When an apocalypse-themed movie rakes in truckloads of money, no copy editor on Earth, looking to top to a weekend tallies story, could withstand the temptation of the epic cataclysm metaphor waiting for them tied up with a box .
But while the End of the World metaphor may seem a garden path festooned with posies and daffodils, a few yards down and the trail suddenly becomes a headline writer's inferno, a fiery pit of inexact analogy from which no media employee can hope to emerge unsinged.
The problem is that an apocalypse metaphor suggests something terrible has happened, while 2012's $225 million worldwide grosses suggest something incredible has happened. (Actually, of course, if you are a fan of actual living entertainment, the apocalypse is a very apt metaphor for 2012's success, but that's not the tale box-office round-up headline writers have to tell.)
So across the nation this weekend, our brave headline corps searched for the right way to draw on the end of the world metaphor to explain that 2012 did really well.
Variety walked right into the trap with "2012 destroys worldwide box office." 2012 destroyed world box office in the sense of it put a lot of money in them, and although "destroy" may be contemporary lingo for "won at" even that usage suggests an opposition as though it were 2012 vs. the box office...which takes you down a whole other rabbit hole. The Huffington Post followed Variety off this cliff (or perhaps it was the other way around) reaching for the box-office destroying imagery.
Both the Hollywood Reporter and the LA Times tried to come at the problem sideways by going with variations on "2012 explodes at boxoffice." This variation however, while more on the nose in terms of what the films grosses did, attempts to sidestep the apocalypse metaphor, not getting at all at the fact that the film is not just about someone placing a sparkler in a mailbox, but about the whole world collapsing, and if you want to get technical about it, the world doesn't actually explode in the film it more..crumbles.
Taking a second stab at it, in a second box office story, however, the LA Times proved the power of the do-over and pretty much managed to get both the metaphor and the enormity pretty much on the nose with: 2012 spells doom for its competition at the box office."
The Associated Press got the epic scale right but in doing so really walked away from the entire end of the world theme and got pretty clunky in the process coming up with: 2012 has worldwide box-office bang of $225M.
The New York Times showed either wisdom or incredible cowardice and walked away from the metaphor entirely, hitting us instead with the heart-stopping lush imagery of "2012 Opening Earns $65 Million." And we can't imagine the Wall Street Journal's headline is an example of the sort of gumption Rupert Murdoch was hoping to inject into the place when he bought it up: "Disaster Film 2012 Opens Atop Box Office."
Our congratulations go out to all those who made the effort to work with this slippery analogy. To use another one, in headline writing as in life, as in football or baseball, sort of but not exactly, you only lose by not playing.