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According to news reports, Netflix boss Ted Sarandos has privately been telling producers that his company will be more cost-conscious going forward.

This comes on the heels of Netflix’s Triple Frontier (a movie which reportedly cost $115 million but which has gone down poorly with audiences and critics alike) and their up-coming blockbuster Red Notice (which is likely to cost upwards of $200 million, including unusually large pay-cheques for its stars, The Rock, Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds).

Netflix’s journey towards bigger and bigger budgets, only to then start lowering them again, is a story Hollywood knows well.  Over the past century, most of the major studios have had moments of budget inflation and belt-tightening.

Last week, I shared my research into how much the average movie has cost to make over the past five years and so this week I want to turn to look at how average budgets have changed over the past twenty years.

I built up a dataset of 5,713 feature films released domestically (i.e. in US & Canadian cinemas) for which I could find a public budget figure.  See the Notes section for details and caveats of budget information.

For readability, I’m going to write as if all the budget figures stated below are pure fact. In reality, some will be over- or under-estimates and almost all publicly available figures have murky provenance. So for the rest of today’s article please imagine I have added “reportedly” ahead of any statement of budget figures.

Hollywood mean business

Let’s start with the simplest, crudest way of tracking the change in budget levels – the arithmetic mean.  This is the average budget figure for all movies released domestically in a given year.

As the chart below shows, there has been a steady decline between the early 2000s and the mid-2010s, after which point the average budget has been rising sharply.

Despite the attractive simplicity of this figure, it isn’t very useful.  It hides the differences between types of films and doesn’t reveal why the average is changing as it is.  So let’s take two different ways of subdividing the data – by genre and by budget level.

The winners and losers

As we saw last week, budgets differ significantly between genres. I don’t have space to discuss each genre individually and so I have picked out four which illustrate different parts of the story.

Over the past five years, the median budget for Adventure films was $76m – over four times the overall median of $18m. Not only is Adventure the genre with the largest median budget but it’s also the one that has been increasing the fastest.  Median budgets more than doubled between 2007 ($45m) and 2011 ($110m).

At the other end of the spectrum are Thrillers and Horror movies, which have shown the biggest twenty-year decline.

Another type of film I want to look at quickly is animation.  As you can see below, there was a huge inflation of animation budgets in the early 2010s.

This may partly be explained by studios over-confidently over-paying for a rash of sequels, including Cars 2, Monsters University, Kung Fu Panda 2, Madagascar 3 and Happy Feet Two.

Which budget ranges have been increasing?

The chart below splits all movie releases into one of eight budget categories, revealing which budget ranges are more/less common.

It can be hard to see what’s going on, and so I have picked out three budget ranges we can look at individually.

The fastest growing scale of movie over the past decade has been those costing over $100 million.  At the turn of the millennium, they accounted for around 4% of movies released domestically (for which budgets are available) but by 2017 this had ballooned to over 12%.

Whilst the biggest movies have been growing, there has been a decline in “mid-budget” movies.  The chart below shows the rapid decline in movies costing between $50m and $100m over the past two decades, rallying in recent years.

This is a trend which Hollywood studios have been struggling to know how to adjust to and which the press has been unable to cover coherently (variously describing such as movies as “an endangered species“, “struggling“, having a “quiet return” and 2018 being both the “death and return” of such movies).  There’s no doubt that the loss of the VHS rental and DVD retail markets have hit these types of movies hard and led to the abundance of big-budget franchises we see in multiplexes today.

Fewer low/no-budget movies (i.e. under $1 million) have been reaching US cinemas recently, both in terms of market share and in raw numbers.  In 2012, over one in five films released domestically cost under $1m, whereas in 2018 that fell to fewer than one in twenty.  

Some of this decline may be partly explained by a delay in reporting lower budget films (see Notes section for more on this) but it seems unlikely to explain the majority of this trend.

