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  LOGOLOG
a weblog of wordplay by Eric Harshbarger

Box Office Pangrammacy, Again

This day and age, with the abundance of statistics available from websites, and the enthusiasm over blockbuster movies, many people are constantly analyzing how well movies perform at the box office. Will the latest superhero film surpass opening day expectations? Will the latest Star Wars film become the highest grossing movie of all time (either domestically or internationally)? Marvel vs. DC? Everyone vs. James Cameron's chart toppers?

There are many people out there who eye each weekend's box office results with professional or casual interest.

I, personally, review the box office numbers for a very peculiar reason each week.

Below is the list of the Top-12 movies from last weekend (13-15 December 2019):

  1. JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL
  2. FROZEN II
  3. KNIVES OUT
  4. RICHARD JEWELL
  5. BLACK CHRISTMAS
  6. FORD V FERRARI
  7. QUEEN & SLIM
  8. A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
  9. DARK WATERS
  10. 21 BRIDGES
  11. MIDWAY
  12. PLAYING WITH FIRE

Can you spot anything unusual about the list?

SPOILER: all twenty-six letters of the alphabet appear somewhere in the list. In wordplay-lingo this list is said to be "pangrammic".

And for such a list to be pangrammic and only twelve titles long is VERY rare.

There are a lot of movies released during a year (many more than, say, three decades ago), so it is not uncommon to see a full weekend list with over one hundred movies, and it's not unusual for such a list to contain every letter of the alphabet. But for values of N less than, say, 20, the Top-N movies being pangrammic does not happen very often.

Going back over thirty years (reviewing the charts available at, say, Box Office Mojo), one will find that pangrammacy of the Top-20 movies has only happened 37 times (including this past weekend). And as that N-value gets smaller, pangrammacy gets much less frequent.

The Top-12 result from this past weekend is truly special (well, as "special" as these things can be).

In fact, it has only been bested by a shorter list once, and I wrote about that very enthusiastically just over five years ago. During that weekend in 2014 the Top-10 movies were pangrammic; before that the record had been Top-13 (set three separate times since 1982).

I had been anticipating this past weekend's result for about a month, and, honestly, I was a bit disappointed by the Top-12 outcome. I thought that that Top-10 record from a few years ago was going to at least be matched, if not broken (or "shattered", to use a word that is often used when talking about new box offcie records).

Look at the above list again, and notice how high up in it the four most troublesome letters, JQXZ, appear. With the release of Jumanji: The Next Level, the J & X joined the Z (from Frozen II) and the Q (from Queen & Slim) in the Top-7 films of the weekend. Last week I was not quite sure where all these movies would rank in the final weekend list, but I was pretty sure a Top-8 result was quite possible.

But then I took the time to go through the other twenty-two letters of the alphabet, and I realized that one of them was going to be truant.

You will find twenty-five of the letters of the alphabet in the first eight titles listed above. But alas, one rather common letter, the P, is nowhere to be found among those eight movies. The P does not even occur in the Top-10.

It is the lone P's fault that the list had to be extended all the way down to the twelfth movie of the weekend: Playing With Fire. That movie had been #8 during the previous weekend, but, having been out for more than a month, I knew it would not hold a position in the Top-10 when it needed to. Coincidently, the very next movie, the thirteen-placed one, Parasite also contains a P.

But I'm not holding those two P-containing-titles accountable for the inability to set a new pangrammacy record. No, I'm blaming Playmobil: The Movie. Here's a movie that obviously contains a P in its title, and it was released much more recently: last weekend as a matter of fact. But evidently this film is so bad that it did not even crack the Top-10 during its opening weekend. And by this past weekend it had plummeted all the way down to #22.

I'm sure the producers of that movie have enough people griping at them about the film's poor performance, but I'll go ahead and throw my annoyance their way too. If they had made a halfway decent kid-flick, then we would likely have set box office history this past weekend.

So, is there still a chance to tie (or beat) the Top-10 list from 2014?

Maybe.

The next P to appear in the title of a widely released movie will be from Spies In Disguise which is coming out on Christmas Day. Of course, there are a lot of movies coming out during the next couple of weeks, and it is likely that the strong performance of Queen & Slim will not be strong enough to keep it in the Top-10.

I, of course, will be watching closely...

-- Eric

[16 December 2019]
   
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