A box office is a place where tickets are sold to the public for admission to an event. Patrons may perform the transaction at a countertop, through an unblocked hole through a wall or window, or at a wicket.
By extension, the term is frequently used, especially in the context of the film industry, as a synonym for the amount of business a particular production, such as a film or theatre show, receives. The term can also mean factors which may influence this amount, as in the phrases "good box office" and "bad box office".
Box office business can be measured in terms of the number of people who see it or the amount of money raised by ticket sales (revenue). The projection and analysis of these earnings is very important for the creative industries and often a source of interest for fans. This is predominant in the Hollywood movie industry.
Some complain that industry focus on profit has diminished the attention given to film as an art form. However, analysis of the financial success of films is very influential for the production and funding of future works.
There are numerous websites that monitor box-office receipts, such as Boxoffice, Box Office India, ShowBIZ Data and Box Office Mojo. For a list of films which are major box-office hits, see List of highest-grossing films.
On average, the movie's distributor receives more than half of the revenue, with the remainder kept by the movie theater. The split varies from movie to movie, and the percentage for the distributor is generally higher in early weeks. Usually the distributor gets a percentage of the revenue after first deducting a "house allowance" or "house nut". It is also common that the distributor gets either a percentage of the gross revenue, or a higher percentage of the revenue after deducting the nut, whichever is larger.
Related film industry terminology
The following is film industry specific terminology as defined by Box Office Mojo. For movies released in North America, box office figures are usually divided between domestic, meaning U.S. and Canada, and foreign which includes all other countries. Weekly box office figures are taken to be from Friday through Thursday to allow for the fact that most movies are released on a Friday. A large component of this is the weekend box office, defined as the box office receipts from Friday through Sunday. In particular, the weekend box office for the initial week of release, or opening weekend, is often widely reported. (See List of biggest opening weekends.)
Theaters is the number of theaters in which the movie is showing. Since a single theater may show a movie on multiple screens, the total number of screens is used as another measure. The theaters measure is used to determine whether a movie is in wide release, meaning at least 600 theaters, or limited release which is less than 600 theaters. Occasionally, a movie may achieve wide release after an initial limited release; Little Miss Sunshine is an example of this.
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A folk etymology is that this derives from Elizabethan theatre, where theater admission was collected in a box attached to a long stick, passed around the audience; compare the "bottle" in Punch and Judy, where money was collected in a bottle. However, first attestation is over a century later (theaters were closed in 1642, the term is recorded 1786, 144 years later), making this highly unlikely.
- "Office Tracking by Time". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2010-01-12.
- “box office” in the Online Etymology Dictionary, Douglas Harper, 2001
- William and Mary Morris, Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988
- Robert Hendrickson, Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, Facts on File, New York, 1997