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UPDATE: This post has now been superseded by a revised version that cleans up the data and extends the analysis and should be referred to in place of this.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

The romance genre at the box office in five European countries, 2006 to 2010

Assuming I have not been defeated by the rivers Wharfe, Aire, and Ouse I shall today be presenting a paper at the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance conference in York (though it is entirely possible that I’m stuck in York railway station). Below is the basic text of my presentation from which I will have inevitably digressed enormously. The pdf file is below. This is based on the same data I used in earlier post on genre and European box office although it has been cleaned up a little so the results are slightly different, though this does not have any impact on the conclusions.

Nick Redfern – The romance film at the box office in five European countries

We analyze the box office performance of romance films in five European countries – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom – from 2006 to 2010, inclusive, based on the top 50 grossing films in each country in each year. The results show that romance films account for only a small proportion of the films to reach the top 50 highest grossing films, and that there is no statistically significant variation in the proportion of romance films among the highest grossing films in each country. However, few romance films achieve a high box office ranking in more than one of these countries, indicating a lack of commonality across different markets with different audiences watching different romance films. Romance films achieving top 50 rankings in Germany, Spain, and the UK originate almost exclusively from outside these countries, whereas domestically produced films account for a larger proportion of romance films in France and Italy. Romance films perform consistently at the box office in three of the five countries, albeit lacking the very high grosses achieved by action/adventure, family, and fantasy/science fictions films; while this genre performs particularly poorly in Italy and Spain. Romance films emerge as a fixed part of the exhibition market in all five countries, but the variation in the films viewed, source of productions, and box office grosses indicates some important national differences.

The cultural economics of film

This week a collection of papers looking at the cultural economics of films focussing on – among other things – how the stock market reacts to movies, the behaviour of exhibitors and distributors, and how reducing financial risk allows exhibitors more freedom (which is of obvious interest in light of the BFI’s recent New Horizons document).

As ever, the version of a paper linked to may not be the final published version.

Chisholm D, McMillan M, and Norman G 2010 Product differentiation and film-programming choice: do first-run movie theatres show the same films?, Journal of Cultural Economics 34 (2): 131-145.

We present an empirical analysis of product differentiation using a new dynamic panel data set on film programming choice in a major U.S. metropolitan motion-pictures exhibition market. Using these data, we compute two measures of film programming choice which allow us to investigate the determinants of strategic product differentiation in a multi-characteristics space. Our evidence is consistent with the idea that the degree of product differentiation between theatre pairs reflects a balance between strategic concerns and contractual constraints. Similarity in one dimension is offset by differentiation in others. Finally, we find that ownership matters: theatres under common ownership make more similar programming choices than theatres with different owners.

Collins A, Scorcu AE, and Zanola R 2009 Distribution conventionality in the movie sector: an econometric analysis of cinema supply, Managerial and Decision Economics 30 (8): 517-527.

This paper empirically analyzes the impact of several factors on a ‘conventionality index (CI)’ in the specific context of the cinema exhibition sector. To our knowledge, it is the first time that a standard CI has been constructed for this purpose. Econometric analysis of the determinants of variation in this index provides decision-makers with an empirical focus for analyzing distributional aspects of the movie exhibition market, with particular emphasis on product differentiation. Specifically, (i) do cinemas based in a city area have a different or ‘specialized’ focus in contrast to cinemas in small towns? or (ii) do multiplexes have a different or more specialized focus in comparison with cinemas? To this end, cross-sectional econometric models are estimated to help analyze these effects in three Italian regions for a sample of cinemas covering the 2006 season.

Einav L and Ravid SA 2009 Stock market response to changes in movies’ opening dates, Journal of Cultural Economics 33 (4): 311-319.

How does the market react to news regarding large uncertain projects? We analyze stock market reactions to information about changes in opening dates of movies, and present two main findings. First, we find systematic negative stock price responses to the scheduling changes we consider, suggesting that any changes are interpreted as bad news by the market. Second, we find that the market reaction is greater for movies with higher production costs, but is unrelated to subsequent box office revenues. This may point to a limited ability of the market to predict the box office performance of a movie, and to increased sensitivity of the market to cost effects, which are easier to forecast.

Joshi AM and Hanssens DM 2008 Movie advertising and the stock market valuation of studios: a case of “great expectations?”, Marketing Science 28 (2): 239-250.

Product innovation is the key revenue driver in the motion picture industry. Because major studios typically launch fewer than 20 movies per year, the financial performance of a single release can have a major effect on the studio’s profitability. In this paper we study how single movie releases impact the investor valuation of the studio. We analyze the change in postlaunch stock price and predict the direction and magnitude of excess returns based on the revenue expectation built up for a movie release. That expectation is set, in part, by media support; i.e., highly advertised movies are expected to draw larger audiences than others. By using an event-study methodology, we isolate the impact of a movie launch on studio stock price and track the determinants of that change.

We examine a comprehensive data set comprising over 300 movies released by the largest studios. Our results indicate a clear interaction between the marketing support received by a movie and the direction and magnitude of its excess stock return post launch. Movies with above average prelaunch advertising have lower postlaunch stock returns than films with below average advertising. Our findings also suggest that movies that are hits at the box office may result in a lowering of stock price if they had high media support because of high performance expectations built up prior to launch. Thus prelaunch advertising plays a dual role of informing consumers about a movie’s arrival as well as helping investors form expectations about the studio’s profit performance.

McKenzie J 2012 The economics of movies: a literature survey, Journal of Economic Surveys 26 (1): 42-70.

The film industry provides a myriad of interesting problems for economic contemplation. From the initial concept of an idea through production, distribution and finally exhibition there are many aspects to the film project and the film industry that present new and interesting puzzles worthy of investigation. Add to this the high level of data availability, and it is little wonder that an increasing number of researchers are being attracted to this industry. To date, however, there are no comprehensive surveys on the contribution of economists to this literature. This paper attempts to fill this void and unify what is known about the industry. It also identifies and discusses potential areas for new research.

Pokorny M and Sedgwick J 2010 Profitability trends in Hollywood, 1929 to 1999: somebody must know something, The Economic History Review 63 (1): 56-84.

This article presents an overview of the development of the US film industry from 1929 to 1999. Notwithstanding a volatile film production environment, in terms of rate of return and market share variability, the industry has remained relatively stable and profitable. Film production by the film studios is interpreted as analogous to the construction of an investment portfolio, whereby producers diversified risk across budgetary categories. In the 1930s, high-budget film production was relatively unprofitable, but the industry adjusted to the steep decline in film-going in the postwar period by refining high-budget production as the focus for profitability.

Wang F, Zhang Y, Li X, and Zhu H 2010 Why do moviegoers go to the theater? The role of prerelease media publicity and online word of mouth in driving moviegoing behaviour, Journal of Interactive Advertising 11 (1):

Using the Bass new product diffusion model, the authors explore how media publicity and word of mouth (WOM) about a to-be-released new movie drive moviegoing behavior in emerging markets. Empirical data collected from the Chinese motion picture industry reveal that prerelease media appearance (a proxy for publicity) and online WOM conversation (a proxy for WOM) influence moviegoing decision making, but they play different roles. Media publicity determines moviegoers’ innovation probability, whereas WOM determines both innovation and imitation probability. This article provides a better understanding of the decision making involved in moviegoing, as well as effective ways to market and release new movies in emerging markets.

Werck K, Grinwis M, and Heyndels B 2008 Budgetary constraints and programmatic choices by Flemish subsidized theatres, Applied Economics 4 (18): 2369-2379.

