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Genre and European box office, 2006-2010

UPDATE: This post has now been superseded by a revised version that cleans up the data and extends the analysis and should be referred to in place of this. See here for the new version.

To round off a series of posts on genre and box office this August, I look at the frequency of different genres in five European countries – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK – to see what we can learn about different national markets.

For each of the five countries, I accessed the data from Box Office Mojo for the top 50 grossing films in each year from 2006 to 2010, inclusive. (For some reason, Box Office Mojo lists some films twice in the same year if they have slightly different titles; and I removed these duplicates to replace hem with the next film in the box office rankings). This gives a total sample size of 250 films for each country, and a total of 1250 data points overall. Obviously this does not mean we have data on 1250 films because many of the films reached the top 50 in more than one country. Overall, this sample has data on 596 different films.

Usually I use a system of nine categories for sorting films according to genre; but due to the fact that the number of horror films reached double figures for Spain and the UK only (with 11 and 10 films, respectively) and were very small in number for the other countries (France = 2, Germany = 7, and Italy =6), I have put this films into the category of ‘Other.’ Obviously the fact that horror infrequently reaches the top of the box office charts is interesting in itself, as is the French aversion to horror.

The eight categories used are, therefore, Action/Adventure, Comedy, Crime/Thriller, Drama, Family, Fantasy/Science Fiction, Romance, and Other. Alongside Horror films, Other also includes Westerns, War films, Musicals (including concert films), and Documentaries.

First, we look at the frequency of films occurring in each country in each genre (Table 1).

Table 1 Genre frequency in the top 50 grossing films in five countries, 2006-2010 (NB: the Total column to the right is the number of data points for each genre and NOT the number of different films)

Overall, the number of films from each genre to make it into the top 50 films in the five years covered is similar in each country. To test if the proportion of films from each genre was the same in the five countries, I performed a chi-square test of homogeneity (corrected α = 0.0131, based on 8 tests and an experiment-wise error rate of α = 0.10). These results are presented in Table 2, and show that the only statistically significant difference occurs for the comedy genre. Post-hoc analysis of the adjusted standardized residuals (based on a two-tailed critical z-value of 2.5596) revealed that this is due to Spain having fewer comedy films than expected (z = -3.6880), but the effect size for omnibus test is small (V = 0.1122).

Table 2 Chi-square test of homogeneity for the proportion of films in each genre in five countries

With the exception of the missing comedy films in Spain, these five different markets appear to otherwise very similar for each genre. However, this does not mean that audiences in these five countries are necessarily watching the same films.

To find out if the same films were making it into the top 50, I counted the number of times a film featured in the list of films for each genre. For example, if a film only made it into the top 50 in Germany (e.g. Elementarteilchen (Atomised)) then it would appear only in the list of drama films only once, while a film that made it into the top fifty in all five countries (such as one of the Harry Potter films) would appear in the list of Fantasy/Science Fiction films five times. This is a somewhat crude measure, but it does allow us to see some basic commonalities and differences. This information is presented in Table 3.

Table 3 Frequency with which individual films make the top 50 highest grossing films in five countries from 2006 to 2010 (NB: the Total column to the right is the number of different films in each genre in the overall sample)


Table 3 reveals three distinct patterns:

  • Action/Adventure films tend to feature in the lists for four or five different countries (59%). This is the only genre for which this is the case.

Generally, these films a big-budget Hollywood franchise films such as The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and Fast and Furious, Iron Man and Iron Man 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, and the like. Just less than a quarter of these films feature in only one list, but even these tend to be Hollywood films (e.g. Watchmen or Resident Evil: Extinction*).

* Resident Evil: Afterlife did much better though, ranking everywhere except the UK.

  • The genres of Comedy, Crime/Thriller, Drama, and Romance and dominated by films that appear in one list only.

If Hollywood is able to dominate the global market with its action movies, then it is much less successful when it comes to these four genres. Comedy, in particular, seems to be very different with 78% of films appearing in the list for only one country. Some of these are individual Hollywood films that have performed well in one country not the others; but many are films that only feature in the list of the country in which they were produced. For example, the series of Christmas comedy films from Italy directed by Neri Parenti has performed exceptionally well in that country: one film has made the top 5 grossing films in each year in the sample, with Natale in crociera (2007) and Natale a Rio (2008) both taking the number 1 ranking. However, these films have not made any impact at the box office in any of the other European countries included here. Four comedy films made it into list of each country (Burn After Reading, Mr. Bean’s Holiday, The Devil Wears Prada, and The Hangover).

The Crime/Thriller genre features several big-budget Hollywood films that were successful in all five countries (The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, No Country for Old Men, The Bourne Ultimatum, etc), but again these five markets are more different than they are similar. Some films that appear only once are Hollywood films (e.g. The Taking of Pelham 123, State of Play – neither of which are as good as the originals); but most are successful only in the country in which they originate. So Un prophète and Ne le dis à personne feature in the French box office charts only; and Gomorra and Milano-Palermo: il ritorno only in the Italian charts.

Only a few drama films appear in the top 50s of all countries (Australia, Blood Diamond, Brokeback Mountain, Shutter Island, and The Pursuit of Happyness), while 73% feature in one list only. Romance films show the same pattern, with only seven (13%) films featuring five times (and three of these are from the Twilight franchise), and 65% of films featuring once only. The drama and romance films that appear once tend to feature only in the country from which they originate, but when drama films do cross borders they go between the continental countries and not tot the UK. For example, Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) features in every country except the UK. There does not appear to be the same level of cross-over for the romance films, and when a film from this category appears more than once it tends to be a Hollywood film.

Laughter and love do not apparently travel well – in the cinema at least. And nor do crime and drama. The five markets are much less homogenized in these categories, unlike the Action/Adventure films where they are much more consistent in terms of the films in circulation. This clearly raises question about the extent to which we can speak of the Americanization or globalization of European cinema, as it appears to affect some categories of films more than others.

Finally, the third set of genres:

  • The genres of Family and Fantasy/Science Fiction are split between films that feature in one list only and films that feature in the box office charts of all five countries.

For the family genre, 41% of films feature once and 39% of films feature five times. For the Fantasy/Science Fiction films, the equivalent statistics are 42% and 29%. This suggests that there is a divide in the market for these films. The majority of the films in these two genres are Hollywood blockbusters no matter how many time they occur. But we do see a clear split between films that are broadly successful against films that do not travel across borders so well; especially when it comes to animated family films that perform well in all markets (e.g. Cars, Flushed Away, Ice Age: The Meltdown) alongside several European animated films that appear – yet again – only in the country of their production (e.g. Konferenz der Tiere in Germany, El ratón Pérez in Spain, or Azur et Asmar in France). Separating out the UK is much harder as many of the Hollywood films are produced here anyway.

