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.
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.
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 were carried out using PAST v1.89 and online statistical calculators . 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.
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
* 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).
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)
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)
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)
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
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).
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.
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.
Figure 4 Mean 3-day gross ratio by gender category and month of release for UK films released in 2007 and 2008
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.
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.
- http://www.physics.csbsju.edu/stats/Index.html, accessed 26 March 2009.
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.