We analyse programmatic choices of Flemish theatres and examine how they are affected by the theatres’ budgetary situation. Following Lancaster’s characteristics approach, we identify several output characteristics of individual Flemish theatres during the period 1980 to 2000. A simultaneous equation approach is used to capture the theatre managers’, subsidizing government’s and consumers’ behaviour. We find that changes in the budgetary situation of a theatre are translated into changes of both the ‘amount’ and the nature of the theatre’s output. The budgetary impact on artistic choices has intensified since the introduction of a 4-yearly instead of yearly allocation of subsidies. The decrease in financial risk for the individual theatres leads to an increase in artistic risk-taking.

Gini coefficients of five European film industries

Back in May 2010 I looked at the Gini coefficient of the opening grosses in the UK in 2009 (see here).

The Gini coefficient (G) is a measure of the inequality of a statistical distribution, ranging from perfect equality when all the members of a population have equal share in some property such as income (G = 0) to perfect inequality when all the property is owned by a single person (G = 1). This inequality can be represented as a Lorenz Curve, which shows the cumulative proportion of a property belonging to the cumulative proportion of a population. This can be interpreted in reference to the line y = x, which represents perfect equality, and the further away the Lorenz curve lies away from this line the more unequal distribution.

The Gini coefficient and the Lorenz Curve are useful for comparing the inequalities of different populations, and so this week I compare the Gini coefficients of the total grosses of films distributed in five European countries – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK – in 2011. The data used is from Box Office Mojo and all box office grosses are in US Dollars.

Table 1 shows the Gini coefficients for the total sample sizes and for the top 100 grossing films in each country. It is clear that the distribution of grosses in each country is very unequal, with the vast majority of the gross accumulated by a small number of films. The UK is more unequal than the continental countries. The highest grossing film in the UK in 2011 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part Two) – grossed $117.23 million, accounting for 6.4% of the total accumulated gross. However, this was not the most dominant film in any of these countries: in France the highest grossing film was Intouchables, grossing $116.13 million and accounting for 9.5% of the total accumulated gross. Nonetheless, the overall distribution of the other four countries are less unequal, indicating that the UK box office tends to have fewer mid-range films. For example, it appears from the Lorenz curves in Figures 1 through 5 below that the comparatively high value of G for the UK is the result of the larger number of very, very low grossing films in the UK that are not present in the other countries and the very rapid shift to very high grossing films at the top end of the distribution. This is not present in Germany (Figure 2) or Italy (Figure 3), for example, which show much smoother transitions from the lowest to the highest grossing films.

Comparing the Gini coefficients for just the top 100 grossing films shows the UK to be no more unequal for this sub-group than France, Germany, or Italy. This sub-group does account for a higher proportion of the total gross than in these other countries but the distribution of grosses is no different from these three countries.

The Gini coefficient for the top 100 in Spain is much lower than the other countries due to the lack of a film like Harry Potter or Intouchables whose grosses are so much greater than those of other films. The highest grossing film in Spain in 2011 was Torrente 4 with $29.03 million (3.4% of the total accumulated gross), and the top 100 declines steadily with rank. This gives a different distribution to that seen in the UK, France, and Germany – see here and here for examples – which have a large drop off between subgroups of the top 100 grossing films, and between the top 100 films and the others on release.

The inevitable conclusion that follows from this, of course, is that there are a great many movies on release that no one is watching. The lowest grossing film in the UK is Fuk sau che chi sei (Revenge: A Love Story), which is listed as having a total gross 0f $45 (~£29).

Film policy in the UK is intended to remedy this problem by getting a more diverse range of films onto the cinema screens most people have access to (i.e. multiplexes), but the problem suggested by these results is the that of the squeezed middle. Showing Green Lantern in so many multiplex screens isn’t taking audiences away from thrillers produced in Hong Kong since no one is watching these films anyway. The films that suffer are films like Neds ($1.58) or Submarine ($2.37), which have limited opportunities to find an audience. This may explain why the UK film production sector is seen to be less successful in comparison to, say, France or Italy despite the fact that the UK is the largest film market in Europe. Film policy in the UK should be directed at reducing the inequality in the UK exhibition sector to a level comparable to that of the continental countries by boosting the earning power of the middle grossing films.

Table 1 Gini coefficients and total grosses for the total sample (N) and the top 100 grossing films in five European countries in 2011 ($US millions)

The Lorenz Curves for each country are in Figures 1 through 5, with the total gross shown in black, the top 100 grossing films in blue, and the reference curve (G=0) in red.

Figure 1 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in France in 2011

Figure 2 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in Germany in 2011

Figure 3 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in Italy in 2011

Figure 4 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in Spain in 2011

Figure 5 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in the UK in 2011

An online module for calculating Gini coefficients and Lorenz curves can be accessed here.

US box office and Oscar nominations

Last year I looked at the impact of Academy Award nominations and wins on the daily box office grosses of best picture winners from (here). This year I look at the nine films nominated for best picture at this years Oscars. All the box office data used here is available at Box Office Mojo.

Table 1 presents the pre- and post-nomination box office gross for those films nominated for best picture. The nominations were announced on 24 January 2012, and pre-nomination gross is the total gross up to this point. The post-nomination gross covers the period 24 January to 26 February. For those films that were released a long time ahead of the announcements of the nominees there is no benefit since these films just aren’t around for audiences to see. From The Help, Midnight in Paris, and Moneyball we can also see that re-releases after 24 January don’t make much of a difference to a film’s gross. The thing that really stands out is the low nature of the total grosses: only The Help took more than $100 million prior to Sunday.

Table 1 Pre- and post-nomination box office gross for films nominated for best picture at 2011 Academy Awards ($ million).

There is no point at looking at the daily grosses for Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Help, and The Tree of Life since they were not on wide release when the nominations were announced. We could look at DVD sales and downloads to see if the nomination had any effect on the earning power of these films. Here I’m interested in the daily box office grosses of the cinema releases up to 25 February.

Although the post-nomination box office takings of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Figure 1) accounts for the majority of its gross, this cannot be attributed to any benefit gained from being nominated for best picture. From its day of release (25 December) until 20 January this film was showing in just 6 theatres and this very limited release explains why the grosses in the early part of this film’s release are so low. On 20 January the film went wide to 2630 theatres and this explains the sudden jump in the daily grosses. From this point forward (day 27) the daily grosses show the typical trend of a film that could have been released at any time of year. From Figure 1 there is no evidence that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close received any benefit from being a nominee for best picture. This film has received generally poor reviews in the US and abroad. This particularly the case in the UK, where it has been described as both ‘soothingly banal’ in the Telegraph and as ‘hollow, calculated, [and] manipulative’ in the Observer – neither of which come close to the scathing review in the New York Post, which described the film as ‘extremely, incredibly exploitive’ and a ‘quest for emotional blackmail, cheap thrills and a naked ploy for an Oscar’. Being nominated for best picture does not appear to have been able to mitigate the bad reviews.

Figure 1 Daily box office gross of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Figure 2 presents the daily box office grosses of War Horse. Although this film was directed by Steven Spielberg, and is an adaptation of a successful book that has also been an internationally successful stage production there is no evidence that the nomination for best picture had any impact on its gross. The trend does not vary at all around 24 January, and by the time the winners were announced last Sunday this film had pretty much played out at the US box office. The stage version of War Horse won five Tony awards, including best play, but the film has received mediocre reviews (particularly in the UK) and has a world-wide gross of $141.76 million (with $79.06 million in the US). This sounds like a lot of money, but with an estimated negative cost of $66 million it represents a relatively modest return – especially when Spielberg is the director.

Figure 2 Daily box office gross of War Horse. The blue line is the day on which the Academy award nominations were announced.

The box office grosses of Hugo show a small bump following the announcement of its nomination (Figure 4). The number of theatres showing this film was increased after 24 January from 650 to 925, but the effect cannot be simply attributed to a wider release since the average gross per theatre also increases. Hugo does seem to have directly benefited from being in the running for an Oscar, albeit on a relatively limited scale. This is the same pattern in The Departed – also  directed by Martin Scorsese – I noted last year.