As Other is a category comprising films from several other genres it makes little sense to speak of trends, but it is interesting to note that the three films that feature in all five lists are High School Musical 3: Senior Year, Inglorious Basterds, and Mamma Mia!

As I said before, this is a crude way of measuring differences in audience taste, and I won’t have a much richer picture until I start to compare the box office gross of films in each country directly. But what the information in the above tables provides is a means of describing the national specificity of film a markets based on the types of in circulation and which achieve the highest box office rankings. There are many similarities between these five countries, but we should want to know why the Spanish do not go and see as many comedy films as the British, Germans, French, and Italians? Why do we all seem to watch the same Action/Adventure films but not the same Drama films? Perhaps the specificity of a national cinema is only evident in some categories of films and not others; or Hollywood has cornered the market on such blockbusters to the exclusion of all other producers. Why, if the audiences in these five countries are watching mostly different Romance films, is the proportion of films from this genre in the 250 films for each country so similar? Is there a common underlying structure to European film a markets? Why did the British not pay to see Resident Evil: Afterlife unlike the rest of Europe? And where are the French horror films?

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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.

How gross is gross?

One of the unintended consequences of the New Hollywood cinema of the late-1960s and 1970s was the domination of the industry by the opening weekend gross. Once studio executives saw how much could be taken in a single weekend by releasing films across a large number of screens the opening weekend defined the attitude of the studios to their product:  a film with a big opening weekend would receive a marketing boost – not least because it would be widely reported that it had a big opening weekend; where as a film that performed poorly over its first three days would die a quiet and unlamented death. (Cynics would at this point note that 3-days seems like a luxury in 21st century Hollywood). The opening weekend gross became an indicator of the likely success of a movie, and has been analysed by economists. For example, Jeffrey S. Simonoff and Ilana R. Sparrow concluded that

the ultimate box office performance of movies can be forecast with some accuracy given easily available information. The predictions are especially accurate after the first weekend of release for movies opening on more than 10 screens, although the tendency for some distributors to slowly widen release of a film based on word of mouth complicates matters. Oscar nominations in the major categories do seem to provide a boost to revenues, as long as the movie has not already been in release for many months when the nominations are announced.

[Simonoff JS and Sparrow IR 2000 Predicting movie grosses: winners and losers, blockbusters and sleepers, Chance 13 (3): 15-24. The article can be accessed here].

That the opening weekend gross should have such a large role in determining the total gross of a film is unsurprising: after all, for most films the opening weekend is the point of widest release and over time the number of screens on which a film plays declines week by week. Occasionally there are sleepers which buck the trend; but overall it is pretty unremarkable that an industry geared towards the opening weekend should find itself dominated by the opening weekend.

This is interesting stuff, but it all relates to Hollywood films in an American context. There is very little by way of similar research on British cinema and so here I plot the relationship between the opening weekend gross (including previews) and the total gross after 8 weeks on release for films defined (in some way) as ‘British’ released in the UK in 2007 and 2008. The data was collected for 50 films from the UK Film Council.

Although 8 weeks does not seem very long, this is roughly about the length of time a film lasts at the UK box office. (It is also often difficult to find good quality data for anything after week 8, especially for non-British films at the UK box office). There are some films that continue to earn substantial amounts of money after 8 weeks (e.g. Mamma Mia!) but this does not happen often. The relevant information is presented in Tables 1 and 2, and is represented in Figure 1. The column P in Tables 1 and 2 is the proportion of week 8 total gross accounted for by the opening weekend. The data is organised into subgroups of low-grossing and high-grossing films that are colour-coded for easier reference.

Figure 1 Opening weekend gross (including previews) and week 8 total gross for ‘British’ films released in the UK, 2007 and 2008

Table 1 Opening weekend gross (including previews) and week 8 total gross for ‘British’ films released in the UK, 2007 and 2008 (Low grossing films)

Table 2 Opening weekend gross (including previews) and week 8 total gross for ‘British’ films released in the UK, 2007 and 2008 (High grossing films)

There is clearly a strong linear trend in the relationship between the opening weekend gross and the total gross after 8 weeks, and Spearman’s r (48) = 0.9763, p = <0.0001. Therefore, we can conclude that the opening weekend gross is a good predictor of the total gross of a film after 8 weeks on release. Like I said, this is not that surprising. It is, however, interesting to look at the grouping of films in Figure 1 to identify how different sections of the exhibition market relate to one another.

The 50 films looked at here can be sorted into four sub-groups. In Table 1, we find the low grossing films that are overwhelming those films that tend to be what people think of as ‘British national cinema’ – they have British subjects, British production companies, British stars, etc. The blue films have low opening weekends (median  = £0.58 million) and low total grosses after week 8 (median = £3.27 million). No film in this group grossed more than £10 million after 8 weeks. There are some films in this group with some Hollywood involvement but this did not have the same effect as the co-mingling of British source material and Hollywood blockbuster style as it does for the Harry Potter movies. How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, for example, originated in the UK with Toby Young’s memoir and featured Jeff Bridges and Kirsten Dunst, but performed as badly in the UK as it did everywhere else.

The green films perform better in either or both the opening weekend gross (median = £2.36 million) and total gross (median  = £10.91 million) categories, but necessarily by a large amount. Atonement, for example, has an opening weekend similar to those at the upper-end of the blue films, but grossed much more than these films did in general, and so it performed much more strongly than many other British films after its opening weekend. The same is true of St. Trinian’s. The remainder of the green films are underperforming Hollywood backed films (although Step Up 2 could probably be considered reasonably successful). Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian did not do well at all, and its box office performance is a long way behind the blockbusters in the red and purple groups. This film is a long way behind Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and it is no surprise Disney bailed out of the series and left production to Walden Media.

The red films show another step up in terms of the opening weekend (median = £6.55 million) and week 8 gross (median = £23.43 million); and represent moderately successful blockbusters, but which are nonetheless strictly second tier. The stand out film here is Mamma Mia!, which bucks the trend for this data to take the highest gross from a relatively poor opening weekend. Finally, in the purple films we have the top earners – every film in this small group has an opening weekend over £10 million (median = £13.81 million) and grossed at least £39 million after 8 weeks (median  = £48.07 million).

It is also clear that the proportion of the week 8 total gross accounted for by the opening weekend is lower for low-grossing films (median = 0.2208 [95% CI: 0.1941, 0.2474]) than it is for high grossing films (median = 0.2957 [95% CI: 0.2749, 0.3165]). This may be due to the fact that the higher grossing movies are blockbusters and received much wider releases than small British films such as The Flying Scotsman or Grow Your Own. Of the higher grossing films, only Mamma Mia! stands out as a film with a low value of P and a high gross, and this films was the highest earner at the UK box office until Avatar.

