US Gross Ratios by Genre, 1991 to 2010

Recently I have been looking at the breakdown of the top 50 films at the US box office in each year from 1991 to 2010 by genre. I’ll have more to say on this topic in a couple of weeks, but I have looked at several different variables and have had to excise some aspects from the paper I was writing. This means I have some graphs left over – one of the most interesting of which is presented below. This boxplot shows the distribution of the ratio of the opening weekend gross to the total gross for the 1000 films in my sample. The box office data this graph is based on has been inflation adjusted to 2010 dollars. ‘Other’ includes genres that were too infrequent to be included separately, and is comprised of documentaries, musicals, war films, and westerns. (Actually this graph includes data from only 999 films, as one of the documentaries included in the category ‘other’ has no reported opening weekend gross). The summary statistics are given in Table 1 below.

Figure 1 Opening/total gross ratios by genre in the top 50 films at the US box office, 1991 to 2010 (Source: Box Office Mojo)

Table 1 Opening/total gross ratios by genre in the top 50 films at the US box office, 1991 to 2010 (Source: Box Office Mojo)

The overall median for 999 films is 0.2436; and so of the gross accumulated by these films, a quarter is taken in the opening weekends alone.

Three features stand out from this data:

  • Horror films have the highest median gross ratio of any genre, and tend to open big before falling away quite dramatically. Box office Mojo has chart views of the daily box office gross for films released in the US; and it is interesting to compare the charts for Saw IV (2007), which ran out of steam after less than a month on release, and Paranormal Activity (2009), which did not reach its peak gross until after a month. The gross ratio for the former film is 0.5017, and that of the latter is 0.0007. These films are the extremes of the data values for the genre.
  • The genres of action/adventure, family, and fantasy/science fiction tend not to have films with very low gross ratios – of the 410 films in these three genres, only 13 have very low gross ratios (and ten of these are family films). Action/adventure and fantasy/science fiction tend to have higher gross ratios, and so the opening weekend is more important for these genres. The distribution for family films is more consistent with comedy, crime/thriller, and romance films. These films tend to make a big initial splash, and rarely have the opportunity to build an audience over time.
  • Drama films have the lowest gross ratios; and of the 109 films in this category in the sample, 33 have an opening weekend of less than $1 million. This is the result of films in this genre being initially released to a small number of screens and allowing the film to build an audience on the basis of critical reviews and word of mouth. Drama films are therefore characterised by a particular release pattern that it is not evident in the other genres, and the opening weekend gross is unreliable as a predictor of the total gross.

The above graph is a very simple plot of a simple calculation performed on some easily obtained data, but we can immediately see how different genres find their way into the film market in the US. These patterns are even stronger when we look at box office data sorted by genre in more detail, as will become clear when I put up the full paper in a couple of weeks.

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About Nick Redfern

I graduated from the University of Kent in 1998 with a degree in Film Studies and History, and was awarded an MA by the same institution in 2002. I received my Ph.D. from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2006 for a thesis title 'Regionalism and the Cinema in the United Kingdom, 1992 to 2002.' I have taught at Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Central Lancashire. My research interests include regional film cultures and industries in the United Kingdom; cognition and communication in the cinema; anxiety in contemporary Hollywood cinema; cinemetrics; and film style and film form. My work has been published in Entertext, the International Journal of Regional and Local Studies, the New Review of Film and Television Studies, Cyfrwng: Media Wales Journal, and the Journal of British Cinema and Television.

Posted on June 2, 2011, in Film Industry, Film Studies, Genre, Hollywood, Motion Picture Distribution, Motion Picture Exhibition, Motion Picture Production and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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