Figure 3 Daily box office gross of Hugo. The blue line is the day on which the Academy award nominations were announced.

Another interesting feature in Figure 3 is the a typical period of grosses from day 31 to 41. This covers the period 23 December to 2 January, and is a clear indicator of how audience behaviour changes over the Christmas and New Year holiday period.

This same pattern can be seen in the grosses of The Descendants (Figure 4). The peaks in this period occur on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. However, grosses for this film are low and at no point do they exceed $3 million.

Figure 4 Daily box office gross of The Descendants. The orange line is the day of the Golden Globe awards, and the blue line is the day the Academy award nominations were announced. (NB: this data does not include grosses prior to 25 November).

The orange line shows the date (15 January) on which the results of the Golden Globes were announced, and this does appear to have given the film a boost. In the week leading up to Friday, 13 January, The Descendants was showing in 737 theatres. From 13 January to 19 January it was showing in 660 theatres, and then in 560 theatres until 26 January. Over this period the gross of the film actually increased and, obviously, so did its gross per theatre indicating that winning the award for Best Motion Picture – Drama from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association did have a positive impact on this film’s box office performance (see Figure 4a). After it was announced as a nominee for the best picture, the number of theatres showing The Descendants was increased to 2001 on 27 January. However, this lead to a fall in the average gross suggesting and so while being nominated for an Oscar appears to have led to an increase in box office at least part of this needs to be attributed to the wider release pattern. Of course, the reason this film was given a wider release after day 63 on release is because it was nominated for an Oscar.

Figure 4a Daily average gross per theatre for The Descendants. The orange line is the day of the Golden Globe awards, and the blue line is the day the Academy award nominations were announced.

It is difficult to separate the effects of the Golden Globe win and the Oscar nomination on the box office gross for this film. Te change in the number of theatres over the last two weeks of January clearly indicates how distributors and exhibitors view the two different awards: Golden Globes aren’t that important and even a win will not stop the decrease in the number of theatres showing your film (even if it boosts your gross) but a nomination for an Oscar makes a big difference.

Finally, we come to this year’s best picture, The Artist (Figure 5). This film also won the Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes.

Figure 5 Daily box office gross of The Artist. The orange line is the day of the Golden Globe awards, and the blue line is the day the Academy award nominations were announced.

In Figure 5 we see the same boost over the Christmas period we see with Hugo and The Descendants. However, unlike The Descendants where the average gross per theatre over this period went even though the number of theatres went down, the boost to grosses of The Artist can in large part be attributed to the fact that it is on 23 December that it goes on wide release. From 25 November until 22 December, The Artist was showing in 4 to 17 theatres but on 23 December it was showing in 167 theatres. The second jump in the grosses occurs on 20 January when the number of theatres went from 216 to 662 but the average gross per theatre fell. This suggests that, unlike The Descendants, there is no clear evidence of a boost from winning a Golden Globe and that increasing the number of screens is more likely to be directly responsible for the jump in grosses. The publicity from winning the Golden Globe no doubt played a part in the decision to increase the number of theatres so dramatically. The announcement of The Artist‘s nomination for best picture was presumably also a factor in the decision to substantially increase the number of theatres a second time on 27 January to 897. The average gross remained static for the first week, and then falls as more theatres were added after 3 February (see Figure 5a). The impact of an Academy Award nomination for best picture on the grosses of The Artist are more likely to be indirect in that they influenced the behaviour of distributors and exhibitors than direct in the impact it had on the behaviour of audiences.

Figure 5a Daily average gross per theatre for The Artist. The orange line is the day of the Golden Globe awards, and the blue line is the day the Academy award nominations were announced.

The final interesting feature to note is the spike at day 82. This is out of step with the corresponding point in other weeks, and represents a sudden increase in the box office gross. The gross on this day was $100,000 greater than the corresponding day in the previous week, and more than double the gross of the previous day. This can be explained very simply: day 82 of this film’s release was Valentine’s Day. A similar bump can be seen at day 82 of The Descendants. in fact, this effect is present  for every film but in the five other graphs the size of this change in audience behaviour is not so large that it jumps out at you. In part, this is due to the other films being largely played out by mid-February and in part to the fact that the daily grosses of The Descendants and The Artist are much lower than those of the other films. This means that the benefit of being on release on Valentine’s Day for these films is greater since it makes a larger difference relative to their overall gross. It is interesting that in none of these examples was the number of theatres showing a film varied for Valentine’s Day since this is a day in which people in the US go to the cinema in far greater numbers than is usually the case.

Dinner and movie for a date on Valentine’s – Americans are sweet.

But it does prove that cinemas will never die – staying in to watch a movie isn’t the same as going out to watch a movie and the socializing aspect of going to a theatre is crucial in understanding the enduring appeal of the medium.

Motion, screen size, and emotion

This week some very interesting papers on how movement and screen size impacts on our experience and understanding of motion pictures. Particularly interesting is the paper that indicates small screens can be more immersive than big screens

Bellman S, Schweda A, and Varan D 2009 Viewing angle matters – screen type does not, Journal of Communication 59 (3): 609-634.

Increasingly, television content is available to viewers across 3 different screen types: TVs, personal computers (PCs), and portable devices such as mobile phones and iPods. The purpose of this study was to see what effect physical and apparent screen size has upon ad effectiveness. Using a sample of 320 members of the Australian public, we found that TV ads can be just as effective on PCs and iPods. However, controlling for screen type, ads viewed from a closer distance (i.e. with a wider viewing angle) were more likely to be recalled the next day, and were associated with more favorable brand attitudes. Shorter programs, product relevance, and use of close-ups and detailed images made no difference to this general viewing-angle effect.

Bracken C and Pettey G 2007 It is REALLY a smaller (and smaller) world: presence and small Screens,  PRESENCE 2007: 10th International Workshop on Presence, Barcelona, Spain, 25-27 October 2007.

This study moved Presence into the realm of the smaller video format—comparing Apple iPod with a standard television presentation. Ninety-six students were exposed to one of two presentations on either an iPod or on a 32-inch television. Students saw either a 10-minute fast-paced (multiple cut) action sequence or a 10-minute slow-paced (long cut) conversation sequence from a feature length motion picture. The 2 x 2 design looked at differences in immersion, spatial presence and social realism. While previous research suggests that larger format presentations should generally result in higher levels of presence, this study found that subjects viewing the iPod reported higher levels of immersion. Social realism had a significant interaction with content/pace, and there was no significant difference between iPod and the 32-inch television in spatial presence.

Detenber BH and Reeves B 1996 A bio‐informational theory of emotion: motion and image size effects on viewers, Journal of Communication 46 (3): 66-84.

Detenber BH, Simons RF, and Bennet Jr GG 1998 Roll ‘em!: the effects of picture motion on emotional responsesJournal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 42 (1): 113-127.

An experiment investigated the effects of picture motion on individuals’ emotional reactions to images. Subjective measures (self-reports) and physiological data (skin conductance and heart rate) were obtained to provide convergent data on affective responses. Results indicate that picture motion significantly increased arousal, particularly when the image was already arousing. This finding was supported by the both skin conductance and the self-report data. Picture motion also tended to prompt more heart-rate deceleration, most likely reflecting a greater allocation of attention to the more arousing images. In this study, the influence of picture motion on affective valence was evident only in the self-report measures – positive images were experienced as more positive and negative images as more negative when the image contained motion. Implications of the results and suggestions for future research are discussed.

Ravaja N 2004 Effects of image motion on a small screen on emotion, attention, and memory: moving-face versus static-face newscasterJournal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 48 (1): 108-133.

