The UK Top 100, 2007 to 2009

A few months ago I looked at the clustering of UK films at the UK box office (here). This week I look at the top 100 films at the UK box office from 2007 to 2009, inclusively.

Data was taken from the UK Film Council and Box Office Mojo. The ranking of a film in the top 100 according to Box Office Mojo is determined by its total box office gross. The total box office data given by Box Office Mojo is in dollars, and this was converted into pounds by multiplying by 0.51 for 2007 and 2008 and 0.61 for 2009. These figures are, therefore, estimates and this should be kept in mind when interpreting the results. To sort the data into groups, the opening weekend gross (including previews) and the total box office data were entered into PAST (v. 2.04) and then allocated by using k-means clustering into 5 groups. I would have gone further into the data to compare films ranked lower than 100, but the UK Film Council box office archive does not have data for many of these films.

It is clear from the graphs of each year (Figures 1 to 3) that there is strong correlation between a film’s opening weekend gross and its total gross. The Spearman rank correlation between these two variables for 2007 is rs (98) = 0.8995, p = <0.001, and the mean proportion of a film’s total gross accounted for by the opening weekend is 0.2644 (95% CI: 0.2473, 0.2815). For 2008, rs (98) = 0.8642, p = <0.0001, and the mean proportion is 0.3019 (95% CI: 0.2826, 0.3212); and for 2009, rs (98) = 0.8993, p = <0.0001, and the mean proportion is 0.2808 (95% CI: 0.2633, 0.2983). Overall, there is little variation from year to year across the top 100 as a whole.

In each graph we see the same types of films in the different clusters. The purple cluster includes the top performing films in each year, and these are typically franchise movies (James Bond, Harry Potter, Spider-man, Shrek, The Simpsons, Batman, Indiana Jones, etc). Although the number 1 grossing film released in 2008 is Mamma Mia! The lack cluster are films that did not achieve such stellar results, but wich are nonetheless big budget studio fare. This cluster includes films from the Transformers, Twilight, and Iron Man franchises (which is probably a little disappointing for the producers), along with several family films (Wall-E, Monsters v. Aliens, Kung Fu Panda). The red cluster includes some films that perhaps achieved more than was expected (Atonement, St. Trinian’s, Juno, Paranormal Activity) as well some films that achieved much less than could be expected (Ocean’s Thirteen, Rocky Balboa, The Incredible Hulk, X-Men Origins: Wolverine). A small budget film in this group is performing strongly, but a big special effects movie in this group is soon going to be the end of your franchise. If your big budget effects movie ends up in the green group then the end will come very quickly, so don’t expect to see anymore Ghost Rider (2007) or GI Joe (2009) movies  in the future.The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Watchmen, and Fame (all from 2009) ended up in this group, and you would have to say that overall this represents poor performance on the part of these films. The green cluster includes many films that performed perfectly respectably (The Last King of Scotland, Notes on A Scandal), but which did make the same cross over achieved by Atonement or Juno. The blue cluster includes films that opened poorly before things went down hill. It is gratifying that this includes Rambo. It also includes Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium which British audiences evidently did not want to watch, along with several poor quality horror films (Halloween, Hostel Part II, The Hills Have Eyes 2), as well as the unending cycle of awful spoof movies (Meet the Spartans, Disaster Movie, Epic Movie, Superhero Movie) that must do enough business in the US to justify the cost. Many of the other blue films are movies slightly outside the mainstream that have made it into the top 100 (This is England, Eastern Promises). Notable failures in the blue cluster include Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Hannibal Rising from 2007, How to Lose Friends and Influence People and The X-Files: I Want to Believe and from 2008, and Revolutionary Road and The Men Who Stare at Goats from 2009.

We also see similar numbers of films appearing in each cluster in each year. The top 3 clusters (purple, black, and red) account for 31 films in 2007, 30 films in 2008, and 29 films in 2009. The black cluster in 2009 is larger than in the other years but this may be due to the fact that the data for this year includes Avatar, which simply trounced everything forcing other films that would have made the purple group in other years down one step.The green cluster includes 24 films in 2007, 29 films in 2008, and 31 films in 2009; while the blue cluster has 45 films in 2007, 41 films in 2008, and 40 films in 2009.

