Section Two of the May 4, 1935 edition of Harrison's Reports carried a digest of box-office performances of 1934-1935 films. The films were ranked based upon the reports Harrison's received from movie exhibitors nationwide. There are no dollar figures mentioned, just rankings from Excellent to Poor performing films as reported by the exhibitors and crunched into an average grade by Harrison.
The two films reported as top box office earners for 1934, It Happened One Night and Viva Villa, were released too early to be included in this report. They likely garnered grades of Excellent in the prior year's report. The top two from 1935, Mutiny on the Bounty and Top Hat, had yet to be released at the time this report was compiled. I still have* the 1936 year of Harrison's Reports to look through, so perhaps there will be a similar annual issue reporting those latter two films as Excellent draws when I examine those issues. We shall see.
*I've sold the 1934 year of Harrison's Reports and this 1935 year is currently available. I also have 1936-1939 and will be making them available one set at a time so I can page through the issues and post any interesting findings.
Due to the nature of film distribution and exhibition during this period actual figures reported from the period seem sporadic at best, limited by studio or to the biggest hits with annual top ten lists seeming to be the most complete information available. In listing the top box office performing films of the 1930's in his The Encyclopedia of Movie Awards, Michael Gebert noted that "Inconsistent revenue reporting in the early 30's may be responsible for the overrepresentation of late '30's films and the absence of mid-30's hits" (50). You didn't just open your newspaper in the mid-1930's to find a weekly top ten list of reported film revenues like we do today. Simply put, this stuff seems pretty messy.
While Harrison's didn't report numbers, they did give a complete overview of all non-Western releases from the major studios during the period as compared against one another on his own rating scale. The terms used seem quite literal: Excellent is excellent while you can't flop any worse than a Poor mark. I take Good to be a positive term while Fair seems to be an overall disappointing rating, just a touch above Poor, as if more was expected.
"How was your veal, sir?"
"It was fair."
< Gulp! >
Some of the more interesting movies on the list are those with extenuating circumstances attached to their grade. I've marked them with an asterisk (*). Some of the notations are for movies that haven't been released but have had expectations reported (I'm a little unclear on how and why that was done). The most interesting include qualifiers such as Poor in the West but Excellent in the South. I wish there were more of those!
The linked titles lead to articles I've written about that particular movie elsewhere, mostly on this site. The illustrations are tobacco cards from Gallaher's 1935 Famous Film Scenes series with one image (The Scarlet Empress) from their Shots from Famous Films series of the same year.
Columbia - One Night of Love, Broadway Bill.
First National - Go Into Your Dance*, Black Fury*.
Fox - Judge Priest, Bright Eyes, County Chairman, Little Colonel, Life Begins at Forty
Metro Goldwyn Mayer - Chained, David Copperfield, After Office Hours.
Paramount - She Loves Me Not, Now and Forever, College Rhythm, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer**, Ruggles of Red Gap***
RKO (Radio Pictures) - The Gay Divorcee, Roberta.
United Artists - Les Miserables*.
Universal - The Bride of Frankenstein*.
*Not yet released but predicted to perform excellently.
** Except in the South where it is only Good. Overall rated Excellent though.
*** Except in the South where it is only Fair. Overall rated Excellent though.
Very Good Performers:
First National - Gold Diggers of 1935.
Fox - The White Parade.
Metro Goldwyn Mayer - Barretts of Wimpole Street, Sequoia*
Paramount - Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, Here's My Heart, Mississippi.
United Artists - Count of Monte Cristo, The Scarlet Pimpernel.
Warner Bros. - Devil Dogs of the Air
*Not yet released but predicted to perform Very Good.
Very Good to Good Performers:
Metro Goldwyn Mayer - Hideout
Paramount - The Gilded Lily, Rumba, Love in Bloom.
RKO (Radio Pictures) - Anne of Green Gables
United Artists - Clive of India.
Warner Bros. - The St. Louis Kid
Columbia - Whole Town's Talking*
First National - Happiness Ahead**
Fox - The Cat's Paw, Charlie Chan in London, Hell in the Heavens
Metro Goldwyn Mayer - The Merry Widow, Evelyn Prentice, West Point of the Air.