We examined the modulating influence of a small moving vs. static facial image on emotion- and attention-related subjective and physiological responses to financial news read by a newscaster, and on memory performance among 36 young adults. A moving-face newscaster was associated with high self-reported pleasure and arousal, but not with physiological arousal (electrodermal activity). Facial electromyographic responses to facial image motion were at variance with pleasure ratings. Facial motion was associated with decreased respiratory sinus arrhythmia, an index of attention, and improved memory performance for positive messages. A talking facial image on a small screen increases attention and knowledge acquisition.

Reeves B, Lang A, Kim EY and Tatar D 1999 The effects of screen size and message content on attention and arousal, Media Psychology 1 (1): 49-67.

The number of different screens that people confront is increasing. One potentially important difference in the psychological impact of screen displays is their size; new screens are both larger and smaller than older ones. A between-subjects experiment (n = 38) assessed viewer’s attention and arousal in response to three different size screens (56-inch, 13-inch, and 2-inch picture heights). Viewers responded to video images from television and film that displayed different emotions (# video segments = 60). Attention was measured by heart rate deceleration in response to the onset of pictures, and arousal was measured by skin conductance aggregated during viewing. Results showed that the largest screen produced greater heart rate deceleration than the medium and small screens. The large screen also produced greater skin conductance than the medium and small screens. For skin conductance, screen size also interacted with the emotional content of the stimuli such that the most arousing pictures (e.g., pictures of violence and sex) showed the highest levels of arousal on the large screen compared to the medium and small screens.

Simons RF, Detenber BH, Roedema TM and Reiss JE 1999 Emotion processing in three systems: the medium and the message, Psychophysiology 36: 619-627.

In the context of picture viewing, consistent and specific relationships have been found between two emotion dimensions ~valence and arousal! and self-report, physiological and overt behavioral responses. Relationships between stimulus content and the emotion-response profile can also be modulated by the formal properties of stimulus presentation such as screen size. The present experiment explored the impact of another presentation attribute, stimulus motion, on the perceived quality of the induced emotion and on its associated physiological response pattern. Using a within-subject design, moving and still versions of emotion-eliciting stimuli were shown to 35 subjects while facial muscle, heart rate, skin conductance, and emotion self-reports were monitored. The impact of motion was dramatic. Self-report and physiological data suggested strongly that motion increased arousal, had little impact on valence, and captured and sustained the subject’s attention to the image.

The DCMS Film Policy Review I

This week the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport published the latest review of film policy in the UK. The report is titled A Future for British Film: It Begins with the Audience, and you can access it here. This week’s post covers just a few first impressions I have formed having read the report once. A more detailed and more considered reflection on the issues raised will have to wait for a couple of weeks.

This is the first wide-ranging report on film policy in the UK since A Bigger Picture was published in 1998, though there have been numerous reports covering  a broad range of topics in the past 14 years. This report should of course been undertaken before the dismantling of the UK Film Council because now it is a case of tailoring policy to the institutions we have rather than being able to flexibly adapt to new demands. And it is the new that wrecks policy maker’s fun. A Bigger Picture was almost immediately rendered obsolete by the arrival of digital technology. 3D was old technology in 1998, and now its at the top of the box office charts.

So, first impressions.

1. I like the demand-side approach rather than the focus on production typical of these sorts of reports. The report doesn’t ignore production, but the re-orientation of film policy away from ‘lets produce more British films that on-one will see’ to ‘let’s get people watching films the British films that are available’ is much needed. British film production has been reasonably healthy since the mid-1990s (at least compared to the dark days 1980s), but a long-standing problem is getting screen time in a multiplex dominated market. There’s no point making films people can’t see and there’s no point in making MORE films can’t see which has been UK film policy since 1985. There’s always the possibility that some more British films will make money and so reduce their demands on lottery funding.

The only concern is that focussing resources on independent and specialised film will produce limited benefits from a lot of investment. Audiences for these types of films are smaller than audiences for mainstream cinema, and so there may not be much growth in audiences to be had. The report says that it is important to increase audience choice, and who would disagree with that. But how do you measure the potential for audience growth of specialised films? How do you judge how much money to invest in developing this audience given that audience growth might be quite small? And what if the audience doesn’t want to watch these films?

And how do you get cinema chains to stop showing crap like Green Lantern? Especially when it turns out the average occupancy rate of cinema auditoria in the UK is 20 per cent! Solving the problem of too many bad Hollywood films on British cinema screens would go much further than anything the BFI could ever do. The problem of release windows is recognised in the report and reforming this aspect of the UK film sector in a distribution-led industry will have more impact than simply focussing on production. This is to be applauded. But release windows are determined in Hollywood by multinational corporations who have the power to dictate terms to exhibitors, and why should they care about a policy framework that offers no advantage to them? US producers come to the UK for the quality of the filmmakers, the facilities, and the tax incentives. Where are the incentives for distribution that will make them care?

2. I also like the commitment to ensuring the important role of the BFI Research and Statistics Unit in recommendation 53 (see below), though the suggestion the BFI establishes a ‘research and knowledge’ does raise the questions, doesn’t the RSU already exist and isn’t already fulfilling this function? I’m also a little confused by the recommendation

the BFI be designated a ‘producer of official statistics’ under the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007, as was the UK Film Council up until 2011.

Wasn’t this function taken over by the BFI? And if not, why not?

But a revved up RSU means more statistical fun for me, and that’s something to look forward to.

3. I don’t like the make up of the panel that produced the report:

  • Rt Hon Lord Smith of Finsbury, former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Chairman)
  • Will Clarke, Independent film distributor, founder and former CEO, Optimum Releasing
  • Lord Julian Fellowes, Oscar® winning writer and actor
  • Matthew Justice, UK film producer and Managing Director, Big Talk
  • Michael Lynton, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Sony Pictures Entertainment
  • Tim Richards, Chief Executive, Vue Entertainment
  • Tessa Ross, CBE, Controller of Film and Drama, Channel 4
  • Libby Savill, Head of Film and Television, Olswang LLP
  • Iain Smith, OBE, film producer and Chair, the British Film Commission Advisory Board

There is, of course, no reason why any of these people should not have been involved in the review process, but who is missing from this list?

That’s right, academics. There is no one from film studies specialising in film industries, film policy, or British cinema; and there is no economist, sociologist, or geographer specialising in film/media/creative/cultural industries.

There is a great deal of research on the film industry in the UK and yet very little of this is cited by the report. The report contains a list of references 108 references, including a handful to Margaret Dickinson and Sylvia Harvey, Rob Cheek, Maud Mansfield, and Joe Lampel. (None of these references are properly referenced. If this were submitted by a student you would fail it on grounds of not having a proper bibliography. It really is awful). There are no references to the wider body of research of the film industry in the UK, and this is curious because one of the recommendations addresses precisely this issue.

53. The Panel notes the need for a strong evidence base for film policy and recommends the BFI establishes a ‘Research and Knowledge’ function to a) collaborate with industry and stakeholders to generate robust information and data on which to base policy interventions, b) assist in the design of BFI policy and funding interventions from the outset to produce learning that can inform future policy, c) actively disseminate results and learning from funding interventions, and d) over time build and maintain a valuable and accessible knowledge base for the benefit of the public, the BFI, Government, industry, academia and all other stakeholders in film.

It seems odd to recommend that we need a strong evidence base when the existing available research is largely ignored. This problem was raised at the symposium on research and policy making I attended last October (you can read about it here), and it’s nice to see the above recommendation in the report as it means there is a greater chance progress will be made in this area. But this type of report is precisely the sort of situation in which this type of research should have been used, and it would have been nice to see the panel take the opportunity to do just that. Otherwise, what’s the point in doing research?

But what I really don’t like about recommendation 53 is that it envisages academia as a consumer of data produced by the BFI’s ‘research and knowledge’ function rather than being fully integrated into the policy making framework. Academics shouldn’t be sat on the sidelines of film policy. Any future panel reporting on film policy should include academics among its membership – if only to recommend the relevant research outputs to the rest of the panel. It is the BFI’s responsibility to make sure this is achieved sooner rather than not at all. Who else do they think is going create and fulfil the ‘research and knowledge’ function?

