Monday, February 18, 2008

Retire This Number

Richard Schickel reviews Mark Harris's fascinating book about the five films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 1967, Pictures At A Revolution. Alas, in the second paragraph, we get this:

Weekly attendance at the movies had been steadily, alarmingly sliding since its modern high of 90 million achieved in 1948, the last year before network television was established. In 1966, it was less than half that (38 million). In 1967, that figure, without warning, had been cut in half again: Only 17 million Americans were going to the movies each week.
Without warning indeed. While there is one study of questionable provenance that offers these numbers, all other evidence debunks it.

I've written on this before. Michael Medved has practically made a career of trumpeting these bad numbers, but I'm surprised Shickel has been taken in. They don't even make sense on their face. No matter what supposedly happened between '66 and '67 (and note the five biggest hits of '67 all made more money than the biggest hit of '66), you're simply not going to get attendance cut in half overnight. Even during the early days of TV, when attendance was dropping quickly, you didn't see this. It's not as if more people buying color TVs would cause a bigger problem.

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