The number of films in each cluster, and the mean total and weekend gross are presented in Tables 1 to 3.

Table 1 Cluster size, and mean total and opening weekend grosses for the top 100 films at the UK box office in 2007

Table 2 Cluster size, and mean total and opening weekend grosses for the top 100 films at the UK box office in 2008

Table 3 Cluster size, and mean total and opening weekend grosses for the top 100 films at the UK box office in 2009

The outlier in the red cluster to the left of Figure 1 is PS I Love You, which was released on just 80 screens at Christmas 2007 for the first two weeks, producing a very low opening weekend, but was then released wide on 365 screens in the first week of January 2008 and immediately grossed a respectable £1.79 million for that weekend. This film probably underperformed at the box office, and if it had been released wide for its opening weekend could be expected (on the basis if its subsequent weekends) to have made closer to (if not actually into) the black cluster. I can’t imagine what advantage was gained from releasing a romatic film at Christmas on just 80 screens, especially when it is well-known that the opening of film is the most crucial period in its box office life.

Figure 1 Top 100 films at the UK box office in 2007

Although the top 3 groups (red, black, and purple) in 2008 include roughly the same number of films as the other years, it is immediately apparent from Figure 2 that films in the red group performed less well in this year. Unlike 2007 and 2009, the majority of films in this cluster achieved a total gross of less than £10 million, and from Tables 1 to 3 we can see that the mean total gross is lower for this year than in the others (ANOVA: F (2, 48) = 17.14, p = <0.0001; Tukey HSD: 2007/2008 – p = 0.0004, 2008/2009 – p = 0.0001, 2007/2009 – p =0.4363). The total box office gross for the top 100 films in 2008 was £780.7 million, the lowest of any year covered here (2007 = £868.2 million, 2009 = £1002.7 million).  The outliers in the green cluster are In Bruges, which seems to have been released twice – once in March on 75 screens and then again in April on 270 screens; and There Will Be Blood, which opened on just 24 screens but grew this to 199 screens in week 5 of its release. These are exceptions to the rule that opening weekends are destiny. In the case of In Bruges, we see a small budget film getting a second, bigger lease of life after an initial run as distributors and exhibitors respond to audiences and reviews. The release of There Will Be Blood can be explained by looking at America. In the US this film was released on just 2 screens in December 2007 before going to 1620 screens after 7 weeks by February 2008 – when it was nominated for eight (and later won two) Academy Awards – so this is perhaps the definition of an awards film. Without the Oscars, the release of this film would have been that much more limited.

Figure 2 Top 100 films at the UK box office in 2008

In 2009, there were two films that grossed considerably more than other films: Avatar and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (although most of the gross for Avatar was accumulated in 2010). Avatar was released at Christmas and so its opening weekend accounts for only 9% of its total gross, whereas 38% of the gross for Harry Potter was accumulated on it opening weekend. The 2nd tier of films (the black group) exhibits much more variation for the opening weekend grosses in this year than for 2007 and 2008. There is much less separation between the red and black clusters in Figure 3, and this again may be due to the distorting effect of Avatar. Again we see some films that have very low opening weekends relative to their total gross: Gran Torino in the green cluster and Vicky Christina Barcelona in the blue cluster. AS before this can be attributed to distributors dipping their toe into the market with limited releases, before expanding the number of screens the following week. Whether or not this actually provided an advantage for these films is unknown, but a bigger opening weekend for Gran Torino would have pushed it towards the red cluster. Unlike PS I Love You, they are much harder to market to a specific audience and so perhaps the is some nervousness on the part of distributors to commit so many screens without such a defined audience. Who watches Woody Allen movies nowadays?

Figure 3 Top 100 films at the UK box office in 2009

Overall, there is remarkable stability in the top 100 films at the UK box office, which is exactly what studios pay to see. By applying clustering to box office data in this manner we can identify some of the structure in this data, and to identify those films which performed above or below expectation, and to compare the performance of similar films from year to year.