Further reading

If you want to read more about budgets then you may enjoy these past articles:

Today we have been looking at production budgets, rather than the additional costs involved with releasing and marketing a movie.  If you want to learn about how much more is spent by studios once the movie is finished then you may enjoy these articles: How movies make money: $100m+ Hollywood blockbusters and How films make money pt2: $30m-$100m movies.

Notes

The data for today’s research came from the Opus / The Numbers, IMDb, Wikipedia, Box Office Mojo and the film trade press.  I manually fixed any suspect figures I found, such as the Chinese war epic which IMDb claims cost $18.

The publicly available figure should be regarded as a rough ballpark, rather than a precise number for a bunch of reasons.  We can’t trace the original source of the figure, we don’t know if they are including soft money/rebates, the filmmakers may not be telling the truth, etc.  A while ago, I gained access to the full, real costs and income of 29 Hollywood movies budgeted over $100m and so was able to compare their true cost with the figure stated on Wikipedia.  I found that on average these movies cost 12.5% more than their Wikipedia entry stated.

I don’t know if this pattern is reflected with lower budget movies.

It is difficult to know how many of the trends we’re seeing in the past couple of years are down to a reporting bias.  It can take some time for budget figures to be released publicly, meaning that some of the films from 2018 for which we do not yet have budgets will eventually have a figure.  If these were unevenly distributed (i.e. more like to be lower budgeted films) then this would depress the number of some budget ranges (i.e. such as showing a drop in lower-budgeted films). While there is likely to be a small amount of this at play, I do not think it’s significant, nor does it invalidate anything I have found today.   Four years ago I studied this phenomenon in relation to a decline in micro-budget productions in the UK, which the BFI suggested was partially caused by delayed budget discovery.  I tracked how long it had taken budgets to be discovered in previous years, to assess the scale of under-reporting.  More on that here What’s happened to UK low-budget film production?

The genres come via IMDb, whereby films are permitted to have up to three genres.  I appreciate that the IMDb genre model leaves a lot to be desired (i.e. over-classifying projects as ‘Drama’, stating ‘Animation’ as a genre rather than a production method, etc) but I fear that unpicking this will have to wait for a future research project!

These figures do not take into account inflation.  A dollar in 1999 is the equivalent of $1.53 in 2019.

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Among the most frequent questions I’m asked by those new to the film industry is “How much does the average movie cost to make?”

The short answer is “it depends”.  It’s similar to asking “How much does the average meal cost to make?” It depends where you are, who’s making it, for whom and whether Robert Downey Jr. is involved (ok, so maybe this last one only applies to movies).

This would make for rather a short blog article, so instead I thought I’d take a deeper look at whether there are useful ballparks which can give a sense of scale on movie budgets.

I built up a dataset of 5,713 feature films released domestically (i.e. in US & Canadian cinemas) for which I could find a public budget figure.  See the Notes section for details and caveats of budget information.

For readability, I’m going to write as if all the budget figures stated below are pure fact. In reality, some will be over- or under-estimates and almost all publicly available figures have murky provenance. So for the rest of today’s article please imagine I have added “reportedly” ahead of any statement of budget figures.

$18 million, give or take

Between 1999 and 2018, half of all movies released in US cinemas cost under $18 million to make.

If we line up all those movies from the cheapest to the most expensive then we get the chart below.  On the far left are the movies which were the cheapest to make (such as Primer, shot for $9,000) and on the right are the priciest (such as Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which reportedly cost $410 million).

The moviemaking process has changed dramatically over the past twenty years and so today I’m going to focus on the budgets for the past five years. Next week I’ll show how they’ve changed over the past two decades.

What is the most expensive movie genre?

A budget of over $18 million may put you in the higher tier of movies but it isn’t even a quarter of the median budget for Adventure films ($76m).  Other expensive genres include Sci-Fi ($61m), Fantasy ($60m) and animated movies ($60m).

At the other end are music-based movies (median budget of just $7m), Horror ($8m) and Romance ($11m).

Do you have to spend money to make money?

