Thanks for posting the RKO box-office report for 1942, Tony. It's very interesting to see how much money AMBERSONS actually made! Do you also have the figures for 1941, when KANE was released?
What this means is, that, despite what most of the Welles books say, AMBERSONS probably made more money than CITIZEN KANE, since presumable, it was not banned by the movie theaters, who if they ran KANE, were in fear of a Hearst newspaper boycott.
It's funny how the perception of how a film's box-office can be spinned one way or another, many years after the fact. I've always taken at face value the reports that the film did poorly. Now, it appears that this may be based on faulty Charles Higham or Pauline Kael like research, (i.e. make-up whatever fits your needs), which did not consult the actual numbers!!
One thing to also remember, is that RKO did not own it's own theaters, so if AMBERSONS made a $1 milllion gross at the box-office, what RKO actually collected in rentals, would be around $600,000. which is why, with advertsing and other costs, they could still take a loss of $600,000. on the film.
Here is more on that from the MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS memos page:
July, 1942: The final 88 minute version of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS opens.
Even in it's truncated version, THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS received many excellent reviews and eventually was nominated for Four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress - Agnes Moorehead; Best Cinematography - Stanley Cortez; and Best Art Decoration. Certainly not an easy task for a film that was released in July. And despite a widely perceived notion that the film was dumped without fanfare by RKO, this was not entirely the case. At least initially, RKO gave AMBERSONS an impressive campaign, with full page ads appearing in many national publications, such as LIFE and LOOK. In fact, according to Joseph McBride, AMBERSONS box-office returns for many major cities boded very well for the films prospects. "It was holding up beyond expectations in LA, doing sensationally in San Francisco, nice in New York and Baltimore, good in Denver and Omaha, and not bad in Boston and Philly." (as reported in Variety).
Eventually, however the film's high budget (around $1,000,000. - before the $100,000. in additional costs entailed by the retakes), would be it's undoing, and RKO posted a loss of over $600,000. on the film. However, if looked at from a different perspective, the film actually made over $500,000., which means it did fairly well for the time, since at any cost it was going to be a somewhat difficult sell. In fact, if the film had been made for it's original budget of $850,000. it might have been successful. It's also important to realize, that at the time, no RKO film budgeted over $1,000,000 (which was extremely steep for 1942), had ever made a profit for the studio.