" expected a much lower $30 million to $35 million weekend.
"People think it was a whole host of things contributing to the big opening," one executive told the Hollywood Reporter. "You had some fresh-looking characters, funny trailers and a huge boost from running those trailers with other hit family films over the past several weeks." Surveys had suggested "tepid" interest from consumers.
Anyone watching NBC or Universal's cable channels were subjected to repeated on-screen promos during their favorite shows. NBC also ran a 30-minute "behind the scenes" infomercial on the opening night of the film, since Friday night TV in the summertime isn't a hot spot for advertisers.
Only one R-rated movie has grossed more than $100 million this year, the Leonardo DiCaprio horror flick "Shutter Island." It has just been squeezed out of the top ten by "Despicable Me." Three movies have grossed more than $300 million to top the 2010 list: "Toy Story 3" (a daring G), "Alice in Wonderland" (PG) and "Iron Man 2" (PG-13). Three more movies have grossed more than $200 million: "Twilight: The Eclipse Saga" (PG-13) and the family cartoons "Shrek Forever After" (PG) and "How to Train Your Dragon" (PG).
Why can't greedy Hollywood just look at the math and put their money where the American public's eyes want to go?
Here's what should follow: more respect from the movie awards shows for these animated films. "Toy Story 3" drew rave reviews across the board. The St. Petersburg Times said it "isn't merely the best movie of the summer -- even with summer just kicking in -- but an immediate candidate for best of the year." Don't bet the mortgage.