An empirical approach to film audiences

Yesterday I was at the BFI Media Studies Conference at the Southbank, where I did a presentation on using box office data to look at audiences in the UK. This was based on several of the posts that I have put up on this blog over the past 18 months, and updates a few things here and there.

As I promised my audience yesterday, today I make available the PowerPoint of my talk. This can only be accessed as a .pptx file for Office 2007. The abstract from the Conference programme is included below.

Nick Redfern – An empirical approach to film audiences

An empirical approach to film audiences

The appeal of specific genres to particular audiences has been a crucial factor in the marketing and exhibiting of motion pictures, and films are often categorised by their intended audience – ‘woman’s film,’ ‘teenpic,’ ‘chickflick,’ etc. While there are a number of historical and economic studies of film audiences there has to date been no analysis of the relationship between genre, audiences, and the box-office performance of a film. This session will focus on empirical approaches to researching audiences and the British film industry, and will introduce relevant sources of publicly available data and discuss appropriate methods of analysis. Some recent results on the relationship between genre, gender, and the UK box-office will be presented, along with new research comparing the performance of films at the UK and US box-office.

Over the past ten years that has been an explosion of data on the film industry as state and industry bodies have accumulated and published. In the UK, the Research and Statistics unit of the UK Film Council produces a wide range of data sets covering all aspects of the film industry in the UK that are publicly available for researchers to use. The internet has proved to be a valuable resource in aggregating and disseminating this data, with websites such as Box Office Mojo and the Internet Movie Database. This session will focus on one specific type of industry data (the box-office gross for UK films), but will not view this data as simply economic but also as a means of understanding of how audiences behave in viewing particular types of films. Analysis of UK box-office data has revealed that there is a gender bias in some genres in British cinema, with action/crime films being identified as male and romance films as female; that there is a statistically significant relationship between the gender of the main character(s) of a film and the mean proportion of the box-office gross that is accumulated during the three-day weekend (Friday to Sunday); and, that school holidays have a significant impact on the box-office performance of films aimed at teenage girls (e.g. Wild Child, Penelope) while no similar ‘holiday effect’ is evident for male audiences. A comparison between these results and the performance of British films at the US box-office shows that there are significant differences in the way in which audiences consume films in these two countries, as British audiences tend to go to the cinema during the week while American audiences prefer to attend at the weekend.

Gross ratios in the UK and the US

In some earlier posts (here and here), I have used the 3-day gross ratio as a statistic for looking at when audiences attend films at the UK box office. What stands out from looking at the proportion of a film’s gross accumulated during the three-day weekend of Friday to Sunday is that the major part of a film’s weekly gross is taken during the week (i.e. Monday to Thursday), and that typically less than half of a film’s gross for the week is taken at the weekend. In fact, it appears to be approximately 40% of the gross that is accumulated at the weekend on average. This suggests that British audiences prefer to attend the cinema during the week than at the weekend. In fact, looking at the box office gross, we are actually underestimating the proportion of tickets sold during the week due to pricing variations. Cinema ticket prices are largely invariant when it comes to different films, but there are variations from one day to another. For example,  a single adult ticket purchased online for the 20:20 screening of Prince of Persia: Sands of Time at the Wakefield Cineworld on Tuesday 1 June 2010 was priced at £4.90; compared to £6.70 for the same screening on Saturday 29 May, 2010. So some tickets sold during the week are cheaper than the ones sold at the weekend; and, therefore, for a film to gross, say, 60% of its box office during the period it must sell more than 60% of its tickets during this period. This is another example of why the weekend gross should not be used to rank films.

Does the US box office show similar patterns? From my earlier posts, we would expect this not to be the case; but we can get a clearer idea by comparing films released in both the UK and the US and looking at their mean 3-day gross ratios for the same time periods. Here I have selected 30 films and calculated the mean 3-day gross ratios using data from the UK film Council and Box Office Mojo. Some of this data has appeared in my earlier posts. Unfortunately, a direct one-to-one comparison is not possible, because many of the films in my original UK sample were not released in the US. Using these small samples we can get an inkling of any differences. The films are sorted by the gender categories that were employed before. Unless otherwise noted, the mean ratios are calculated based on weeks 2 to 8, inclusive, of a film’s release. I have calculated the difference between the two mean ratios for each and the mean difference for each group of films, but I have not calculated any test statistics for these results as they would not really be representative due to the fact many films in the original study were unreleased in the US. The results are presented in Tables 1 through 3.

Table 1 Mean 3-day gross ratios for UK films released in the US and UK, 2007 to 2008, in which the main character(s) are female

Table 2 Mean 3-day gross ratios for UK films released in the US and UK, 2007 to 2008, in which the main character(s) are female/male

Table 3 Mean 3-day gross ratios for UK films released in the US and UK, 2007 to 2008, in which the main character(s) are male

There are three main results that stand out:

  • Films at the UK box office typically take less than half their box office at the weekend, while films in the US take more than half during the same period. The mean ratios were greater at the UK box office for only three films (Penelope, The Golden Compass, and Run, Fat Boy, Run). Only 28 Weeks Later has a mean 3-day gross ratio of less than 0.5 in the US, and even then it is 0.4926! If we can infer that UK audiences like to go to the cinema during the week, then we can also infer that US audiences prefer to attend at the weekend.
  • The films at the UK box office exhibit a greater range of values for the mean 3-day gross ratio than films at the US box office, suggesting that the behaviour of UK audiences is more varied. In the UK, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day has a mean 3-day gross ratio of 0.2905, while Penelope has a mean ratio of 0.6332; giving a range of 0.3427. (Neither of these films were the most extreme values in the original post that looked at 50 British films). The range for films in the US is 0.2118.Films at the US also appear to show less dispersion when the main character(s) are female or male.
  • The differences between films in the US and the UK appear to be related to the gender of the main character(s): the differences between the mean ratios for the ‘female’ films are typically greater than those differences for the ‘male’ films. There does not appear to be the same difference between ‘female’ and ‘male’ films in the US that I noted before for the UK.

All in all this suggests that British and American audiences have different socialising and viewing habits, and consume films at the cinema at different times of the week.

An interesting way to explore this further would be to compare the time series of a film’s box office gross day-by-day for the two countries, in order to identify the trend over several weeks and the seasonality over the course of each individual week. It is possible to get daily box office data for the US from Box Office Mojo, and Figure 1 presents this information for Mamma Mia! for the first 75 days of its release. We can see that the overall trend is downward as the earning power of the film declines over time; but the weekly variation is very strong, with the peaks of the 3-day weekend (centred on Saturday) and the troughs of the period Monday to Thursday (though note the high value for a Monday at day 46 which coincided with the four day weekend of a US national holiday).