It seems odd to say it, but I think the case for film studies could be put to the BFI more strongly.

4. Finally, this report presents a great deal of statistical information and therefore makes the assumption that its readership will be statistically literate enough to understand it. I raised the issue of statistical literacy at last year’s symposium but didn’t get much of response. Given the use of tables, graphs (which I do NOT like), and numerical summaries in this report it is not an issue than can be ignored. The place of statistical literacy in film studies needs to be addressed by the BFI, and I will have more to say on this topic over the next few weeks.

Genre and the UK box office 2011

The top 50 grossing films in 2011 at the UK box office account for a total of $1264 million (approximately £813 million at £1=$1.5547). A breakdown of the total gross by genre is given in Table 1. (For consistency, I’ve employed the same genre classifications that used in earlier posts).

The highest grossing film by quite some distance was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2) with $117.2 million (~£75.4 million), easily outstripping The King’s Speech ($75.0 million/£48.2 million).

Table 1 Top 50 UK grossing films 2011 by genre (Source: Box Office Mojo)

Two of the top 10 films were action/adventure films: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (3D) (4th) and Transformers 3 (7th). The performance of the third Transformers film is comparable to the first two (give or take an adjustment for inflation): Transformers grossed $49.9 million in 2007 and Revenge of the Fallen grossed $44.4 million in 2009 (these figures are in 2010 US dollars), while T3 grossed $45.1 million (in 2011 dollars). In contrast, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides grossed only $54.2 million (2011 dollars) compared to $106.8 million for Dead Man’s Chest in 2006 and $85.6 million for At World’s End in 2007 (both in 2010 dollars). Thus the Transformers franchise has maintained its level from film to film, whereas the gap between the 2007 and 2011 films and the loss of key cast members (Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightly) for On Stranger Tides has seen the Pirates franchise shed a substantial part of its value in the UK market.

2011 was comedy’s year. Comedy just beat out action/adventure as the second highest grossing genre and accounted for seven films in the top 50, but of these four made it into the top 10: The Inbetweeners Movie, The Hangover Part II, Bridesmaids, and Johnny English Reborn. The median gross for 54 comedy films to make the top 50 in the UK from 2006 to 2010, inclusive, is $12.84 million (in 2010 dollars); but the median gross last year (in 2011 dollars) was $32.0 million. The Inbetweeners Movie is the highest grossing comedy film in the UK in the past six years with $71.2 million/£45.8 million, easily beating Borat into second place (which grossed $49.8 million in 2006, in 2010 dollars). No matter how you look at it, that’s a big success for a movie based on a British TV show. Paul (21st), Horrible Bosses (27th), and Bad Teacher (37th) were less impressive, but comedy was the big story at the UK box office in 2011.

The most frequently occurring genre is family films accounting for 15 films, which have not performed outstandingly well. In fact this genre did not perform even close to family films in recent years, when Toy Story 3, Shrek 3, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, and Up have been amongst the very highest grossing films in the UK. The highest grossing family film in 2011 was Tangled, which was only the ninth highest grossing film of the year. Eight of the family films grossed less than $15.54 million or £10 million pounds. Why might this be the case? Well, if we look at the family films that made it into the top fifty (Table 2) we note that many of them are animated films while very few are love action films. It may be that the family genre suffered from a lack of variety with a glut of animation and too few other types of family films to attract a diverse audience. There is no Night at the Museum film in this year’s top 50, and Mr. Popper’s Penguins is too close to Happy Feet to make the difference worth noting. Horrid Henry seems to have performed particularly poorly. It is also interesting that The Lion King outperformed many new films, but then it would not be unfair to state that, compared to recent years, this year’s animated offerings were not as good as in recent years. Certainly, there is no Ponyo or Up amongst those films listed in Table 2.

Table 2 Rank and total grosses of family films in the UK 2011 (Source: Box Office Mojo)

As noted above the top grossing film last year was a fantasy/science fiction film, but Harry Potter accounted for 65% of the total gross for this genre in the top 50. Rise of the Planet of the Apes performed respectably as the 11th highest grossing film, but the other three films (Super 8, Source Code, and The Immortals) all feature in the bottom 10 films. In fact, Source Code and The Immortals were ranked 49th and 50th respectively.

The King’s Speech accounts for 51% of the gross of drama films, with the three other films performing modestly. The Black Swan ranked 15th, grossing $26.0 million ($16.7 million), but I can’t decide if this is a good performance of a film about ballet or a disappointment for an Academy Award winning film. 127 Hours (39th) and The Fighter (47th) also performed poorly despite Oscar nominations and awards.

Beyond these five genres, there is very little to note about the others.

The majority of the gross for romance films is accounted for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1, the 6th highest grossing film of the year. This Twilight film achieved similar rankings to Eclipse (2010 – 6th) and New Moon (2009 – 7th); and achieved similar grosses. The other romance films – One Day (38th) and Friends with Benefits (46th) – aren’t worth commentating on.

Only two horror films made the top 50: Paranormal Activity 3 (26th) and Insidious (42nd). Measured in 2010 dollars, Paranormal Activity grossed $16.3 million in 2009 and Paranormal Activity 2 grossed $17.5 million in 2010. The third instalment in the series grossed $17.0 million in the UK (in 2011 dollars), and so while this series is not troubling the upper reaches of the box office charts it is consistent in the level of its gross from film to film and year to year.

The one film classed as ‘other’ is the Coen Brother’s version of True Grit, which ranked 35th.

Crime/thriller films are barely worth commenting on. The highest grossing film in this genre (if you don’t consider it be an action/adventure movie) is Sherlock Holes: Games of Shadows (18th) and this film was only released on 16 December 2011. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (23rd), Limitless (33rd), and Unknown (44th) did very little business. The television schedules in the UK are full to overflowing with crime dramas – Lewis (and the upcoming Endeavour), Midsommer Murders, New Tricks, Sherlock, and so on, along with masses of imports from America (CSI, Criminal Minds, NCIS, The Closer, etc) and Europe (The Killing, Wallander, Romanzo criminale) – so there is clearly an audience for producers to tap into. But no one makes crime movies anymore. Weird.

Research on blockbusters

As we all know blockbusters are the bane of the film industry: a recent article in The Telegraph quoted Steven Spielberg’s opinion that contemporary Hollywood has produced few films that will still be viewed in 20 years time. The article can be read here. I think that in general, Spielberg has a point about the general quality of Hollywood films since the mid-1990s. Personally, I just do not find the cinema of the past few years as exciting as I did when I was 18 and going to Canterbury to study film, and the endless repetition and extension of comic book adaptations is evidence of a great amount tedium that I just do not want to watch. (And it’s not like I don’t own scores of comics books and graphic novels). However, much of the blame can be laid at Spielberg’s feet for encouraging big-budget franchise films (Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park). Some of Spielberg’s comments are remarkably self-serving and more than a little disingenuous:

Attacking the prevalence of film franchises – movies based on toys, or video games, that are intended to sell a product as much as they are to entertain – Spielberg said: “I think producers are more interested in backing concepts than directors and writers.

“I don’t think that’s the right way of making a decision about whether you’re going to back a film or not, but a lot of these hedge funds – these independent groups that are coming up with the money – are looking at the big idea more than who the director or writer is. And of course, they all want the guarantee of a big actor.

“My whole career has survived without big movie stars. Yes, I’ll do movies with Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks, and I enjoy that, but most of my movies have had unknowns in them. And they’ve done pretty well.”

Make of that what you will.

The problem isn’t ‘blockbusters’ per se, but rather the lack of diversity in the film industry. As I showed here, the action/adventure, family, and fantasy/science fictions films have become increasingly dominant at the US box office at the expense of crime/thriller films, dramas, and (to a lesser extent) comedies.

