Can an equation predict box office success?
June 15th, 2012
05:12 PM ET

Can an equation predict box office success?

Want to know what will be the next box office smash?

It might be as easy as solving an equation.

Japanese physicists have developed a mathematical model they say can predict a film's success based on its advertising budget and word-of-mouth.

The seven researchers analyzed daily advertisement costs of 25 different movies shown in Japanese theaters to predict how much they would gross at the box office.

The researchers then compared this prediction with indirect communication (overhearing someone discuss a movie in a café, for example) and direct communication (contact with a friend through means including Facebook and Twitter) about the movie, which they calculated from sources including blogs and other social networking platforms.

When they analyzed the films’ actual revenue, the numbers seemed to match, which they believe showed their model makes an accurate forecast for box office success.

Their findings were published in the Institute of Physics and German Physical Society’s New Journal of Physics on June 15.

Akira Ishii, a professor from Tottori University, where the research team was based, said there are differences in the Japanese and American markets, since Japanese movie studios don’t typically spend as much on advertising as Hollywood-based studios do.

Still, he said the model is “very, very general” and sheds light on how and when advertisers should spend the most cash.

Yet this formula might not have all the answers, said Gitesh Pandya, the editor of

Many movies have either far outperformed or underperformed their predicted box office revenue based on other models, he said.

“Everyone would love to have a crystal ball to predict box office success. If someone came up with a crystal ball like that, they would be a billionaire,” he said. “There are so many monkey wrenches that get thrown in there that completely change the outcome of these movies.”

Films including “Battleship” and “John Carter” spent significant amounts of money on advertising, but their opening weekends were disappointing, Pandya said.

And then there are movies such as “Black Swan” and “The King’s Speech,” which became extremely popular because of Oscar buzz, though before they came out fewer people were talking about them. Movies like “The Passion of the Christ” and “Borat” have become cultural phenomena that have had sustained success, as well.

And then there’s the occasional Tom-Cruise-jumping-on-Oprah’s-couch moment.

“Celebrity scandals and last minute kind of news, which could be negative or positive to a film … Sometimes things pop up a few days before a movie opens,” Pandya said. “How do you predict that ahead of time?”

He’s surprised several times each year by movies that perform much differently in the box office than could be predicted, he said.

“That’s one of the things which I love about the box office and tracking the box office as I’ve done for many years,” he said. “The unpredictability of it.”

What do you think? Do movies surprise you with their box office success? Sound off in the comments below.

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soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Oscar

    I truly feel its the passion of the time and subject matter that determine what the box office will return. Oh don't forget planning

    June 17, 2012 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  2. Joseph

    Tickets for two,$16.00.Large popcorn and two sodas,$33.00.What more of an equation do you need.

    June 17, 2012 at 7:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Sly Sadie

      I agree with you. I tend to only go to the movies for the big blockbusters, the rest I wait to come out on dvd. The price of a movie has gotten a bit out of control. Imagine taking a family to the movies! That alone must be a budget buster. @Central Scrutinizer- I agree with you, too.

      June 17, 2012 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  3. Central Scrutinizer

    Sorry, proessor Ishii.

    June 16, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Central Scrutinizer

    Remake + 2nd Rate Actors + Big Budget = Flop; Original Script + Great Acting + Word-of-Mouth = Success. Not so hard, professor Tamiki.

    June 16, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |

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