The reason producers increase their budgets is to make a more valuable product, paying for bigger movie stars, making it more adrenaline-inducing or visually interesting. But every extra dollar they spend has to be raised and repaid.

Movie profitability is a complex topic (and one I’ve covered many times before) so for today’s article, I’m not going to get into the weeds of which movies are or are not likely to have made money.  Instead, we will simply overlay the median domestic box office gross (i.e. the cash collected in US & Canadian cinemas from ticket sales) for each genre with budget data from the previous chart.

Perhaps an easier way of understanding what this data is telling us is to look at the ratio of the two figures.  For example, Sci-Fi movies have a median domestic gross of $60m on a median budget of $61m – giving it a ratio of 1.  Compare this to Westerns, where the median gross is $2.4m on a median budget of $25m (a ratio of 0.1).

Horror hugely outperforms other genres, collecting an average of 2.3 times its production budget at the box office.

Further reading

If you want to read more about budgets then you may enjoy these past articles:

Today we have been looking at production budgets, rather than the additional costs involved with releasing and marketing a movie.  If you want to learn more about how much more is spent by studios once the movie is finished then you may enjoy these articles: How movies make money: $100m+ Hollywood blockbusters and How films make money pt2: $30m-$100m movies.

Notes

The data for today’s research came from the Opus / The Numbers, IMDb, Wikipedia, Box Office Mojo and the film trade press.  I manually fixed any suspect figures I found, such as the Chinese war epic which IMDb claims cost $18.

The publicly available figure should be regarded as a rough ballpark, rather than a precise figure for a bunch of reasons.  We can’t trace the original source of the figure, we don’t know if they are including soft money/rebates, the filmmakers may not be telling the truth, etc.  A while ago, I gained access to the full, real costs and income of 29 Hollywood movies budgeted over $100m and so was able to compare their true cost with the figure stated on Wikipedia.  I found that on average these movies cost 12.5% more than their Wikipedia entry stated.

I don’t know if this pattern is reflected with lower budget movies.

The genres come via IMDb, whereby films are permitted to have up to three genres.  I appreciate that the IMDb genre model leaves a lot to be desired (i.e. over-classifying projects as a ‘Drama’, stating ‘Animation’ as a genre rather than a production method, etc) but I fear that unpicking this will have to wait for a future research project!

Epilogue

Next week I’ll continue the journey, looking at how budgets have changed over the past two decades.

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Acting is a strange profession, with many contradictions.

  • The job officially requires no qualifications but actors are expected to train to a high level in a wide variety of skills.
  • Good actors convince audiences that they are the character (rather than an actor pretending) and yet top actors have loyal fanbases keen to see the specific actor who’s doing the pretending.
  • It’s nominally a meritocratic industry but most successful actors are coincidentally thin and attractive with great hair.

As regular readers will know, I have recently built a dataset of all working actors in the UK using data these performers have published about themselves in their professional profiles. Today, I thought it would be interesting to look at how the pool of professional UK actors compares to the UK population.

I narrowed it down to five topics:

  1. Age
  2. Location
  3. Ethnic appearance
  4. Whether they can drive
  5. The languages they speak

For each of the topics, I have sought out the best source(s) of data on the UK population that I could find.  However, they are not perfect matches to my actors’ dataset, with some being for limited regions (such as just England) and over different time-periods.  I have added details of all the datasets, sources and methodologies at the end of this article.

1. Age

Only one in five adults living in England and Wales are under 30 years old, whereas 55% of UK actors have their mid-playing age set at under 30 years old.

I have previously studied the age of actors in more detail (Is acting a profession dominated by the young?) so it’s worth heading over to that article if you want to know more about the complexities of studying the age of actors.

2. Location

13% of the UK’s population live in London, whereas a whopping 63% of actors are based in London.

At least three-quarters of all UK actors live in just ten cities – most in London, followed by Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham.

