Algorithm predicts success rate for Batman v. Superman movie, amongst others

Superhero movies have some of the biggest blockbusters released in recent years, with Marvel’s The Avengers raking in $1.5 billion worldwide and Deadpool expected to win the weekend box office – but science is predicting doom and gloom for another superhero flick.

Using a new algorithm to predict the profitability of a motion picture, a team of researchers from the University of Iowa determined that the Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which is set to be released on March 25, has just a 32 percent chance of actually turning a profit.

Part of that is likely due to the fact that, with a budget of $200 million, Batman v. Superman will be one of the most expensive movies ever made. However, algorithm creators Michael Lash and Kang Zhao explain that there are also several other factors to consider, including the director and the stars of the film, its plot and genre, and the time of year in which it is released.

As they explained recently in the journal Social Computing, Behavioral-Cultural Modeling and Prediction, Lash and Zhao used a machine-learning, data-based algorithm to analyze various factors related to profitability. They determined the likelihood that different films would be able to make at least $7.3 million above expenses (the amount determined to be a reasonable profit).

Exploring the factors that make a motion picture profitable

Looking only at box-office profitability and not accounting for number of tickets sold or revenue generated from DVDs or other secondary sources, the team ran more than 2,500 movies released from 2000 through 2010 and found that only 36 percent of them had actually made a decent amount of money, and that there was little correlation between box office receipts and profitability.

The researchers found that having a director and cast with a history of making profitable movies, the average gross of a director’s previous movies, a winter release date, and the annual percentage of profit by the film’s genre were all key factors when it determining if a film will make money.

“Movies that sell better at the box office may also need bigger investments and thus do not necessarily provide satisfactory returns for investors,” Lash, a doctoral student at UI, said in a statement. Zhao, a professor in management sciences, added, “It’s easier to predict the box office receipts if you have star power, but that doesn’t help in predicting profitability because the actors charge such a hefty fee upfront that it reduces the profit.”

As an example, the cite the upcoming bank heist comedy Masterminds features a good amount of star power in the form of Zach Galifanakis, Kristen Wiig, and Jim Carrey. While the big names associated with the project will likely drive people to the theater to see the movie, that is offset by the amount of money it took to hire those actors. Thus, the  algorithm concludes that Masterminds has just a 39 percent probability of turning a $7.3 million profit.

Other upcoming films run through the algorithm include Nice Guys, a summer movie featuring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe that has a 39 percent chance of earning a $7.3 million profit; Zootopia, an animated film from the producers of Frozen (55 percent probability); the Melissa McCarthy-Kristen Bell comedy The Boss (25 percent probability) and the movie adaptation of the popular Warcraft computer game (39 percent probability).


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