Betting on Box Office

Wall Street soon will be taking wagers on movie success. Somewhere, Gordon Gekko is laughing his suspenders off...

By Jere Hester
|  Friday, Mar 12, 2010  |  Updated 6:28 AM CDT
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How would Gordon Gekko bet on "Wall Street 2"?

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Even before "Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps" arrives in September, you'll be able to wager on whether the revival of greed’s goodness will spur a bull or bear box office.

A new online futures market that will allow anyone, in essence, to bet on whether a movie will be a hit or a flop is set to debut next month, The New York Times reports.

So film fans will be able to use the tools of Wall Street to make or lose money on "Wall Street 2" or any just about any upcoming flick. Somewhere, Gordon Gekko is laughing his suspenders off.

Under the plan, bettors trade $1 for every $1 million they expect the movie to make domestically on personal accounts.

If a movie were expected to make $100 in its opening weeks, a $100 dollar contract would earn the bettor $50 should the movie sells $150 million in tickets.

By betting the film will be dud, one would earn $50 if the movie were to gross just $50 million.

Let's take a light moment to consider some of the possible implications of a world where not only everybody is a critic, but where anyone could become a movie mini-mogul.

Imagine the insider trading temptations: Test screenings infiltrated by moles. Ditto for movie sets, already fonts of gossip.

Much of this, certainly, has been going on in Hollywood in one form or another for years – and buzz travels instantly these days, thanks to the Web. But the impact of rumors will be felt beyond movie studios – bettors could lose a lot more than the price of admission.

There also could be added annoyances inside theaters: moviegoers jotting research notes during coming attractions. Antsy patrons with a lot riding on a flick shifting in their seats, like the fourth-quarter fidgeters at Madison Square Garden who made the mistake of wagering on the Knicks.

Worst-case scenario: Hollywood studios recruit champion futures players as executives with greelighting power.

Movies are a much-needed diversion, particularly in tough times. It’s probably no coincidence Hollywood is coming off its biggest year ever, with a nearly $30 billion take worldwide, during a rough economic stretch. In North America alone, escapist 3-D fare like "Avatar" brought in more than $1 billion (note to self: have broker put 10 large on "Toy Story 3").

The most devoted movie fans pay attention to all things showbiz, such as box office results, if only to feel like a part of the action. Some folks get a kick out of boasting a film they like is making money, as if that somehow validates their judgment.

But giving the audience a box office stake could alter the movie-going experience. The movies, after all, should be a place to forget about money troubles – not incur new ones.

As The Times notes, the early buzz on “Avatar” in some quarters had the film headed for Titanic territory (Titanic the ship, not James Cameron’s previous blockbuster). If the film was coming out next month, there likely would be many gamblers looking to “short” the big-budget 3-D epic, basically betting on it to fail.

Which goes to show what we already know: there’s no such thing as a sure thing – even in the movies.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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