Scientists find the formula for box-office cinematic success. Producers of ‘Asura’, please take note
‘Man in a hole’ movies, with a happy-sad-happy trajectory, are the most financially successful films across all genres, researchers say
A team of UK scientists believe they have found the formula for box-office success.
After analysing data from 6,147 movie scripts and filtering it through a series of algorithms, the researchers have identified the emotional arc that makes the most money, called the “man in a hole” arc.
It could be gamechanging for both film producers and audiences, said Ganna Pogrebna, a professor of behavioural economics and data science at the University of Birmingham, who led the research team. And the findings may provide some salutary reading for producers of box-office bombs like China’s Asura, recently yanked from cinemas after just three days, earning a paltry 49.05 million yuan in receipts during the opening weekend.
“We know that when we talk about movie production it is a small group of people that make decisions for the viewers. We were essentially trying to listen to the viewer, to see what they actually want.”
The scientists categorised the movies according to six emotional profiles or clusters, which were previously applied to novels.
These are: rags to riches – an ongoing emotional rise as seen in films such as The Shawshank Redemption; riches to rags – an ongoing emotional fall (Psycho); man in a hole – a fall followed by a rise (The Godfather); Icarus – a rise followed by a fall (On the Waterfront); Cinderella – a rise followed by a fall followed by a rise (Babe); and Oedipus, a fall followed by a rise followed by a fall (All About My Mother).
They were able to then map the clusters that were most successful at the box office across 21 genres.
The analysis showed that man in a hole movies with their happy-sad-happy trajectory were the most financially successful movies across all genres, costing an average of US$40.5 million to produce and earning an average of US$54.9 million.
For biographical films, rags to riches came out on top, but it was far less successful in mysteries and thrillers. For comedies the riches to rags arc, which allows for a sad ending, was by far the least successful.
The researchers found that man in a hole films were not the most liked but they were likely to be the most talked about.
The research has been published by Cornell University Library, titled: “The data science of Hollywood: Using emotional arcs of movies to drive business model innovation in entertainment industries”.
Pogbrena said the research findings were multi-dimensional. For example, riches to rags movies could be financially successful if they were epic and made with a huge budget, such as Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies; Icarus films are most successful with a low budget; and Oedipus films do not do well at awards ceremonies.
Pogbrena said the team was not saying only man in a hole movies should be made. “We are not trying to kill the film industry,” she said. “We are trying to see what is successful.”
The researchers gathered their data from a range of public sources including scripts on opensubtitles.org, revenues from the-numbers.com and audience satisfaction ratings from IMDb.
Pogbrena hopes the academic research will help film companies be more creative, because if they know what will be commercially successful it could give them security to widen their portfolio to produce more experimental movies.
“I don’t see it as limiting, it could allow companies to be more inventive,” she said.