But we shouldn’t always be disappointed with blockbusters – they can be great movies, and the scale of the cinema is one thing that makes experiencing a film on the big screen so thrilling. They are also the focus of a number interesting research papers that cover many different aspects of the cinema, and a selection are set out below.

As ever, the version linked to may not be the final published version.

Aldred J 2006 All aboard The Polar Express: a ‘playful’ change of address in the computer-generated blockbuster, Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal 1(2): 153-172.

Following Tom Gunning’s assertion that each change in film history implies a change in its address to the spectator, this article closely analyses The Polar Express (Robert Zemeckis, 2004) in order to interrogate what kinds of changes are at stake for the contemporary spectator of the wholly computer generated blockbuster. The article also considers the extent to which the immersive, video game-like visual aesthetic and mode of address present in The Polar Express strive to naturalize viewer relations with digital spaces and characters such as those inherent to both computer-generated films and the ‘invisible’ virtual realm of cyberspace. Finally, the article argues that The Polar Express functions as a compelling historical document of an era when cinema and video games have never been more intertwined in terms of aesthetics, character construction, and narrative, and raises compelling questions about whether video games have begun to exert the type of formative influence upon cinema that cinema previously exerted on video games.

Elsaesser T 2001 The blockbuster: everything connects, but not everything goes, in J Lewis (ed.) The End of Cinema as We Know It. New York: New York University Press: 11-22.

… What characterizes a blockbuster? First, a big subject and a big budget (world war, disaster, end of the planet, monster from the deep, holocaust, death battle in the galaxy). Second, a young male hero, usually with lots of firepower, or secret knowledge, or an impossibly difficult mission. The big movie is necessarily based on traditional stories, sometimes against the background of historical events, more often a combination of fantasy or sci-fi, with the well-known archetypal heroes from Western mythology on parade. In one sense, this makes blockbusters the natural, that is, technologically more evolved, extension of fairy tales. In another sense, these spectacle “experiences,” these “media events,” are also miracles, and not at all natural. Above all, they are miracles of engineering and industrial organization. They are put together like supertankers, aircraft carriers or skyscrapers, office blocks, shopping malls. They resemble military campaigns, and that’s one of the main reasons they cost so much to make. …

Fernandez-Blanco V, Ginsburgh V, Prieto-Rodriguez J, and Weyers S 2011 As good as it gets? Blockbusters and the inequality of box office results since 1950, in J Kaufman and D Simonton (eds.) The Social Science of the Cinema.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

This paper analyses how success, measured by box office revenues, is distributed in the movie industry. The idea that “the winner takes all” is pervasive in describing the high degree of inequality in revenues, since we are all subject to the cognitive bias known as “recency effect,” and have myopic perceptions which make us think that recent events are more relevant. This makes us believe that inequalities are much more important today than they used to be. Blockbusters such as Avatar, The Black Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man’s Chest or even Titanic lead us to overestimate revenue inequality. As is the case with many simplifications, this one is also misleading.

Glastein J, Ludomirsky O, Lyettefi D, Vaish P, Joglekar NR 2003 Blockbusters: building perceptions and delivering at the box office, 21st System Dynamics Conference, 20-24 July 2004, New York.

The Hollywood Stock Exchange (HSX) is an on-line market that tracks the perceived value of movie talent and their product: the movies themselves, while they are in development or production. We model the decision rules that drive this market place and estimate the underlying decision parameters by calibrating the evolution of a selected sample of 23 movies released in 2001-2002. Our results show systematic differences in the decision rules followed by the market for the eventual winners (a.k.a. the blockbusters) and the losers at the box office. Regression analysis of combined decision parameters for winners and losers cannot explain the variance in the box office performance. However, segmenting these data between winners and losers provides selective insights about how the aggregate market perceptions evolve.

Mélat H 2007 Order and disorder in contemporary Russian blockbusters, Przeglad Rusycystyczny 120: 90-98.

One of the most striking phenomena in the Russian culture at the turn of the 21st century is the explosion of popular culture (detective literature and cinema, romance, fantasy) and its diversification. For a scholar, popular culture is interesting because, on the one hand, it reflects the state of mind of the population and, on the other hand, it helps to create a special ‘populous’ state of mind. It is a powerful tool for the political establishment that helps to convey an ideology because it is both entertaining and easily accessible. In this vein, modern fairy tales for adults can tell us a lot about the Russian society of our days.

Due to the powerful changes within the Russian society at the beginning of the 1990s, the market for literature and cinema was heavily influenced by the Western type bestsellers and blockbusters. For example, first introduced in translation, the crime fiction became an almost universally celebrated genre, and by the middle of the 1990s, Russia’s own crime fiction, represented by the novels by Aleksandra Marinina, Dar’a Dontsova, and Boris Akunin, dominated the literary scene. The television and cinema adaptations of these books only further promoted this genre.

In this paper, I intend to focus on the few Russian blockbusters and their sequels that are traditionally qualified as thrillers. My analyses will deal with the direct correlation between those films and their sequels, and, first and foremost, how the artistic universe created in these first films evolves and changes in their sequels. I would like to suggest that this evolution is highly reflective of the ideological changes within the Russian society itself.

Ravid SA 1999 Information, blockbusters, and stars: a study of the film industry, Journal of Business 72 (4): 463-492.

This article presents two alternative explanations for the role of stars in motion pictures. Either informed insiders signal project quality by hiring an expensive star, or stars capture their expected economic rent. These approaches are tested on a sample of movies produced in the 1990s. Means comparisons suggest that star-studded films bring in higher revenues. However, regressions show that any big budget investment increases revenues. Sequels, highly visible films and ‘‘family oriented’’ ratings also contribute to revenues. A higher return on investment is correlated only with G or PG ratings and marginally with sequels. This is consistent with the ‘‘rent capture’’ hypothesis.

Riegg RM 2009 Opportunism, uncertainty, and relational contracting – antitrust rules in the film industry, unpublished article.

For a long time, economists and investors have been baffled as to why Studios continue to produce movies with “blockbuster”-sized budgets (i.e. movies with budgets over $100 million) when producing those movies expose Studios to considerable economic risk.

By explaining the unique economics of the Film industry, and the effect of the Paramount (antitrust) rules on Film distribution contracts, this article provides an explanation to the puzzle of the blockbuster that is confirmed by recent trends in Film industry. Additionally, by using the Film industry as a model, this article also demonstrates how relational contracting can be understood as a means of coping with extreme uncertainty and under what circumstances relational contracting can be more efficient than formal contracts.

As a practical resource, this article has several uses. First, the article can provide support to attorneys concerned about a revival of stiff antitrust rules in the Film industry. Second, it can provide a potential guide to investment for Studio executives deciding how to best allocate their resources. Third, it can provide a model of contracting for businesses concerned with preventing opportunism in those industries marked by extreme uncertainty.

Correspondence analysis of genre preferences in UK film audiences

UPDATE: this piece has now been published as Correspondence Analysis of Genre Preferences in UK Film Audiences, Participations 9 (2) 2012: 45-55. The article can be downloaded here.

UPDATE: I’ve now done a similar analysis for genre preferences in UK television audiences using data from the same BFI study, which you can find on this blog post.

Genre provides viewers with a first reference point for a film, and functions as a ‘quasi-search’ characteristic through which audiences assess product traits without having seen a particular film (Hennig-Thurau et al. 2001). In a market place comprising a large number of unique cultural products with no unambiguous reference brand, audiences form experience-based norms at the aggregate level of genre rather than the specific level of individual films (Desai & Basuroy 2005). Consequently, genre is the means by which the film industry alerts viewers that pleasures similar to those previously enjoyed are available without compromising the need for novel products; and empirical research has shown that genre is an important factor – if not the most important – in audiences’ decision making about which film to see (Litman 1983, Da Silva 1998).

