Box-Office Science

Imagine a world where Hollywood producers could predict, with scientific precision, the box office revenue a movie will generate just by reading the screenplay. A new forecasting model devised by a trio of marketing professors from Wharton and NYU promises to deliver something like that. Among their findings: action movies with multidimensional conflicts are the most surefire investments, and horror films the riskiest. In a paper describing their model, they write that “a higher movie budget tend[s] to increase the movie’s box office, but at a diminishing rate. Thus, throwing money at a script does not always generate a blockbuster movie.” Here’s looking at you, Waterworld. [%comments]

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  1. Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team says:

    Ironically our Science Space Program is going in the Dumpster, but our Sci-Fi Movies are having a Renaissance: Bigger, Faster, and More Imaginative Block Buster Summer Films.

    A Baby born today is more likely to Star as a Captain of a Sci Fi Space Ship than to be an Astronaut and go on an actual interplanetary voyage.

    Be William Shatner instead of Neil Armstrong. I’ll be Luke Skywalker. A light saber slices a slide rule into halves.

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  2. Eric says:

    Just what the art of cinema and our cultural landscape needs… not!

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  3. jimmyd says:

    The book Hollywood Economics: How Extreme Uncertainty Shapes the Film Industry, which Taleb discusses in his book, is a great read on the topic of Movie success predictions. In it, Dr. De Vany quotes William Goldman, who stated that “nobody knows anything” about what happens to movies once they are released to the theatres.

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  4. Vake says:

    The problem is, once they discover this rule/formula/equation, every movie studios will move to adopt it, thereby rendering it invalid.

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  5. Martin says:

    My faith in this paper is limited. It seems to be a case of “dazzle with statistical methodology”. Why use a BART model? Much simpler (wider known) methods could have been used to establish the findings. This is a tendency in many disciplines.

    I would propose the following mandatory rules for publishing papers:
    1) Use simple models first and SHOW the results of these models. SHOW us the basic stuff – simple regressions with scatterplots
    2) Motivate the use of more complex methodology in view of these results. A simple “XY” has been shown to outperform “classical methods” is NOT enough.
    3) Provide not only the DATA set, but also instructions and all necessary programs, batch files to replicate the results.
    - Martin

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  6. Kevin C. says:

    Didn’t Waterworld actually make a pretty sizable profit, despite underperforming expectations at the box office?

    Surely there’s a better example to use…

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  7. Adam says:

    Isn’t the use of VaR models combined with extrapolating from a small data set how quants crashed the financial system?

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  8. Justin says:

    My sister works in hollywood doing film production, and has been for a number of years. If you name an actor, she can give you a good guess on their approximate cost, and return on investment.

    I know when I asked her a few years ago, Will Smith was the best return on investment. That did not make him cheap.

    However, I’ve also heard that he did a more subjective analysis of top films to figure out that fun sci-fi special effects fests were the films that tended to do the best.

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