There are few places as secretive and deceptive as the accounting offices of Hollywood studios. Just ask Art Buchwald, who won a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures, claiming that they stole the idea for Coming to America from him. That wasn’t the part that really turned heads, though; in the penalty phase of the trial the court declared that Paramount’s bookkeeping practices, which claimed that despite earning $350 million dollars the movie was unprofitable, were “unconscionable.”
Hollywood accounting is a nightmare for someone as bad at math as I am, and it cuts both ways – when the studios don’t want to pay out participation money to people, they prove the movie didn’t make a dime; when they want to crow about how well they did, unsuccessful movies suddenly become profitable. One of these movies is Superman Returns, a film that finally broke 200 million dollars domestic last week (supposedly. Let me know if this film is playing anywhere near you). Warner Bros has announced a deal with Bryan Singer for sequel, but many people wonder why they are even bothering.
Over at The Hot Blog, David Poland has crunched some numbers – at least the numbers Warner Bros has publicly admitted to – and shown how it’s possible for the studio to claim that the movie was profitable. I have to admit that I have no idea what the heck is going on here (you should have seen my sad Math SATs), but this is the closest I have come to finding a decent look at the math behind what seems, from these seats, to have been a big ass boondoggle.