Understanding audience preferences for certain types of films is therefore a priority for film producers and distributors as this will be a factor in deciding which films to produce and how to market them effectively. In this short paper we analyze the genre preferences of UK film audiences, applying correspondence analysis to data produced by the British Film Institute’s research into the cultural contribution of film in the UK. Specifically, we focus on how genre preferences vary with gender and age when treated as a single composite variable.

The BFI dataset

In July 2011, the British Film Institute (BFI) published a report, Opening Our Eyes (Northern Alliance/Ipsos Media CT 2011), examining the cultural contribution of film in the UK [1]. This report analysed how audiences consume films and attitudes to the impact of film based on a series of qualitative ‘paired depth’ interviews and an online survey of 2036 UK adults aged between 15 and 74.

Question C.1 in the questionnaire invited respondents to express preferences for their favourite genres/type of films from a list comprising action/adventure, animation, art house/films with particular artistic value, comedy, comic book movie, classic films, documentary, drama, family film, fantasy, foreign language film, horror, musicals, romance, romantic comedy, science fiction, suspense/thriller, other, none, and don’t know. Respondents were able to select as many genres as they wished, and the data represents the number of respondents expressing a preference for that genre. Figure 7 in the final report presents the breakdown of genre preferences by gender, concluding that male audience members exhibit stronger preferences for science fiction, action/adventure, and horror films while women preferred romantic comedies, family films, romances, and musicals [2]. In an additional detailed summary made available online, genre preferences were broken down by age group. These results showed younger respondents were more likely select comedy, horror, animation, and comic book as their favourite genres, whereas older audience members were more likely to select dramas, documentaries, and classic films.

The report did not present any findings regarding genre preferences based on the combination of the gender and the age of the subjects, and it is this interaction analysed here. In addition to publishing the final report the BFI has made the full set of result tables from the quantitative survey available to researchers freely online. Table 416 of this output contains the data on gender, age, and genre preferences, and is the basis for our correspondence analysis. We use nineteen of the categories listed above, with ‘don’t knows’ excluded from the analysis. Table 416 lists the additional genre categories of westerns, historical, war, and gangster films, and these have been included in the category ‘other.’

Correspondence analysis

Correspondence analysis (CA) is a multivariate technique for exploring and describing frequency data defined by two or more categorical variables in a contingency table. By calculating chi-square distances between the row and column profiles in a table, CA determines the (dis)similarity of the reported frequencies. CA aims to reveal the structure inherent in the data, and does not assume an underlying probability distribution. Consequently, CA requires that all of the relevant variables are included in the analysis and that the entries in the data matrix are nonnegative, but makes no other assumptions. CA does not support hypothesis testing, and cannot be used to determine the statistical significance of relationships between variables. Here we describe the outputs of the correspondence analysis and their interpretation, and the reader can find introductions to the theory and mathematics of CA in Clausen (1998), Beh (2004), and Greenacre (2007).

The first output of the correspondence analysis is a table describing the variation in the contingency table, referred to as the inertia. The total inertia in the table is equal to the chi-square statistic divided by the total sample size:  Φ² = χ²/N. This variation is decomposed into the principal inertias of a set of dimensions, each accounting for a percentage of the total inertia. For an r × c table, the maximum number of dimensions is min(r-1, c-1). The number of dimensions retained for analysis is based on the first k dimensions to cumulatively exceed a threshold (typically 80 or 90 per cent of the total inertia), all those individual dimensions accounting for more than 1/(min[r, c] – 1)% of the total inertia, or by reference to a scree plot of the inertias to determine where the drop in the percentage accounted for by a dimension drops away less rapidly. It is also dependent on our ability to give a meaningful interpretation to the dimensions selected. In selecting only a subset of the available we lose some of the information contained in the original table, but in discarding some dimensions we are able to see structure of the data more clearly for as little cost as possible.

As a form of geometric data analysis, correspondence analysis enables the information in a contingency table to be represented as clouds of points in low-dimensional graphical displays (see Le Roux & Rouanet 2005, Greenacre 2010: 79-88). The origin of the graph represents the average row (column) profile, and by assessing the distance of points from the centroid of the clouds we describe the variation within the table and their similarity. Row (column) points that lie close to the origin are similar to the average profile of the row (columns). Data points that lie far from the origin indicate categories for which the observed counts differ from the expected values under independence and account for a larger portion of the inertia. Points from the same data set lying close together represent rows (columns) that have similar profiles, and data points that are distant from one another indicate that the rows (columns) are remote. The distance between row points and column points cannot be interpreted as meaningful as they do not represent a defined quantity. The angle (θ) subtended at the origin defines the association between row and column points: when the angle is acute (θ < 90°) points are interpreted as positively correlated, points are negatively correlated if the angle between them is obtuse (θ > 90°), and points that subtend a right angle (θ = 90°) are not associated (Pusha et al. 2009).

In addition to the graphical displays, a detailed numerical summary of the correspondence analysis is produced. The mass of a row (column) indicates the proportion accounted for by that category with respect to all the rows (columns), and is simply the row (column) total of divided by the total sample size; while the inertia of a data point is its contribution to the overall inertia. The squared correlation describes that part of the variation of a data point explained by a particular dimension. The quality of a data point measures how well it is represented by the graph, and is equal to the sum of the squared correlations of the dimensions retained for the analysis. The higher the quality of a data point the better the extracted dimensions represent it, and ranges from 0 (completely unrepresentative) and 1 (perfectly represented). The absolute contribution of a data point describes the proportion of the inertia of each dimension it explains, and is determined by both the mass of the data point and its distance from the centroid.

Gender, age, and genre preferences

Table 416 of the BFI’s results output presents counts of genre preferences sorted by gender, by age, and by gender and age. As our interest lies in the variation of genre preferences (19 categories) among UK audiences based on both gender and age we use only this last part of the table, treating ‘gender-age’ as an interactively coded variable with 10 categories combining all the levels of the variables gender (2 categories) and age (5 categories) (Greenacre 2007: 121-128). We apply correspondence analysis to this table using the ca package (version 0.33; see Nenadić & Greenacre 2007) in R (version 2.13.0).

Table 1 presents the 10 × 19 cross-tabulation of ‘gender-age’ with genre. The chi-square statistic for this table is 1312.28 (N = 13086, df = 162, p = <0.01), and we therefore conclude that there is a statistically significant association between gender-age and genre preferences for UK film audiences. However, there is only a weak correlation between ‘gender-age’ and genre preference, with just 10% of the variation in Table 1 due to dependence: Φ² = χ²/N = 1312.28/13086 = 0.1003.

Table 1 Cross-tabulation of interactively-coded gender-age variable with genre. Cell counts represent the number of respondents in each group expressing a preference for a genre. Source: BFI/Northern Alliance/Ipsos Media CT. Click on the table to see it full size.

Table 2 shows the principal inertias, percentages, and cumulative percentage of each dimension, with a scree plot of the inertias. The first two dimensions account for 90.6 per cent of the inertia and the scree plot flattens out after the second dimension. Consequently, these dimensions were retained for analysis and the remainder were discarded.

Table 2 Principal inertias of the correspondence analysis applied to Table 1 explained by dimensions with scree plot

Figure 1 is the resulting symmetric map based on these two dimensions. Tables 3a and 3b present the detailed numerical summary of the results for the rows (gender-age categories) and columns (genre categories), respectively. Click on the graph to see it full size.

Figure 1 Symmetric correspondence analysis map of interactively coded ‘gender-age’ cross-tabulated with genre for UK film audiences

Table 3a Detailed numerical summary of correspondence analysis by gender-age. Click on the table to see it full size.

Table 3b Detailed numerical summary of correspondence analysis by genre. Click on the table to see it full size.