This London-centric pattern is found across all areas of the film industry, other than exhibition.  I looked at this four years ago in an article entitled How much of the UK film industry is based in London?

3. Ethnic appearance

Race is a complicated issue and not one I can directly address in today’s research.  However, we can look at a couple of related topics via two proxy datasets – the 2011 census for England and Wales and my actors’ database.   They don’t quite overlap but I wanted to include them nonetheless as I think they can give us a hint as to which types of actors are over- or under-represented when compared to the general population.

In the 2011 Census for England and Wales, 86% of people identified as “White”, 7.5% as “Asian”, 3.3% as “Black”, 2.2% as “Mixed” and 1% as “Other”.

85% of actors say they can play “White” roles, 6% can play “Black” roles and 6% “Mixed”.

4. Driving licenses

Actors are far more likely to hold a driving license than the general population.  89% of actors can drive a car, compared with just 74% of the English.

Female actors are much more likely to be able to drive a car than their male counterparts (96% versus 82%, respectively).  This is the opposite of the pattern seen with English citizens, whereby men are much more likely to hold a driving licence than women.

5. Languages spoken

Actors are more polyglottal than the average UK resident.  15% of UK adults can speak French, compared to 27% of actors (with female actors almost 50% more likely to speak French than male actors).   The same can be said for other languages such as German (6% of UK adults and 12% of actors), Spanish (4% of UK adults and 14% of actors) and Italian (2% of UK adults and 8% of actors).

Notes

I built my database of actors from a number of public sources including Spotlight, Equity, Mandy / Casting Call Pro, Wikipedia and actors’ own websites.  I was helped by a couple of key facts:

  • The vast majority of actors need to have a public profile of some type.  Most UK actors have a Spotlight page as Spotlight acts as the industry’s de facto indicator of an actor’s professional status and is a trusted source for actor CVs.  The most famous actors don’t tend to keep their Spotlight page up to date and some take it down altogether.  But this accounts for a small number of performers.  At the other end of the spectrum are those actors who do not have the required experience, or who cannot pay the ~£150 annual fee, to keep an active Spotlight page.  But if they are looking for work then it’s extremely likely they will have a profile on at least one of the other sites I used as sources.
  • Each actor has a unique stage name.  The UK actors’ union, Equity, requires that all performers have a unique stage name which they use across their professional career.  Not only can a new performer not use the name of an existing, active actor but they cannot even use subtle variations (i.e. adding a middle name or initial, hyphenating, etc).  The only exception is when an actor retires (and/or stops renewing their professional presence, such as on Spotlight) at which point their name is up for grabs again.  This quirk of the acting business allowed me to mix data from a number of sources for the same performer, enriching the dataset and preventing double counting.

A few caveats are needed on the data, including:

  • I built this dataset last year (2018) but it has taken me a while to get to the number crunching.  As this is a study of actors aged 18 or older, there are a handful of 18-year-old actors right now who are not included.  Plus it will include actors who have retired extremely recently.
  • This is self-reported data which actors have chosen to reveal publicly in order to help them get hired.  Therefore, there are a few layers of artifice which could mean that the numbers differ from reality.  For example, I wouldn’t be shocked if some actors claim that they are slightly taller, younger or more talented than they actually are. It’s also possible that actors have not kept their profiles up to date as they learned new skills, changed their appearance or as they aged.

Each of the sources provided different data points.  If the same actor appeared within multiple sources then I gained a detailed and rich picture of their professional profile.  However, if they only appeared in one or two, then I may not have data for some of the topics I studied.  Therefore, the percentages shown above are for actors whose data I had on the topic in question.