Figure 1 Daily box office gross for Mamma Mia! in the US

What would a similar graph for the UK look like? We would probably still see the peaks at the weekends, but the differences between week and weekend would not be so pronounced. We may, for some weeks, even see a peak during the week given the apparent nature of filmgoing in the UK. Unfortunately, daily box office data is not available for the UK and so I cannot produce a similar graph to make the comparison.

Having a British equivalent to Box Office Mojo, whereby detailed and update box office data is made freely available would allow us to make a big step forward in understanding the behaviour of audiences in the UK, but what we have available at the moment is not up to the task. The UK Film Council archive only provide data for the top 15 films, opening releases, and UK films; and so we cannot even track Hollywood films on release for more than four or five weeks unless they are particularly successful. The Research and Statistics unit at the UK Film Council needs to improve the range, variety, and quality of the information it provides. The data that is publicly available on the Film Distributor’s Association and Cinema Exhibitor’s Association websites is equally poor (and in some cases of lower quality to the UK Film Council’s) and often not kept up to date.

Pareto and the UK Box Office

Studies on the box office gross of movies have indicated that, for the top grossing Hollywood movies, a power law provides a good fit of the data for the total gross of a movie with an exponent of β ~ -0.5, where β = 1/α and α is the exponent of a Pareto distribution (and is, therefore, ~ 2) (Sinha and Pan 2005, 2006).Similar results are also cited for the opening weekend gross for movies. I have not been able to find an equivalent study of British films, so in this post I fit a  power curve to the total box office gross for the top 20 films in the UK and the Republic of Ireland from 2002 to 2008, inclusive. The data used is from the the statistical yearbooks produced by the UK Film Council.

Table 1 lists the results, showing the number one ranked film in each year and its total gross, β and a 95% confidence interval, and the coefficient of determination as a measure of the goodness-of-fit of the power curve to the data. The curves for each year are presented in Figures 1 through 7.

Table 1 Power regression data for the top 20 films at the UK box office in the UK and Republic of Ireland, 2002 to 2008

From Table 1 we can see that the value for β tends to be approximately -0.6, giving an exponent for a Pareto distribution of ~ 1.66. The difference from the figure of -0.5 noted above may be attributed in part to the use of only the top 20 films in this data, where other studies have used larger sample sizes. It may also reflect a difference between the performance of films at the US box office and in the UK and Ireland, with a larger share of the box office gained by a smaller group of films. For 2008, β = -0.74, and this suggests that the top four films (Mamma Mia! [£69.17m], Quantum of Solace [£51.07m], The Dark Knight [£48.82m], and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull [£40.27m]) gained a larger market share than is typical in the UK. Combined, these four films 45.1% of the total box office for the top 20 films in this year, with the fifth-ranked film (Sex and the City [£26.43m]) grossing nearly £15 million less than the fourth-ranked film.There is also another steep drop off that occurs with the shift from the eleventh-ranked film (Iron Man [£17.42m]) and the twelfth-ranked film (Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian [£11.79m]). These breaks can be clearly seen in Figure 7. While other years have a single film or a group of films that dominate, the other top 20 films have a much more even distribution.for example, the proportion of the box office gross secured by the top four films for the other six years included here ranges from a minimum 35.1% in 2007 to 41.3% in 2006, but the values of β all indicate much more even distributions and there are no sudden drops in the distributions of the sort we see in Figure 7.

It will be interesting to see what value β will take when the next edition of the UK Film Council Statistical Yearbook is published in July 2010. Will it return to ~ -0.6, indicating that 2008 was an unusual year for the UK box office, or if there is a new trend emerging reflecting the changing choices for audiences? One possibility for the change in audience behaviour is the impact of the recession, with audiences rationing the number of times they go to the cinema thereby creating tiers within the top 20 of films they really wanted to see (the top four), and films they were less willing to pay to watch (5-11 and 12-20). If this is a reasonable explanation of how audiences behave when times are hard then we should see a similar distribution for 2009.

Figure 1 Power regression for the top 20 films at the UK box office in the UK and Republic of Ireland, 2002 (β = -0.62)

Figure 2 Power regression for the top 20 films at the UK box office in the UK and Republic of Ireland, 2003 (β = -0.55)

Figure 3 Power regression for the top 20 films at the UK box office in the UK and Republic of Ireland, 2004 (β = -0.62)

Figure 4 Power regression for the top 20 films at the UK box office in the UK and Republic of Ireland, 2005 (β = -0.61)

Figure 5 Power regression for the top 20 films at the UK box office in the UK and Republic of Ireland, 2006 (β = -0.61)

Figure 6 Power regression for the top 20 films at the UK box office in the UK and Republic of Ireland, 2007 (β = -0.52)

Figure 7 Power regression for the top 20 films at the UK box office in the UK and Republic of Ireland, 2008 (β = -0.74)

References

Sinha S and Pan RK 2005 Blockbusters, bombs and sleepers: the income distribution of movies, in A Chatterjee, BK Chakrabarti, and S Yarlagadda (eds.) Econophysics of Wealth Distributions. Milan: Springer: 43-47. (here)

Sinha S and Pan RK 2006 How a “hit” is born: the emergence of popularity from the dynamics of collective choice, in BK Chakrabarti, A Chakraborti, and A Chatterjee (eds.) Econophysics and Sociophysics: Trends and Perspectives. Berlin: Wiley: 417-447. (here)

Gini and the UK box office

The opening weekend box office of a film is used a measure of a film;s popularity, as a marketing tool for promoting films either by their ranking or by the records they set, and is widely considered to be a good indicator of a film’s overall box office gross. This post looks at the box office data for the opening weekend of films of films released int he UK in 2009, by examining the inequality of their distribution.

The Gini coefficient (G) is a method of representing the inequality of a population, and is commonly used by economists to represent the inequality of income in a country. The Gini coefficient ranges from 0 to 1; and the lower the Gini coefficient, the more equal the distribution. This can be represented visually by a Lorenz curve: if the distribution of box office income were equal (i.e. every film grossed the same on its opening weekend), then the curve would be a straight line from the origin – the line of equality – and G=0; and the further away from this line, the more unequal the distribution of income and the greater the value of G.

Box office data for the opening weekend was collected from the UK Film Council archive for 2009. All films were included, except films that were reissued (e.g. Barry Lyndon, Citizen Kane, The Godfather, etc).  The data was sorted into different samples: the total sample of films, the top 150, US films, UK films, and Indian films. Where films have been sorted by country this includes co-productions. Where a film fits into two data sets (e.g. an UK-USA co-production), then it has been included for both categories. Any gross from previews is included in the opening weekend box office. The Gini coefficient and percentiles for the Lorenz curves were calculated using Wessa’s online calculator (here). Summary data of these samples is given in Table 1, and the Lorenz curves are presented in Figures 1 through 5.

