Such chaos would almost inevitably lead to a call for mandated government-agency oversight of Hollywood accounting, and that, to studio thinking, would be Armageddon—albeit an Armageddon that would be celebrated by everyone who has ever been promised a net-profits check that didn’t arrive. In the space of just a couple of days this month, a jury demanded Disney pay $270 million in damages for wrongfully withholding profits on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, another found that actor Don Johnson was owed $23 million by the producers of Nash Bridges, and Nikki Finke’s Deadline website posted a leaked balance sheet in which Warner Bros. appeared to demonstrate that the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which grossed $938 million worldwide, is somehow $167 million in the red. Given that statistic, perhaps stockholders should inquire whether any studio movies ever realize a net profit, and if not, why the people who run those studios are still employed.
These are the kinds of quaint accounting eccentricities on which, one imagines, the government might want to weigh in someday. For now, that day has been deferred, which may be the only reason to mourn the loss of the loony futures scheme that would have hastened its arrival. Those balance sheets could certainly use scrutiny—but not because they’re entangled in a marketplace in which value is predicated on nothing more than the audacity of hype.