By Eugene Christiansen, Founder, Christiansen Capital Advisors, LLC, New York City

Here are some numbers from Fandango:

Secretariat: average critics’ score = 61 (out of 100); average fan rating = Go (second-highest rating).

The Social Network: average critics’ score = 95; average fan rating = Go.

These numbers say Secretariat is much more popular with its audience than with critics; critics and the very different audience for The Social Network are in synch. Critical opinion is much less important for movies like Secretariat than for movies like The Social Network: Secretariat isn’t aimed at critics: there was absolutely no chance it would have opened the New York Film Festival, as The Social Network did.

Disney must be delighted. Secretariat is the other side of the diversification coin: a return by an old-media company to tried-and-true product after a series of costly bungled diversifications, of which buying Miramax was only the most visible example. Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures, two Disney non-family labels of that era, are shuttered; Steve Jobs is the company’s largest shareholder; Pixar has taken over the company’s animation operations, etc., etc. Diversification didn’t work for Disney. Pictures like Secretariat work for Disney. An iron hand on costs above the line (i.e., talent); one location; a story the company knows how to make and market cold–and Disney brings in a no. 3 box office movie for $35 million when the average MPAA negative cost $67 million last year and another $39 million to bring to market (prints & advertising). Ancillary (non-theatrical) earnings look bright: Secretariat should be a reliable library title for its copyright life, like an oil well. There was as little studio risk and as much upside potential in Secretariat as anything MPAA members will release this year. I’d be willing to bet that the pro-forma projections Disney made before the cameras rolled on Secretariat will tally with actual results plus or minus 10%. The company knew exactly what it was doing.

In contrast, The Social Network was an insanely risky proposition: a director’s film by a powerful, impossible-to-control director; an intricate screenplay, hard to bring off (it only works because the editors turned in a virtuoso, razor-sharp job); players at the beginning of their careers; an untried story that is hard for advertisers to explain: the odds against success were astronomical. Hard to make and harder to market, pre-opening critical buzz mattered a lot to The Social Network. Nothing at the racetrack is as much of a longshot as this movie was.

Copyright © 2010 Horse Racing Business


  1. Had not realized that Secretariat was made so inexpensively. The oil well analogy is appropriate. Looks like a financial winner.

  2. Williamkicy says

    Really Cool.