A total of 435 films released in the UK in 2009, grossing over £282 million. The film with the biggest opening weekend was Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, with £19,784,924 (including previews). The films with the smallest opening weekend was The Blue Tower which grossed £94. As can be seen from Table 1, the distribution of this income is very unequal, with a high Gini coefficient; and by looking at just the top 150 films, we can see that although they accounted from approximately one-third of the total number of releases, these films account for almost all the opening weekend gross. The remaining 285 films accumulated a total of £9,158,667, or just over 3% of the total. Films listed as American (including co-productions) accounted for just under half of the total number of releases, but for over 90% of the opening weekend box office; where as films registered as British (including co-productions, and remembering that some films will feature in both data sets) accounted for approximately one-fifth of releases, but only one-sixth of the box office. Indian films (including co-productions, and with the same caveat as above) accounted for over one-tenth of releases, but for very little box office.

Table 1 Summary of opening weekend box office gross for films released in the UK in 2009

From the Lorenz curve for the total sample of 435 films (Figure 1), we can see that the distribution of opening box office income is very unequal: 77% of films released in the UK account for just 10.4% of the total opening weekend income; while the top 5% – a total of just 22 films – account for 50% of income earned. It is clear, then, that a small number of films gross very large sums of money on their opening weekend, while the vast majority of films gross very little. A mitigating factor here is that many films released in the UK will have been released to only a small number of cinemas for short runs.

Figure 1 Lorenz curve for the opening weekend box office gross for films released in the UK in 2009 (n = 435)

The distribution of opening weekend income for the top 150 – which account over 96% of the total income – is more even, but remains dominated by a small number of high grossing films. For this data set, 50% of the films account for 15% of the box office; with the top 22 films accounting for approximately half the box office, while representing only 14% of the sample.

Figure 2 Lorenz curve for the opening weekend box office gross for top 150 films released in the UK in 2009 (n = 150)

Figure 3 shows the distribution of income for American films, and lies somewhere between the curve for the total sample and that for the top 150. It is still a very unequal distribution, but can be thought of as ma mixture of the two other curves: 125 of the US films were listed in the top 150 films, and so the upper part of the curve reflects the very dominant position of these films; while the remaining 86 films grossed very little – 41% of films account for just 1% of the total gross for US films. As we would expect, the top 22 films (being the same films as above) were all US films (in various ways), and so the top 10% of this data set account for just over half the total gross.

Figure 3 Lorenz curve for the opening weekend box office gross of American films released in the UK in 2009 (n = 211)

The most unequal of all the data sets is that for the UK films, and this may be accounted for by the presence of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. This film accounts for 45.7% of the total opening weekend box office gross for UK films. (It should also be remembered that this film is listed as a UK/USA films, so it is also the highest grossing film in the sample of US films). The figure quoted above for Harry Potter includes £7,854,660 from previews; but, even with this gross removed, the opening weekend for this film was still 6.5 times greater than the second biggest weekend for a British film (Slumdog Millionaire – also a UK/USA film), and would still have accounted for 33.6% of the total gross of UK films. The value of G remains high at 0.8242 once this film’s previews have been taken into account. Slumdog Millionaire, as the second highest grossing British film, took £1,827,457 on its opening weekend; and the highest grossing UK film that did not involve a US producer was St. Trinian’s 2 which took £1,586,832. In the total sample of 435 films, this films was ranked 49th. Only three of the top 10 UK films did not have a US producer (St. Trinian’s 2, Harry Brown, The Young Victoria). In general, some British films do alright and these are really UK/USA films; but the vast majority of British films have opening weekends so small it really is not worth bothering with them: 79% of British films account for just 10.4% of the cumulative box office, or just £4,492,654 is grossed by 73 films.

Figure 4 Lorenz curve for the opening weekend box office gross of British films released in the UK in 2009 (n = 92)

Indian films are the third largest national group of films released in the UK in 2009, behind only the US and the UK. In itself, the proportion of Indian releases at the UK box office (~12%) is an impressive figure and indicates Bollywood is gaining a growing share of screen time in the UK; but that this is not being translated into cash as Indian films remain in something of a cinematic ghetto that does not touch the mainstream. The Lorenz curve is similar to the that for the top 150 films released in the UK, and with a Gini coefficient of 0.5555 their income is more evenly distributed than is generally the case int he UK. However, it is still the case that a small number of films dominate the sample: Indian films grossed a total of £4,359,988 in the UK, with the top 17% accounting 52% of that figure. The Indian film with the biggest opening weekend was Love Aaj Kal with £405,673, but only 15 of these films grossed more than £100,000 and only 6 made it into the top 150.

Figure 5 Lorenz curve for the opening weekend box office gross of Indian films released in the UK in 2009 (n = 54)

Box office gross and the popularity of movies

Introduction

Box office gross can be used as a measure of the popularity of a movie, and the traditional measuring the popularity of films on general release is to rank them week-by-week according to their 3-day box office gross. The film with the greatest box office gross for the period Friday-to-Saturday is ranked as number one, and so on. The opening weekend of a film is accompanied by much fanfare (when it is successful) and has been used as an indicator of the potential total gross of a film over the course of its release. However, films are available for the audience to see seven days a week, and this method of ranking films does not reflect this. Much of the available box office data goes unused, while cinemagoers who chose to see a film on a Wednesday find that their choice is not included in the measurement of the popularity of a film until its release is ended and the total gross for a film is compared to others at the end of the year or in an ‘all-time box office’ list. Could a method of ranking films based on the total weekly gross of a film (i.e. the total gross from Monday-to-Sunday) be a better measure of the popularity of a film?

Data

To compare rankings based on the 3-day gross period (Friday-to-Sunday) and the total weekly gross (Monday-to-Sunday) data was collected for the UK and the US for four weeks in 2008 chosen at random: the weeks ending 17 February [1], 4 May [2], 27 July, and 26 October. Box office data was collected for the top fifteen films in each country based on their 3-day gross ranking. Data was collected from the UK Film Council box office archive for the UK, and from Box Office Mojo for the US.

Results

The results for the UK box office over the four weeks chosen are presented in Tables 1 to 4, and for the US box office in Tables 5 to 8. For each film, each table lists the week of release, the 3-day gross and the ranking of the film by this figure, the total weekly gross and the ranking of the film by this figure, the difference between these two rankings (Δ = Rank [3-day gross] – Rank [Total gross]), and the ratio of the 3-day gross to the total weekly gross. (There is quite a lot information in these tables and they are clearer to read when displayed large on the screen. To do this just click on them).

