A box office or ticket office is a place where tickets are sold to the public for admission to an event. Patrons may perform the transaction at a countertop, through a hole in a wall or window, or at a wicket.
By extension, the term is frequently used, especially in the context of the film industry, as a synonym for the amount of business a particular production, such as a film or theatre show, receives.
Box office business can be measured in terms of the number of tickets sold or the amount of money raised by ticket sales (revenue). The projection and analysis of these earnings is very important for the creative industries and often a source of interest for fans. This is predominant in the Hollywood movie industry.
The term is attested since 1786, presumably from sales of boxes (private seating areas in a theatre). The sense of "total sales" is attested from 1904.
A folk etymology is that this derives from Elizabethan theatre (i.e. late 16th century), where theatre admission was collected in a box attached to a long stick, passed around the audience; comparable to "bottle" in Punch and Judy, where money was collected in a bottle. However, first attestation is about 200 years later, making this highly unlikely.
Some complain that film industry focus on profit has diminished the attention given to film as an art form. However, analysis of the financial success of films is very influential for the production and funding of future works.
In December 2009, with its acquisition of Nielsen EDI for $15 million, measurement company Rentrak became the sole provider of worldwide box office ticket sales revenue and attendance information.
For a list of films which are major box-office hits, see List of highest-grossing films. Films that are considered to have been very unsuccessful at the box office are called box office bombs or box office flops. For a list of these films, see List of box office bombs.
To determine if a movie made a profit, it is not correct to directly compare the box office gross with the production budget, because the movie theater keeps nearly half of the gross on average. The split varies from movie to movie, and the percentage for the distributor is generally higher in early weeks. Usually the distributor gets a percentage of the revenue after first deducting a "house allowance" or "house nut". It is also common that the distributor gets either a percentage of the gross revenue, or a higher percentage of the revenue after deducting the nut, whichever is larger.
The following is film industry specific terminology as defined by Box Office Mojo. For films released in North America, box office figures are usually divided between domestic, meaning the United States and Canada, and foreign which includes all other countries. Weekly box office figures are taken to be from Friday through Thursday to allow for the fact that most films are released on a Friday. A large component of this is the weekend box office, defined as the box office receipts from Friday through Sunday. In particular, the weekend box office for the initial week of release, or opening weekend, is often widely reported. (See List of biggest opening weekends.)
Theaters is the number of theaters in which the movie is showing. Since a single theater may show a movie on multiple screens, the total number of screens is used as another measure. The theaters measure is used to determine whether a film is in wide release, meaning at least 600 theaters, or limited release which is less than 600 theaters. Occasionally, a film may achieve wide release after an initial limited release; Little Miss Sunshine is an example of this.