From Table 3a and Figure 1 we see a clear horizontal separation between the male and female respondents, with points arranged vertically by age group from youngest to oldest within each gender category. Consequently, we interpret the principal axes in terms of the rows of Table 1, with the first dimension understood as gender and the second dimension as age. As gender accounts for 64.3 per cent of the total inertia compared to 26.3 per cent for age, this factor is dominant and explains the major part of the variation in Table 1. The quality for the gender-age groups is high (see Table 3a), and these factors are well represented in two dimensions. The points for all gender-age groups are distant from the origin, indicating that no group is close to the average profile in either dimension and that all the groups contribute to the overall inertia.

From Figure 1 we see the distance between the points representing male audience members greater as the age of the respondents increases. The points for males aged 15-24 and 25-34 are very close indicating they have similar row profiles and, therefore, similar genre preferences. The two middle-aged groups are distant from both the youngest and the oldest, while also being remote from one another. Males over the age of 55 are remote from the other age groups, indicating that their genre preferences are substantially different from those of younger male audience members. The points representing female respondents show a similar pattern with the middle-aged groups distant from both youngest and oldest and with over 55s are remote from younger female audience members in their preferences. The greatest contrasts in genre preferences are observed when taking gender and age together: females over 55 are most different from males aged 15-24, and males aged 55+ are most different from young women.

A key difference between audience groups is how the importance of the factors of gender and age vary in explaining their genre preferences. Age becomes increasingly important in the representation of the points for male audience categories. The squared correlations for the three youngest male groups are greatest for dimension 1, indicating that their gender is more important in explaining their preferences than age; for males aged 45-54 gender is still the dominant component albeit to a lesser extent than younger cohorts and the influence of age becomes more apparent in the raised squared correlation for dimension 2; while for males aged 55+ age is the dominant factor. This pattern is not evident for female respondents, and looking at the squared correlations in Table 3a we see the opposite pattern to male audience members. The squared correlations for women aged 35-44, 45-54, and 55+ are dominated by the dimension of gender, whereas age is the main factor for the two youngest groups. However, it should be noted that for the females aged 15-24, gender does contribute substantially to the representation of this point.

Although the correlation between gender-age and genre preference is low, it is clear from these results that the variation within Table 1 is highly structured in terms of the gender and age of the respondents. Describing the preferences of UK cinemagoers therefore requires taking both these factors into account and failure to do so leads to much useful information being obscured. The headline percentages reported by the BFI give only a partial picture of the genre preference of UK film audiences that fails to adequately capture that structure.

Turning to the genre categories themselves we see that the quality of these points is high (see Table 3b), indicating they are well represented in two dimensions and that gender and age are good predictors of the genre preferences of UK audiences. However, we note the quality of the representation for foreign (0.41) and art-house (0.14) films by these two dimensions is very low. This indicates gender and age do not explain variation in audience preferences for these types of films, and that some other factor should be considered. Based on other data available in the BFI’s results output, level of educational attainment is a better predictor of audience preference for these types of films: Table 20 of the results output cross-tabulates level of education and type of film most often watched, with 68 per cent of respondents selecting foreign language films educated to degree level. These two categories are typically applied to films to distinguish them from mainstream cinema (i.e. Hollywood films), and may not function as genre labels in the same context as terms such as ‘comedy,’ ‘drama,’ etc.

The quality of the categories ‘other’ and ‘none’ are also much lower than the mainstream genres, but as these points represent indistinct categories we do not discuss them further.

Gender is the most important factor in determining genre preference, with the cloud of points representing genres orientated along the first principal axis. Family films, romance, and romantic comedies are all associated with female audiences. In fact, 83 per cent of respondents to express a preference for romance films were female, and the corresponding figures are also high for family films (64%) and romantic comedies (72%). Musicals are also strongly associated with female audiences (71%), but this category is dominated by over 55s: over a quarter of respondents expressing a preference for this genre are in this age group. Drama also lies along the same direction as females over 55 indicating that this group is associated with this genre, but the distance from the origin is smaller reflecting a smaller effect. The proportion of males over 55 selecting drama films as a preferred genre is also greater than younger male viewers, but not to the same extent as their female counterparts. In fact, female viewers in each age group expressed a stronger preference for drama films than male viewers of the same age.

Genres associated with male audiences tend to be action-based and technology-driven. Of respondents expressing a preference for science fiction films, 65 per cent were male and there is little variation between age groups within this gender category. Consequently, this genre is very well represented by the first principal axis and age is not a significant factor. This is also the case for action/adventure films (58%), albeit it to a lesser degree as this point lies nearer the origin. Comic book, fantasy, and horror films are strongly correlated with male audiences, and lie along the same direction as males aged 15-24 and 25-34 indicating that age also a key factor here. The squared correlations for gender are the dominant factors for these genres, but age also contributes a substantial part of these points’ representation.

It is interesting that genres we associate with male audiences appear to have broader appeal than genres we associate with female audiences. Dividing the cells by the column totals to give the proportion of respondents in each gender-age group expressing a preference for a genre, we see that no male age group accounts for more 4 per cent of the total for romance films compared to the very large proportion for female audiences noted above. Although female associated, family films do not show the extreme divide as romance films, romantic comedies, and musicals. For science fiction films, the female respondents account for a total of 35 per cent of the expressed preferences for this genre, with each age group within this gender category contributing between 5 and 8 per cent of the total. This is also the case for comic book and action/adventure films. We conclude that so-called ‘female genres’ hold very little appeal to male audiences; and that while similar patterns are certainly evident for ‘male genres’ the effect is much smaller.

Three genres show high squared correlations with age. In all the cases the contribution of the first principal axis is small, and we conclude that gender is relatively unimportant in explaining audience preferences for these films. Animation is associated with under 35s, though female viewers aged 35-44 account 13 per cent of the column total in Table 1 possibly due to selecting these films for family viewing. Documentaries and classic films are associated with over 55s. Of those expressing a preference for documentaries, 18 per cent were males over 55 and 17 per cent were females in the same age group. There is no specific trend among the other age groups, which show roughly equal levels of interest in these films. It is noticeable that proportion selecting classic films increases with age, though this may reflect the aging of the audience rather than a clear genre preference as the new films of one’s youth become classics with time.

Two genres – comedy and suspense/thriller – lie near the origin. These points also have the lowest quality of the mainstream genres, though both are still well represented in Figure 1. Both dimensions contribute to the representation of these points, indicating that gender and age are relevant factors. Gender makes a larger contribution to comedy than age, with males under 35 slightly more likely to express a preference for this genre than males over 35 or female viewers; while for suspense/thrillers over 55s of both genders account for slightly greater proportion of the preferences expressed for this category. However, it is their closeness to the average profile that is most informative about these points, indicating that all gender-age groups enjoy these types of films. This does not mean that they are watching the same films within these genres – it is very unlikely males aged 15-24 are watching the same comedy films, for example, as women over 55; but the BFI’s data cannot help us to explore this aspect.


This study analyzed the genre preferences of British film audiences. We have replicated the results originally presented by the BFI, and have extended them to reveal additional patterns in the data. Correspondence analysis enables us to obtain an overview of how different sections of the audience for films in the UK relate to one another, and to assess the relative importance of different factors in explaining the variation among audiences and their genre preferences. The study showed that gender is the dominant factor in determining audience preferences, with age an important but secondary factor. Most genres can be identified as either ‘male’ or ‘female’ with clear age profiles evident within gender categories, though preferences for animated films, classic movies, and documentaries are determined by age alone. These factors do not adequately explain variation among audiences when applied to categories of films that lie outside mainstream cinema.


1.The report, the research questionnaire, the detailed summary, and the full set of result tables are available at, accessed 21 November, 2011.

2. The report also presents results based on respondents’ ethnic minority but these will not be discussed here.


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