Looking at the 3-day gross ratios for the British films, we can see that it is typical for a film to gross less than half its box office at the weekend. The exception here is the week ending 4 May 2008 (Table 2), where the values for the 3-day gross ratio are greater than 0.5, and this may be due to the fact that this is the weekend before the May Bank Holiday that immediately followed. Use of the 3-day gross ratio may not be reliable in the UK because audiences do not attend at the weekend, and the ranking may be based on approximately half or less-than-half of the films total box office gross for the week.

Generally, the ranking for most films in the UK remains unchanged, and so the method used is not a matter of urgency. Table 2, for example, shows only minor discrepancies between the two methods, and this may again be due to the proximity of the weekend to a bank holiday.

There are some stand-out differences. The most obvious example is The Bucket List (see Table 1), which is ranked sixth by its 3-day gross of £602248 (a disappointing opening weekend by any measure for such a film), but thirteenth when we take into consideration the total grosses of all the films. This was not a film that found favour with British audiences, who were clearly choosing to spend their money elsewhere, and the 3-day gross ranking fails to reflect this. At the same time, Jodhaa Akbar was ranked tenth by its 3-day gross, but as a film released on only 46 screens its ranking on this score does not reflect its popularity with audiences throughout the UK. (For this week the second smallest number of screens for a film on release was 121 for There Will Be Blood). Its ranking of fourteenth for the weekly gross would better reflect its limited availability when compared to other films. There Will Be Blood and Sweeny Todd also show large differences, with the former ranked four places too high, and the latter four places too low.

Such large movements as these also raise the issue of films that make it into the top fifteen films on the basis of their 3-day gross ranking, but which would not do so if the total weekly gross was taken into account. At the same time, National Treasure 2 would have been ranked first instead of second. If box office gross can be used as a measure of popularity, then this film was the most popular in the UK for the week ending 17 February 2008, and not Jumper.

If we look at the ranking of Mamma Mia! in Table 4, we can see that by its 3-day gross it is listed behind Igor, The House Bunny, and Taken; but on its total weekly gross, it would be ranked ahead of all these three films. None of the four films in this example were on their opening weekend, and so the false ranking of the 3-day gross clearly distorts the perception we can form of their popularity: Mamma Mia! was the most popular of these four films, but its audience chose to attend during the week and not at the weekend and so it ranked at nine instead of six. This is a clear example of how use of the weekend figures does not accurately reflect what films audiences are watching.

Table 1 UK box office gross for week ending 17 February 2008

Table 2 UK box office gross for week ending 4 May 2008

Table 3 UK box office gross for week ending 27 July 2008

Table 4 UK box office gross for week ending 26 October 2008

In the case of the UK films we saw some large discrepancies, but this is not the case in the US. This may be due to the fact that the 3-day gross ratio for films at the US box office is typically greater than 0.5, and so films take the majority of their gross over a week during the period Friday-to-Sunday. This suggests that there is an important difference in the way in which British and American audiences consume films: British audiences got to the cinema during the week (Monday-to-Thursday), while American audiences prefer to go at the weekend. As the 3-day gross ratio is generally greater than 0.5, the rankings based on the weekend box office data are a more reliable of statistic of the popularity of a film with its audience. Only two films in all four weeks are displaced by three or more positions: The X-Files: I Want to Believe (see Table 7) is three places higher on its 3-day gross ranking than its week ranking; and Pride & Glory (see Table 8) is ranked four places higher on its 3-day gross ranking than its week ranking. Both these films were on their opening weekend, and as films on release at the same time took the majority of the gross at the weekend, the weekend gross in these two cases – and unlike in the UK – can be considered a reasonably accurate reflection of audience choice. However, where large differences (such as that for The Bucket List in the UK) do occur, it is worth investigating the relationship between a film and its audience at great length.

Table 5 US box office gross for week ending 17 February 2008

Table 6 US box office gross for week ending 4 May 2008

Table 7 US box office gross for week ending 27 July 2008

Table 8 US box office gross for week ending 26 October 2008

An obvious objection to the approach outlined here is that it is unfair to compare a film that has been on release for only three days with a film that has the opportunity to gross for a full week. However, we might also object to the use of the 3-day gross as a means of ranking films as this ignores the performance of a film across the whole week and focuses only on one part of the data. Use of either the 3-day gross or the weekly gross may then be regarded as problematic, but the virtue of the latter is that it does not ignore box office data (i.e. the total weekly gross) that we have to hand. As we can see in the examples above, for most films in the UK, the majority of their weekly box office gross occurs during the period Monday-to-Thursday, and the use of the 3-day gross for ranking does not reflect the actual behaviour of audiences. Therefore, the assumption that the 3-day gross accurately reflects the popularity of a film may not be justified. The opening weekend is an atypical event for a film with the greatest publicity effort devoted to making a big splash and gaining the greatest proportion of a film’s box office before tailing off as a film sheds screens, and this also distorts the ranking of films by this measure. The use of the weekly gross means that our assessment of the popularity of a film is (to a greater or lesser extent) insulated against such one-off events, and thereby represents a better measure of a film’s performance. It is also important to bear in mind what it is we are trying to achieve in using box office gross to rank films: we wish to understand how audiences are behaving, what films they are choosing to see, what they are prepared to spend their money on, what they like or do not like. The audience has a free choice of when to visit the cinema and what film to see there, and they may choose to wait until the weekend to see a new film, or they may choose to avoid the weekend to go at a quieter time or to take advantage of special offers (e.g. Orange Wednesdays). The weekly gross figure is a better measure of this free choice for the audience than the 3-day gross, which wastes much of this information. The variability of ticket prices across a week is also taken into account by using the weekly gross: while exhibitors may lower their prices during the week they may also raise them at the weekend, and this effect can be minimised by including the data for the periods Friday-to-Sunday and Monday-to-Thursday, rather than one or the other. We might reasonably expect cinema admissions to be a more reliable measure of the popularity of a film than the fluctuating price of a ticket, but this information is typically not provided on a week-by-week basis by government and industry sources.

An alternative method combining the two rankings (such as the average rank) leads to the problem of how to resolve ties in the new ranking. The simplest approach would be to simply ignore the tie and to cite both films as having equal ranks. For example, in Table 1 Jumper has an average rank of 1.5, and so does National Treasure 2. Allowing both these films to be considered the most popular films in the UK in that week could solve this problem. However, this would perhaps make marketing a film somewhat more difficult: claiming to be the ‘number one film in the UK’ loses its shine somewhat if someone else can make the same claim as you.

