Forget about the box office.
For merchandisers like Wal-Mart, DVDs are a means to lure consumers, who may buy other products, into the store. The box-office numbers are of little relevance (especially since it's teenagers who create huge opening weekends, and they cannot afford to buy more profitable goods like plasma TVs). Instead of box-office results, merchandisers look for movies with stars such as Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, or Arnold Schwarzenegger, who have traction with their highly desired older customers. For example, whereas the sophisticated mind-bending love story Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind had a dismal seventh-place finish in the box-office gross sweepstakes—earning a mere $8.1 million for the theaters during its opening weekend—thanks to the presence of recognizable names like Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, it did extremely well on DVD, selling more than 1.5 million copies during its first week in the stores.
Edward Jay Epstein is the author of The Big Picture: The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood. (To read the first chapter, click here.)
Illustration by Mark Stamaty.