University of Iowa System Aims to Predict Box Office Profitability

Batman V Superman stylized poster excerpt

From the moment that the first moving picture came to life over one hundred years ago, the concept of cinema has changed enormously. As styles came and went throughout the years, they gave way to experiments with things like sound, visual effects, aspect ratios as well as film and video formats. Cinema grew exponentially over these years – and continues to grow even today.

As time passes and filmmaking undergoes these revolutionary periods, profit making as an end goal has risen to a level of prominence previously unheard of. Make no qualms about it - filmmaking is a business like any other. Moviegoers vote with their wallets, which in turn determines a studio’s ability to sink or swim. A profitable film is always the hope, but who can guarantee that?

As reported by CB, the University of Iowa (apparently) can. The school’s professor of management sciences, Kang Zhao has developed a method by which scientific calculations can apparently determine whether a film will be a box-office hit or not. For example, according to the system designed by Zhao, the upcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice has a 32 % chance of turning a profit, while fellow forthcoming 2016 tentpole Warcraft has a slightly better outlook, with a 39% chance of profitability. By comparison, Walt Disney Pictures' animated Zootopia is apparently more likely than both of those films to turn a profit (with a 55% chance right now).

Warcraft Comic Con Orgrim

To begin, several questions must first be answered about the film – such as cast, plot, director, release date etc - at which point these findings are entered into a machine-learning, data-based algorithm for a final verdict. The key elements that the algorithm uses to decide whether or not a film has what it takes to turn a profit have much to do with things like the director’s track record, whether or not they’ve worked with the current cast before or not, what the genre is (and how profitable it typically is) as well as what time of year the film is released. The films that received the lowest likelihood of profitability were those with plots based around music, war or espionage, had an R-rating or were of the dramatic or foreign genres.

Though Zhao’s system does provide some food for thought and is an interesting attempt at making the unknowable knowable, it’s hardly a dependable source. If it were accurate, none of Quentin Tarantino’s infamously R-rated films would have turned a profit – particularly not Inglourious Basterds, which aside from being R-rated also has a war based plot and is subtitled for the majority of its run-time. In fact, Tarantino’s films are a mere drop in the bucket of titles that appear to refute Zhao’s findings, as does the very recent box office success of the R-Rated Deadpool.

Still, Zhao is not claiming that he’s found the miracle system for defining whether or not a film will be a hit. Science can’t answer every question (at least not yet), but the fact that this system exists can help to determine what any given film has going both for and against it, by the time it opens in theaters.

NEXT: Is There a Formula For Box Office Success?

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice opens on March 25, 2016, which is followed by Suicide Squad on August 5, 2016; Wonder Woman on June 23, 2017; Justice League Part One on November 17, 2017; The Flash on March 16, 2018; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League Part Two on June 14, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps. on June 19, 2020.

Zootopia opens in U.S. theaters on March 4th, 2016, followed by Warcraft on June 10th, 2016.

Source: CB

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