Conclusion

This paper has looked at the use of box office grosses as a measure of the popularity of movies. The use of the 3-day weekend gross as a means of ranking films is questionable, and may lead to a distorted view of a film’s box office performance. The total weekly gross may provide a more reliable measure of what is popular with audiences due to its more complete use of the available data and the ability to spread potentially distorting effects out over time. The use of different measures of popularity for different countries may be appropriate depending on the behaviour audiences.

Notes

  1. In the US this is President’s Day Holiday Weekend. The data referred to here are taken from the 3-day weekend of Friday-to-Sunday only.
  2. In the UK, this is the weekend before the May Bank Holiday (5 May 2008).

Gender, Genre, and the UK Box Office

The appeal of certain genres to certain audiences has been a crucial factor in the marketing and exhibiting of motion pictures. Films may even be categorised by their intended audience – ‘teenpic,’ ‘chickflick,’ etc. Film scholars have also noted that the gender of the audiences is assumed by filmmakers in casting a film or in determining the narrative: the melodrama as ‘woman’s picture,’ for example, typically features female star who is the focus of the narrative – Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life (1959) or Written on the Wind (1956) (see Mulvey 1987 or Doane 1987). However, to date there has been no analysis of the relationship between genre, gender, and the box office performance of a film. This study uses the mean 3-day gross ratio of a film as a measure of the proportion of a film’s total weekly gross that may be accounted for by screenings over the weekend from Friday to Sunday and focuses on the relationship between this ratio and the gender of the main character(s) in a film and genre for UK films released in the UK in 2007 and 2008.

Methods

Financial data was collected from the UK Film Council weekend box office gross archive for UK films (including minority and majority co-productions) released in 2007 and 2008. This data included the 3-day (Friday-Sunday) box office gross and the total weekly gross of each film. To counter the effect of one-off events, any gross from preview screenings was deducted from the opening 3-day total weekly grosses. This information was used to calculate the ratio of the 3-day gross to the weekly total for each week, and the mean of these values was taken. As all the gross for the first week is accumulated in the opening weekend (once previews have been subtracted) the first 3-day gross ratio is 1.000; and because this is constant for every film it was not included in the calculation of the mean ratio. Box office figures was collected for films with seven or eight weeks data, and the effective number of ratios used in the calculation of the mean is the total number of weeks minus the opening week (We = Wtotal – W1).

Details were also collected on the gender of the main character(s) of a film and its genre.  Genre definitions were taken from http://www.imdb.com, and where a film had more than one genre listed only the primary genre was selected. The placing of a film in a set based on the gender of a main character(s) was determined by the nature of the narrative and the presence of stars.

Statistical Analyses

Statistical analyses were carried out using PAST v1.89 and online statistical calculators [1]. Outlying data points were identified as >1.5 times the interquartile range above the upper quartile. Independence between variables was tests using Chi-square and Fisher’s exact tests for r × c contingency tables. The significant relationships were identified using one-way Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) and a Tukey-Kramer Honestly Significant Difference (HSD) post-hoc test. A P-value of less than 0.05 was considered significant.

Results

Data was collected on a total of 50 UK films released in 2007 and 2008 that met the criteria for this study (Table 1). The sample includes large-budget Hollywood films produced in the UK (e.g. The Bourne Ultimatum), mid-level UK films (e.g. The Duchess), and small-budget independent UK productions (e.g. Grow Your Own, The Flying Scotsman). The sample includes data on feature-length fiction films only, and data on short-films and documentaries was not collected. The sample does not include films where data was missing or where errors occurred in the reporting of the data on the UK Film Council archive.

Table 1 Mean 3-day gross ratio of UK films released in 2007 and 2008

table12

* Mean 3-day gross ratio based on weeks 2 to 7 only

The distribution of mean 3-day gross ratios by gender category is presented in Figure 1. Four films were identified as outlying data points: three films in which the main character(s) are female (St. Trinian’s, Penelope, Wild Child); and one film in which the main character(s) are male and female (The Golden Compass).

figure1

Figure 1 The distribution of mean 3-day gross ratios by gender of main character(s)

There is a significant relationship between the gender of the main character(s) in a film and its genre (Table 2). The independence between genre and the gender of the main character(s) in a film was tested using a Fisher exact test. The probability of this table is 3×10-10, and the sum of probabilities of all unusual tables has a P-value of 0.0001: the genre of a film is not independent from the gender of the main character(s).Table 2 shows that the genres of Comedy and Musical and Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction are evenly distributed n terms of the gender of the main characters. Drama is dominated by male characters, and Action and Crime is a wholly male preserve. Romance has no films in which the main character(s) are male only, but does have a number of films that are primarily based around female characters (e.g. Becoming Jane, etc) or films that have both male and female leads (e.g. Made of Honour). There are, then, genres that are distinctly male and female.

Table 2 Genre and gender of main character(s)

table21

There is a significant relationship between the gender of the main character(s) in a film and the mean 3-day gross ratio, when outliers are excluded. Specifically, films in which the main character(s) are male have a higher mean 3-day gross ratio than those films in which the main character(s) are female or are both male and female, with a cut-off point of 0.4000 (Table 3).

Table 3 Mean 3-day gross ratio by gender of main character(s) (outliers excluded)

table31

For this contingency table, 𝝌2 (2) = 9.4394, P = 0.0089. Films in which the main character(s) are male take a larger proportion of their weekly gross during the 3-day weekend than films in which the main character(s) are female. Although gender does influence the size of the mean 3-day gross ratio, it should be noted that for many films with male main character(s) the mean ration is below 0.5000, and so the major proportion of weekly box office gross is taken outside the 3-day weekend. There is a slight tendency for films with both male and female characters to have a mean ratio below 0.4000. These relationships are confirmed by a one-way ANOVA, F (2, 43) = 3.6455, P = 0.0345; and a Tukey-Kramer HSD post-hoc test, in which the significant relationship was shown to be between films in which the main character(s) are male or female (Table 4).

Table 4 Tukey-Kramer HSD post-hoc test (α = 0.05) (excluding outliers)

table41

Given the significant relationship between genre and gender, and gender and the mean 3-day gross ratio, we would expect to find a significant relationship between genre and the mean 3-day gross ratio and this is the case.

Table 5 Mean 3-day gross ratio by genre

table51

The mean 3-day gross ratio of a film is not independent of its genre (Fisher exact probability of table: 3.1 × 10-5, P (sum of all unusual tables) = 0.016. Action and Crime, and Comedy and Musical have higher ratios so that a greater proportion of the gross is accumulated during the 3-day weekend than Romance films, which have lower ratios. The ratios for drama and Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction show no overall pattern across the week.