Paramount - Cleopatra, Limehouse Blues, Behold My Wife, Wings in the Dark.
RKO (Radio Pictures) - The Richest Girl in the World, The Little Minister, Romance in Manhattan.
United Artists -Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round, Mighty Barnum, Kid Millions, Follies Bergere.
Universal - The Good Fairy.
Warner Bros. - Sweet Music.
*Poor and Fair in the East in all situations, but Good and Very Good are reports from Western and Southern States.
**Widely varied reports from Excellent to Poor.
Good to Fair Performers:
First National - Six-Day Bike Rider, Woman in Red.
Fox - Servants' Entrance, Peck's Bad Boy, Charlie Chan in Paris, Baboona, One More Spring, Great Hotel Murder.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer - Naughty Marietta*
Paramount - It's a Gift, Car 99.
RKO (Radio Pictures) - Age of Innocence, Kentucky Kernals.
United Artists - Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back, Affairs of Cellini, The Last Gentleman, We Live Again, Wedding Night.
Warner Bros. - Big Hearted Herbert, Kansas City Princess, Bordertown.
*Early reports of Excellent box office, but later reports said it wasn't going over in the small towns or neighborhoods of the big cities, thus downgraded.
Columbia - Best Man Wins.
First National - A Lost Lady, Living on Velvet**.
Fox - Caravan, 365 Nights in Hollywood, The First World War, Helldorado, Under Pressure.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer - Death on the Diamond, Outcast Lady, The Band Plays On, Biography of a Bachelor Girl, Society Doctor.
Paramount - Ladies Should Listen*, Ready for Love, Pursuit of Happiness, Enter Madame, The President Vanishes.
Universal - Million Dollar Ransom, Gift of Gab, Wake Up and Dream, One Exciting Adventure, Great Expectations, The Man Who Reclaimed His Head.
Warner Bros. - The Case of the Howling Dog, Sweet Adeline.
*Fair except for one report from the South which had it as Excellent.
**Poor and Fair from East and West, but Good in the South.
Fair to Poor Performers:
Columbia - White Lies, Carnival, Death Flies East.
First National - Murder in the Clouds, Red-Hot Tires
Fox - The World Moves On, Marie Galante, Bachelor of Arts, Music in the Air
Metro Goldwyn Mayer - The Gay Bride, The Casino Murder Case.
Paramount - Crime Without Passion, You Belong to Me, The Scarlet Empress, Lemon Drop Kid.
RKO (Radio Pictures) - Wednesday's Child, The Silver Streak, Grand Old Girl, Murder on a Honeymoon, A Dog of Flanders.
Universal - There's Always Tomorrow, Strange Lives, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Transient Lady.
Warner Bros. - Desirable, The Secret Bride, King of the Ritz.
Columbia - That's Gratitude, Against the Law*, Jealousy*, Men of the Night, Mills of the Gods, Behind the Evidence, Let's Live Tonight.
First National - I Sell Anything, Gentlemen Are Born, Babbitt, Church Mouse, Maybe It's Love, While the Patient Slept.
Fox - Pursued, Love Time, Elinor Norton, Gambling, Lottery Lover, Mystery Woman.
Metro Goldwyn Mayer - Straight Is the Way, Have a Heart, A Wicked Woman, The Night Is Young, Winning Ticket, Shadow of Doubt.
Paramount - Menace, One Hour Late, Father Brown, Detective, All the King's Horses.
RKO (Radio Pictures) - The Fountain, Dangerous Corners, Gridiron Flash, By Your Leave, Woman in the Dark, Lightning Strikes Twice, Red Morning, Enchanted April, Gigolette, Captain Hurricane, The People's Enemy.
United Artists - Our Daily Bread, The Private Life of Don Juan, Runaway Queen.
Universal - Cheating Cheaters, Secret of the Chateau, I've Been Around, Straight from the Heart, A Notorious Gentleman, Rendezvous at Midnight, Night Life of the Gods.
Warner Bros. - The Firebird, I Am a Thief, The White Cockatoo, The Right to Live.
*Overall poor except in some cheap-price theaters where it performed Fair.