For brevity’s sake, I did not include all the caveats within the body of the article, and so here are a few extra details and footnotes to each topic:

  • Age. Population data comes from the 2011 UK census.  Percentages are of adults (i.e. 18 or older). Actors’ ages are the middle of their playing range.
  • Location. The UK data is from the ONS for 2017. It’s worth noting that a small number of actors choose to state a region, rather than just one town or city.  This means that the figures above are probably slightly under-representations of each city.
  • Ethnic appearance. Population data comes from the 2011 UK census. Race can be a complicated and contentious issue.   In today’s work, I am comparing two subtly different things.  The ONS is asking people to self-identify into just one of 18 standardised ethnic categories whereas actors are being asked which “appearance(s)” could they “believably be cast as” (and are allowed select more than one option).  In short, the ONS is asking “Who are you?” whereas the actors are declaring “I look like…”  This means that today’s data shows how well the UK pool of actors can portray the UK population, rather than how their backgrounds compare.
  • Driving licences. The data comes from the National Travel Survey and relates to people aged 17 years and over in England in the period from 2013 to 2017.
  • Language. UK language data is from the British Council, who conducted a YouGov poll in 2013 of 4,171 UK adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 1st – 4th October 2013. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). A full breakdown of the results of the YouGov poll is available on request.
Epilogue

Given the volume of caveats and notes, I hope it’s clear that this is not a perfect comparison.  Despite this, I think the answers give an indication that actors are expected to hold more skills than the average person and that they have stiff competition.

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X-Men: Dark Phoenix opened in cinemas a few weeks ago – a release date which is significantly later than first intended.

The film’s director, Simon Kinberg, blamed the delayed release on a few factors, including the complexity of the film’s visual effects.  Said Kinberg:

When we felt like we weren’t going to be able to complete the movie to the level we wanted to complete it from a visual effects standpoint, we considered moving it from November [2018] to February [2019]. Then, because of the way the international calendar was for us and how fast we could get materials to other territories, we felt like February became not just challenging, but not necessarily the best window internationally for the film.

Dark Phoenix started shooting exactly two years ago (at the time of writing), meaning that there were 709 days between the first day of principal photography and its theatrical release.

This feels like a long time.  But how does it compare to Hollywood’s average movie?

And if a future movie is similarly delayed, should we take this as an indication that it’s not going to be very good? Let’s take a look.

How long between a movie’s shoot and its release?

I built a dataset of filming dates (where publicly available) for all Hollywood movies released in the twenty years between 1999 and 2018.  I found suitable data for 1,905 movies (you can read details of my sources and methodology at the end of the article).

By counting the number of days between the first day of principal photography and the US theatrical release date, we get what I’m calling the ‘Shoot-to-screen’ value, measured in days. For example, the first X-Men movie starting shooting on 22nd September 1999 and reached US cinemas on 14th July 2000, giving it a shoot-to-screen value of 296 days.

Across all the films I studied, the average shoot-to-screen value was 475 days.  However, this differed considerably depending on genre.

Sports and music-based movies were the quickest (412 and 422 days, respectively) and Fantasy and Historical films look the longest (528 and 510 days, respectively).

Dark Phoenix took longer to reach cinemas than 90% of films released between 1999 and 2018.

How has this been changing over time?

My dataset spans a twenty year period over which the film industry moved from physical to digital technologies, both on set and in post-production.  Therefore, one may be forgiven for thinking that movies make their way from shoot to screen quicker than they did two decades ago.

Not so.

In fact, the average 2018 release took 38% longer to reach cinemas than the average 1999 release (418 days versus 575 days).

This pattern is reflected across all genres, to varying degrees.  Family films have slowed the most (2018 releases took 75% longer than 1999 releases) with Action films showing the least change (just 17% longer).

How does the delay relate to the film’s quality?

The critical drubbing Dark Phoenix has received has been reflected in the box office, with both film critics and audiences scoring the movie poorly.  Many reviews mention the delayed release dates as if this somehow explains or predicts that the movie would be bad.

We can test this theory by correlating the ‘Shoot to Screen’ value with two measures of quality:

  • Metascore, which is a weighted average of the ratings given by top film critics, as calculated by Metacritic, expressed as a value out of 100.
  • IMDb audience rating, which is the score given by IMDb users, expressed as a value out of 10.