The outlying data points may be explained by factors other than gender and genre. The mean 3-day gross ratio for Wild Child is 0.6441, the highest of any film in the sample. The film tells the story of a spoilt American teenage girl who is sent to boarding school in the UK and eventually learns to fit in. The high ratio may be accounted for by the timing of the films release: the film opened in the UK on 15 August 2008, and the eight-weeks of data collected span the final month of UK schools’ summer holiday and the first month of the new school term. The primary audience for this film – teenage girls between 12 and 16 – was therefore unable to attend screenings during the week, and the increase in the proportion of the gross accumulated at the weekend reflects this. By contrast, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was released on the same day; but with an adult theme and an older (i.e. non-teenage) cast, it appealed to an older audience and did not suffer the dame dramatic shift as Wild Child (Figure 2).

figure2

Figure 2 Mean 3-day gross ratios of weeks 2 to 8 for Wild Child and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (released 15 August 2008)

A similar explanation may be put forward for St. Trinian’s (0.6204). Like Wild Child, St. Trinian’s film is set in an English boarding school for girls, and its primary audience is the same. Released on 21 December 2007, the audience for St. Trinian’s was unable to attend during the week for most of the film’s release due to the new school term beginning in January. Consequently, its audience attended at the weekend, and this is shown by ratios that are higher than typical for a film with female characters. Penelope was released on 1 February 2008, and the profile of its 3-day gross ratios shows variation across February half-term (approximately 15 February to 29 March) and Easter weekend (21-23 March 2008) (Figure 3). Although the film has a female main character, the 3-day gross ratio never falls below 0.4000 and this may be accounted for by the variation in half-term that occurs across different UK education authorities.

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Figure 3 Mean 3-day gross ratios of weeks 2 to 8 for Penelope (released 1 February 2008)

This is also likely to be true of The Golden Compass (0.5922), which was released outside the school holiday periods (7 December 2007) but take in the Christmas holiday period, when the ratio drops to 0.4272 for the week ending 6 January 2008.

Beyond these outlying data points in which timing of release is a critical factor, there does not appear to be any association between the month of release and the mean 3-day gross ratio (Figure 4). However, the three films released in December (one from each gender category, including St. Trinian’s and The Golden Compass) all have similar mean ratios indicating that a Christmas release could impact directly on how an audience watches a film in December and January. Films in which the main character(s) are male do not appear to be affected by the school holidays, with their low point occurring in June rather than July and August.

figure4

Figure 4 Mean 3-day gross ratio by gender category and month of release for UK films released in 2007 and 2008

Discussion

This study has identified a significant relationship between (1) the gender of a film’s main character(s) and its genre; and (2) the mean 3-day gross ratio of a film and the gender of the main character(s); and (3) the mean 3-day gross ratio of a film and its genre.

The relationships between gender and genre are intuitively predictable (Action and Crime for boys, Romance for girls), although the heavy skew to male characters in Drama is worth noting. The number of films in which the main character(s) are male exceeds those for females, indicating an overall gender bias in British films. This may be because the idea of the ‘woman’s film’ has not gone away, with a shift from Sirkian melodramas to heritage romances such as The Edge of Love and Miss Potter. Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction films appear to be much more egalitarian, and this reasons for this are likely to be dependent upon the specific narratives of specific films which require heroes and villains (both usually male), and princesses.

The variation of mean 3-day gross ratio with gender indicates that some types of films will perform differently at different times of the week: action and crime films will, as a ‘male’ genre, perform more strongly at the weekends than during the week; while romance films in which the main character(s) are female will perform more strongly during the week. Exhibitors seeking to draw in the maximum possible audience could vary the type of films they show over the course of a week, pushing Romance films during the week and Action and Crime and/or Comedy and Musical films at the weekend, for example. Greater research on film audiences in the UK is needed to explain why these differences occur, but this study does suggest that there are deeper issues ion UK audiences’ preferences for films at work. This does not necessarily mean that male audiences are watching ‘male’ films – certainly this would not be the case for pornography (which would be classified as ‘female’ here) – although this seems to be the most likely explanation.

Gender, genre, and the 3-day box office gross are related, but they may not be the decisive factors. Specific factors such as the timing of a film’s release (e.g. to coincide with school holidays) and its relationship to other patterns of activity of its audience (e.g. school, Christmas holidays) may determine the size of the mean 3-day gross ratio. The success of films such as Titanic (1997) and Mamma Mia! (2009) has been attributed to the number of female patrons who repeatedly return to a film, and releasing films such as St. Trinian’s and Wild Child that have a primary audience of females aged from 12 to 18 outside the summer school holiday may limit the number times the audience attends (assuming it finds the film sufficiently worthy) due to the restriction the school term places on when the audience is able to attend. Distributors and exhibitors looking to capitalise on the strong female audience in the UK (which made Mamma Mia! and Titanic the two highest grossing films of all time in the UK) should consider how the timing of a release over the course of an eight week period will be affected and plan their release schedule accordingly. This effect does not appear to occur for ‘male’ films, suggesting that there is no equivalent effect of school terms on male audiences.

A limitation of this study is the incomplete data available from the UK Film Council. A larger dataset that takes into account more UK films is needed. Further, data on non-UK films needs to be considered given Hollywood domination of the UK box office. A problem here is that data for many films is not available after the sixth week of release, leaving only five effective data points (once the opening week has been removed). It is questionable as to whether this will provide enough data for a meaningful comparison.

A further issue is the subjective nature of judging a film’s genre, and the generic hybridity of a film. Hot Fuzz, for example, was classed here as a comedy but it could also have been considered an action film; while the genre of heritage film was not used, with films such as Brideshead Revisited and Atonement defined as drama and romance, respectively. Reclassification of genres could produce different results depending on what the main genre of a film is considered to be. A similar problem occurs when judging who is or is not the main character(s) of a film, and assigning them to a particular gender grouping.

Conclusion

There is a significant relationship between the proportion of a UK film’s gross accumulated during the 3-day weekend from Friday to Sunday and the gender of the main character(s): films in which the main character(s) are male accumulate a greater proportion of their gross at the weekend than films in which the main character(s) are female. Specific factors, such as the ability of a particular section of the audience to access a cinema at particular times, may also be a factor. This result could be used by exhibitors to vary their exhibition strategies, emphasising different films on different days of the week to appeal to particular audiences. Further research is needed on the gender differences of cinema going habits is needed to explain these relationships.

Notes

  1. http://www.physics.csbsju.edu/stats/Index.html, accessed 26 March 2009.

References

Doane, M.A. (1987) The ‘woman’s film:’ possession and address, in C. Gledhill (ed.) Home is Where the Heart is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film. London: BFI: 283-298.

Mulvey, L. (1987) Notes on Sirk and melodrama, in C. Gledhill (ed.) Home is Where the Heart is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film. London: BFI: 75-79.