Japanese Physicists Develop Formula to Predict a Film’s Box Office Success

By Chelsea Whyte on June 15, 2012 4:31 PM EDT

Movie theater seats
Will anyone come to the movies? A new formula predicts how many people will see a given film. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Japanese physicists may have found the key to creating blockbuster movies.

A team from Tottori University has created a mathematical model that can calculate what they call "The Hit Phenomenon", by using the amount of word-of-mouth communication and advertising dollars dedicated to a particular movie to accurately predict its success at the box office.

The model was originally designed to study how digital word-of-mouth communication - interactions on blogs, Twitter, Google + and Facebook - spreads over social networks. But when looking at movies in particular, the researchers found a correlation between the amount of online discussion and the actual revenue of the films.

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They found that much like person-to-person communication, online 'word-of-mouth' interactions can spread positive or negative reviews of movies, influencing people to go see them in the theater.

"If a person is reading and commenting on a friend's blog, we consider this as direct communication. If a person happens to come across a blog through a series of web pages and links, we consider this indirect communication," said lead author Akira Ishii.

The team looked at the daily advertisement costs for 25 movies that appeared in Japanese cinemas, taking into account the amount of money spent on each day for the 60 days prior to release and for the 100 days after its opening.

They found that advertising alone may not be the decisive factor in box office success. Still, by combining daily advertising budgets with the count of daily blog posts about particular films, the researchers were able to successfully predict the public's intent to see such movies as Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Spider-Man 3, Transformers and Avatar.

"They appeared to match very well, meaning the calculations could provide a fairly good prediction of how successful a movie could be even before it is released," said a statement from the Institute of Physics, which published the paper in the Journal of Physics on Friday.

Ishii told AFP a key benefit of the formula was that it enabled a company to determine the best time it should spend its advertising dollars.

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