Most genres did not show a statistically significant correlation (i.e. a Pearson correlation coefficient of below -0.2 or above 0.2, where 1 would be perfectly positively correlated and -1 would be perfectly negatively correlated) but four did.

Two genres showed a significant negative correlation, meaning that the longer the movie took to reach cinemas, the worse it was.  They were Biographical and Historical films.

The reverse is true of two other genres – Fantasy and Family movies.  These genres have a statistically significant positive correlation between the time it takes to get to the screen and its ratings.  In short – the longer they take, the better they are.

IMDb classifies Dark Phoenix in three genres; Action, Adventure and Sci-Fi – all genres which do not, on average, show a link between delays and poor quality.

So we cannot cite Dark Phoenix’s delays as proof of it being a bad movie.  For that, we will need to just rely on the script, pacing, acting, lack of meaning or the overall absence of anything original.

Related topic

I looked at related topics about a year ago, in an article entitled How long does the average Hollywood movie take to make?  In that piece, I investigated a smaller dataset of movies, but also found dates for announcing, pre-production and post-production.

Notes

The data came from a large number of sources including IMDb, Wikipedia, NATO, The Numbers, Deadline, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, New York Times and the websites of filmmakers and film companies. This study looks at live-action, fiction, feature films designed for a commercial theatrical release.  Therefore, I excluded other film types such as animation (i.e. The Good Dinosaur), documentaries (i.e. Shine A Light),  IMAX short films (i.e. Hubble 3D) and concert movies (i.e. Glee: The 3D Concert Movie).  Genres used were the ones assigned by IMDb.

About a fifth of the raw data for today’s research was gathered by students on the MA Film Distribution and Marketing course at Birmingham City University.  Their tutors, Pip Piper and Eugenio Triana, reached out to me a couple of years ago and proposed that I set the students film data research projects.  I jumped at the chance to have such knowledgeable, smart students help out and the end result is four projects which I’ll be sharing on the blog over the next few months. So a BIG thank you to Kara Hanna, Anthony Evans, Corinna Osei and Yu Wang for all their hard work and research on this week’s topic.

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On-screen nudity has always been a contentious topic for new actors.

Many movies and television shows have small roles for actors who are willing to bare their bodies, meaning that if an up-and-coming actor disrobes on-screen, they can potentially give their CV a boost.

On the other hand, doing so means that there will forever be video clips of them naked online: something that would make the vast majority of people uncomfortable.

We cannot get inside the head of every actor facing this choice, but we are able to measure what actors mark on their professional profile in relation to their willingness to perform nude. The data for today’s piece comes from my database of every working actor in the UK who has a public profile (see the notes section at the end of the article for my sources and methodology).  This includes 66,011 actors, ranging from A-list names through to new and emerging talent.

I will tackle the ethics and real-world concerns about on-screen nudity in the second half of this article, but first, let’s look at the statistics.

Note: This relates to roles on professional productions and is nothing to do with pornographic productions or off-screen actions.  

What percentage of actors are willing to perform nude?

Across all UK performers, 60% of female actors say they are willing to perform nude, and 79% of male actors.

How does this change as actors get older?

An actor’s willingness to bare all is likely to be connected to their age, although it’s hard to know in which direction.  They may find that as they age their body confidence grows and they feel more able to handle the on-set experience, or they may feel that the effects of time make them no longer want to be seen naked, meaning that the only naked version of themselves committed to film stays forever young.

In order to see how preferences change, I have plotted the willingness to perform nude against the age of actors.  Last week, I looked in detail at the topic of actors and ageing and so today I will simply say that the age I am using relates to the middle of their self-reported playing age. So if an actor says they can play “20 to 30 years old” then they will show up here as 25 years old.  You can read more about this in last week’s research.

