The movie plots we like to see (over and over and over again)
How to get ahead in Hollywood, according to a new research paper, is to repeat the same story formula
It’s doesn’t have the sexiest title but a scientific report released last week by the Cornell University Library, “The data science of Hollywood: Using emotional arcs of movies to drive business model innovation in entertainment industries”, claims to have figured out what kind of stories are most successful at the box office. UK scientists analysed data from 6,147 film scripts arranged according to plot arcs that were previously used to analyse novels. The six “emotional clusters” used to sort the scripts are:
Rags to riches (Slumdog Millionaire).
Films where the protagonist experiences an ongoing fall (The Last Emperor).
“Man in a hole” plots where a fall precedes a rise (The Godfather).
Icarus – where a rise is followed by a fall (The Aviator).
Cinderella – a rise is followed by a fall followed by a rise in fortunes (Gone with the Wind).
Oedipus – a fall is followed by a rise and ends in another fall (Chinatown).After analysing the films across 21 different genres, “man in a hole” stories are the most consistently profitable films across all genres. According to the report these films cost an average of $40.5m to make and earn an average of $54.9m at the box office. They were the least liked of the story structures but also the most talked about.That’s not to say that the researchers are dictating that all films should now be made according to the “man in a hole” model. Ganna Pogrebna, a professor of behavioural economics and data science at the University of Birmingham and leader of the research team, said her team, “are not trying to kill the film industry … we are trying to see what is successful.” She hoped the research “could allow companies to be more inventive”. Until then there are plenty of superheroes in holes, waiting to dig themselves out in a blaze of special effects, headed to our screens soon.