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A Visual History of Box Office Receipts

may-aug 1987 v 2007.jpgIf you're the kind of person who checks out the high points of the U.S. box office in each new World Almanac — the top-grossing movies of the past year, the all-time champions — you owe it to yourself to check out this new interactive graphic from the New York Times. The graph shows two decades of box office receipts for (seemingly) every major movie released in the U.S. since 1986, where height indicates weekly revenue, length indicates longevity at the box office, and area and color correspond to total domestic gross revenue.

At right, the top block is the 2007 "blockbuster season," running from spring to fall; the bottom block is the same time period from 1987. This sums up the major trend in a nutshell: over time, the opening-weekend peaks have grown larger, and the tails (indicating longevity and sustained money-making) have grown shorter. But there are exceptions to the rule, and all sorts of odd little easter eggs that pop with with close scrutiny: for example, scroll back so that July/August 1998 is at the far left of the browser window, and hover over Saving Private Ryan — you'll see its tail diminish to nearly nothing, then bubble back up in February with an Oscar-season revival (also note, just above it, a late-breaking yellow sliver for Life is Beautiful). Or look around August-September 2002: see that big red vein of revenue running through the middle of the graph? That's the truly anomalous, slow-starting, "word-of-mouth" hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Find any other oddities? Let us know in the comments.

The Ebb and Flow of Movies: Box Office Receipts 1986-2007 (NYTimes.com)


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