I love going to the movies, don’t you? According to The Nielsen Co., African-Americans patronize movie theaters an average of seven times a year (which has trended down slightly over the past two years).


The general population attends an average of eight times a year, and Hispanics attend approximately 11 times annually. In spite of the recession and the rising costs of movie night (and matinees), box office business is booming; as 2009 was a record year for gross ticket sales.

Let me tell you why you pack power whenever you hit your local movie house—and I know these things because I work for Nielsen, and we not only track television viewing habits, but we measure consumer trends and behavior around the world as well. Nielsen partners with Rentrak Corp. for accurate box office performance data.


Virtually every movie theater in the U.S., Canada, Guam and Puerto Rico volunteers to be wired with an electronic connection which delivers accurate minute-by-minute sales of tickets. This information is critical to decision makers in the competitive motion picture industry.

Advertising, marketing dollars spent and distribution are based on the early performance of each release. (That’s why some films are here today; gone tomorrow.) So, you see why that opening weekend is so important for any movie. And if you want your movie dollars to count towards an opening weekend box office success, do your best to see the movie on Friday or Saturday. The early Monday morning weekend “blockbuster” reports you hear/read about while you’re drinking your cup of java are based on the actual sales from those two days and combined with Sunday estimates based on Friday’s and Saturday’s sales.

While Nielsen does not collect movie sales data by ethnicity, we do know the types of movie genres that are typically preferred. Blacks as a whole are more likely to see action adventure flicks and comedies. The top five grossing movies with predominately African-American casts or themes are:

“Bad Boys II,” 138,396,624

“Nutty Professor II: The Klumps,” 123,307,945

“Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail,” 90,485,233

“Norbit,” 95,323,496

“Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion,” 63,231,524

The top five grossing movies of all time, in general (and we saw these, too), are:

“Avatar,” 746,365,137

“Titanic,” 600,743,440

“The Dark Knight,” 533,316,061

“Shrek 2,” 436,471,036

“Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace,” 431,065,444

Perry’s films have consistently opened in the number one or number two spots during their all-important opening weekend, and have grossed over half a billion dollars in box office receipts, DVD sales and rentals. You did that.

His latest release, however—“Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too?”—opened in third place, with $57,484,421 in box office receipts the first weekend—still not too shabby. But I want to share with you an example of why it’s important to understand our collective consumer power. When I attended the opening (like many of you, my sisters and I are always there for the opening weekend of a film produced, written and performed by us, for us) the projector malfunctioned for about five minutes in not one—but two—of the screens on which it was showing. To compensate for our inconvenience, the theater gave everyone a free movie pass and offered to refund the ticket money. You should have seen how long the line was for people waiting to get their money back! What they didn’t know was that the refunded tickets would not count towards the sales for the film. Now, in this instance, almost 300 people getting their money back was not too big of a dent. But what if that happened around the country, on the same weekend? Tyler’s opening might not be as successful as his previous ones (and it wasn’t).

I encouraged the manager to tell people their attendance wouldn’t be counted, so they’d be making an informed decision about their refund. But she shrugged and said they probably “wouldn’t care,” that they’d want their money back anyway. I disagree. I think that if those 300 patrons understood the collective power of their individual ticket sale to the ultimate success of “Why Did I Get Married Too?” they would have let Tyler keep their $10. Wouldn’t you? Now that you understand your true power, I hope your answer is yes. An informed consumer is always, always, a powerful one. See you at the movies!

(Cheryl Pearson-McNeil is SVP of public affairs and government relations at the Nielsen Co., a marketing research company that measures what you buy and what you watch. Visit http://www.nielsenwire.com.)

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