Snowed In: How Will the Storm Affect the Box Office?

Side Effects

The Northeast is blanketed in 10 of inches of snow — sounds like the perfect time to curl up in a blanket in front of the TV and catch up on your Netflix queue. Great for you (and the hot cocoa industry), but kind of a bummer for the movies that opened in theaters this weekend. If people in Massachusetts can’t leave their homes under orders from the governor, what will become of Identity Thief and Side Effects, the biggest new releases of the week?

While their box office numbers may certainly take a hit,’s President of Box Office Paul Dergarabedian says that this weekend’s massive blizzard (unofficially dubbed “Nemo” by the Weather Channel) won’t necessarily affect how much money the movies earn over the weekend.

“The weather plays a factor, obviously,” he says. “If people can’t get to a movie theater or the weather is so inclement that the better option is to stay home, there’s no question that on a regional or local basis that can hurt the box office. Studios want every available audience member to have the opportunity to get to a theater. However, in my experience, if the weather in the rest of the country is good, you can still have a solid box office. If the box office is down for a particular movie, it means that the weather affected it, but it probably wasn’t going to do very well anyway.”

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Essentially, inclement weather is a wonderful excuse for movie studios that need to point fingers for an under-performing movie. “The weather is a great scapegoat,” Dergarabedian says. “There have been plenty of bad weather weekends where the box office was up versus the comparable weekend the year before.”

That said, there’s no question the blizzard will cause problems. Some of the highest-grossing theaters in the country are located in New York City, which is bad news for everyone. And because Steven Soderbergh’s films tend to perform better in cities like New York and Los Angeles, if NYC traffic is impeded, Side Effects will certainly take a hit.

With that in mind, decided to take a cursory look at how past weather disasters have affected the nationwide box office haul in recent years.

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Hurricane Sandy (Oct. 26-28, 2012)

There’s no question the weather certainly played a part in the low box office numbers as a hurricane ravaged the Northeast, but while Argo came in first place in its third weekend of release (a strong showing) with $12.35 million, hard weather (and anticipation of the storm’s landfall) hammered new releases Silent Hill and Fun Size. Silent Hill tied for fifth, while Fun Size barely made 10th place.

Hurricane Irene (Aug. 26-28, 2011)

The storm didn’t really hit the U.S. until the Sunday, Aug. 28, so it makes sense that Sunday was a particularly low-grossing day. None of the new releases could stop the reign of The Help, which came in first place for the third week in a row with $14.5 million, per BoxOfficeMojo, but all three — Columbiana ($10.4 million), Our Idiot Brother ($7.0 million), and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark ($8.5 million) — finished in the top five.

Hurricane Katrina (Sept. 2-4, 2005)

The year was already unimpressive in terms of ticket sales, but Katrina’s effect on movie-going could certainly be felt. The storm destroyed movie theaters across the Gulf Coast — among so many other things — as people in the rest of the country watched their TV screens helplessly. Plus, the weekend after the storm, Labor Day weekend, is a typically low-grossing time. Still, the widest new release, Transporter 2, managed to come in first with $20.1 million over the holiday weekend, while the previous weekend’s winner, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, pulled in a respectable number too with $16.6 million.

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What did we learn? Essentially, the severity of the storm matters. Hurricane Irene caused massive destruction in certain areas, but nothing as wide-ranging as Katrina (or even Sandy). Therefore, the box office didn’t suffer too much that particular weekend. Katrina’s height of destruction came mid-week, so although the Gulf Coast was devastated, the overall box office numbers didn’t take a massive hit. In the case of Sandy, though, which struck over a weekend, the new releases performed poorly — which means Identity Thief and Side Effects could suffer similarly.

As Dergarabedian notes, the only bad weather that means good things for the box office is a heat wave. “People tend to cocoon and stay indoors during bad weather. The only time when bad weather is a good thing for movies is when it’s very hot. People want to go into movie theaters and stay cool.”

Follow Jean on Twitter @hijean

[PHOTO CREDIT: Open Road Films]