Silver-screen playbook

How to make a hit film

IN 1983 William Goldman, a screenwriter, coined the famous saying that in Hollywood, “Nobody knows anything” when it comes to predicting which films will succeed at the box office. To find out how true that remains, we have analysed the performance of more than 2,000 films with a budget of more than $10m, released in America and Canada since 1995, to see which factors help make a movie a hit.

Crunching information from The Numbers, a website that collects data on film releases, and Rotten Tomatoes, an aggregator of critics’ and punters’ reviews, we found that the strongest predictor of absolute box-office receipts is a film’s budget. Even if it got no boost from its cast, from favourable reviews or other factors, a movie would generate an average of 80 cents at American and Canadian cinemas for every dollar a studio promises to spend on it. A film’s budget is announced while it is in production, to create a buzz and signal its quality—though in practice its true cost may vary from the announced figure.

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