Willingness to perform nude is relatively low for those with a playing age of below twenty, perhaps in part because these actors could still be under 18 years old (in the UK it is illegal to make, share or own naked images of people under 18).  The percentage of actors in their 20s and 30s who are willing to perform nude is fairly static, staying around 80% for male actors and 65% for female actors.  Once actors reach their 40s, they become less keen, with female interest falling faster than their male counterparts.

The data doesn’t reveal if these effects are caused by typical changes in viewpoint which come to us with age or are a consequence of measuring different generations (for example, the actors currently in their 40s were born in the 1970s and their experiences may have affected their willingness to appear nude when compared to actors born in other decades).  We will have to wait a few decades and conduct this research again to get our answer!

Interesting correlations

The full actor’s dataset includes a large amount of professional data about each performer.  Therefore, I was able to see what correlates with an actor’s willingness to perform nude. I’m going to look at three of the strongest correlations, namely:

  • Dance skills
  • Appearance
  • Build

In each case, it’s important to remember that we’re looking at correlation, not causation. One factor could be leading the other, or vice versa. Or a third measure could be leading them both.

The dance style most connected to people who are open to on-screen nudity is the tango.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, cabaret (often associated with burlesque) is among the least connected to professional nudity, along with tap and hip-hop.

On professional listings sites, actors are asked to report their “appearance”, such as “White”, “Mediterranean”, “Hispanic”, etc. By looking at the ten most common choices, we can see a correlation with their willingness to perform nude.

Those who describe themselves as “Scandinavian” or “Eastern European” are the most open to professional nudity, with those referring to themselves as “Black-African”, “Black-Caribbean” or “Asian” the least.  This holds true for both male and female actors.

Finally, the connection between body shape and attitude to nudity is that as performers get larger, they are less keen to bare all.  81% of ‘slim’ male actors are willing, compared to 56% of ‘very large’ male actors.  The same is true for female actors, with 63% for ‘slim’ and 42% for ‘very large’.

The ethics of actors performing nude

I would feel remiss if I didn’t end on a quick discussion of the ethics of on-screen nudity.

In theory, this question is easy – “Does the actor know what’s being asked of them and are they completely happy with it?”  If so, end of story.

In the real world, things are more complicated. Among the issues which could arise are:

  • Does the actor have full and timely information?  In an ideal world, performers would be told exactly what level of nudity is needed at the casting stage.  This is generally the case as it’s in nobody’s interest for actors to walk off the job at the last minute when they learn of previously undisclosed nudity. However, a lot can change between casting and the shoot, both in the script and how the director wants to film the action.
  • Is there any undue pressure, either real or implied? We need to recognise the huge power disparity between the auditioning actor and the people picking the final performer (whether they be the director, producer or casting director). This is likely to add additional pressure to young actors as they weigh up their personal values versus their desire to build a professional career in a hugely competitive field.
  • Who has control?  Unless the actor is very famous or powerful, they will have little to no say on how the action is shot or how footage featuring their naked body will be used.  Once they have signed the employment contract, they are at the mercy of how filmmakers want to play the scene and cut the edit.

Perhaps in an attempt to remedy this, a recent trend has been the hiring of an Intimacy Coordinator, who can act as support for the actor and a go-between from them to the director, as well as intimacy workshops which teach actors how to navigate this tricky area.

Background actors on the television series Westworld were asked to sign contracts which included the following note on on-screen nudity:

This document serves to inform you that this project will require you to be fully nude and/or witness others fully nude and participate in graphic sexual situations. By accepting this Project assignment, you may be required to do any of the following: appear fully nude; wear a pubic hair patch; perform genital-to-genital touching; have your genitals painted; simulate oral sex with hand-to-genital touching; contort to form a table-like shape while being fully nude; pose on all fours while others who are fully nude ride on your back; ride on someone’s back while you are both fully nude; and other assorted acts the Project may require. The Project will also include language and sexual situations that some may consider personally objectionable or uncomfortable.

