‘The Last Of Us’ And The Strange Calculus Of Media

by Frank Martin

Filmmaking is tricky business. Fans constantly rail against corporate executives who make financial decisions based on weird management tools they do not truly understand. Box office numbers are often put up as an example of a success or failure. But things just aren’t that simple. Movies — especially big budget blockbusters — have tons of unseen costs that are never reported as the film’s actual budget. Likewise, box office figures often vary widely when it comes to profit. A movie that makes a million dollars its opening weekend is not the same as a million dollars that’s made after a month of its release.

There are many factors in play, so executives aren’t calculating things for themselves. They are often part of a larger game plan with sister companies that also operate under the same corporate umbrella. Licensing and other marketing venues from a film often draw huge amounts of revenue beyond the box office numbers. Merchandising has a much higher profit margin than a film, and so the overall success and failure of a movie goes way beyond what audiences might be aware of.

Two great examples of this are the Avatar film series and HBO’s The Last of Us. Avatar obviously draws tremendous box office numbers along with its bloated budget. But what may not be taken to account is the fact that Disney World has an entire land in its Animal Kingdom theme park devoted to the film. The ticket sales for fans eager to visit this land because of the new movie is an unseen boon for the film’s release. Likewise, the success of The Last Of Us has created renewed interest in the game franchise, which has seen its sales rise since the show’s premiere. So while box office and viewership are indications of some form of success, the true success of a project is hard to calculate. The bottom line: media is marketing, and executives certainly take that into account along with everything else.

The Last of Us airs Sundays on HBO Max.

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