While this may sound extreme at first glance, it can be viewed as a positive move on behalf of the Westworld team.  It suggests that they are being clear and up-front with the performers as to what to expect, and what they are agreeing to if they sign on.  Additionally, these performers were paid around $600 a day – over four times what they may receive for appearing in a more typical, clothed crowd scene.

Olivia Colman and Robert Webb were far less fortunate when they started in 2006 British film Confetti.  The film follows three couples as they prepare for their wedding. Colman and Webb played a nudist couple planning naked nuptials.  We cannot know what was agreed between the filmmakers and actors, but both actors have since said that they were expecting their private parts to be pixelated.  Worst of all, they discovered that their naked bodies were on full display during an early screening of the finished movie.  Olivia Colman described it as “the worst experience of my life”.

Conversely, in The Favourite, also starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone voluntarily bared her chest in a bedroom scene, to increase the power of the moment in which a rival discovers Stone’s character has usurped her as royal concubine.  As Stone describes it:

I had the sheet up around me, and as we were shooting it and we did a few takes, I said, ‘Can I please just be [naked]?’ I think it’s going to give Sarah something to look at when she sees that I’m not just under the sheet covered up. Olivia was like, ‘No, don’t do it!’ [director] Yorgos [Lanthimos] was like, ‘Are you sure that’s what you want to do?’ And I was like, ‘Absolutely.’

Hopefully, one of the effects of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements will be an increased awareness within the industry about how actors are treated, how power can be exerted and a generally more conscious environment.

Notes

I built my database of actors from a number of public sources including Spotlight, Equity, Mandy / Casting Call Pro, Wikipedia and actors’ own websites.  I was helped by a couple of key facts:

  • The vast majority of actors need to have a public profile of some type.  Most UK actors have a Spotlight page as Spotlight acts as the industry’s de facto indicator of an actor’s professional status and is a trusted source for actor CVs.  The most famous actors don’t tend to keep their Spotlight page up to date and some take it down altogether.  But this accounts for a small number of performers.  At the other end of the spectrum are those actors who do not have the required experience, or who cannot pay the ~£150 annual fee, to keep an active Spotlight page.  But if they are looking for work then it’s extremely likely they will have a profile on at least one of the other sites I used as sources.
  • Each actor has a unique stage name.  The UK actors’ union, Equity, requires that all performers have a unique stage name which they use across their professional career.  Not only can a new performer not use the name of an existing, active actor but they cannot even use subtle variations (i.e. adding a middle name or initial, hyphenating, etc).  The only exception is when an actor retires (and/or stops renewing their professional presence, such as on Spotlight) at which point their name is up for grabs again.  This quirk of the acting business allowed me to mix data from a number of sources for the same performer, enriching the dataset and preventing double counting.

A few caveats are needed on the data, including:

  • I built this dataset last year (2018) but it has taken me a while to get to the number crunching.  As this is a study of actors aged 18 or older, there are a handful of 18-year-old actors right now who are not included.  Plus it will include actors who have retired extremely recently.
  • This is self-reported data which actors have chosen to reveal publicly in order to help them get hired.  Therefore, there are a few layers of artifice which could mean that the numbers differ from reality.  For example, I wouldn’t be shocked if some actors claim that they are slightly taller, younger or more talented than they actually are. It’s also possible that actors have not kept their profiles up to date as they learned new skills, changed their appearance or as they aged.

Each of the sources provided different data points.  If the same actor appeared within multiple sources then I gained a detailed and rich picture of their professional profile.  However, if they only appeared in one or two, then I may not have data for some of the topics I studied.  Therefore, the percentages shown above are for actors whose data I had on the topic in question.

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I have been asked a number of times over the years to study actors and the acting profession.

The interested parties tend to fall into one of two camps:

  1. Young, fresh-faced up-and-coming actors looking to understand how they can best succeed in their exciting new career of acting.
  2. Working professional actors asking why the industry is so biased, unfair and looking for evidence as to whether they should quit or battle through for another year.

It’s tricky to do a small amount of research on the topics at hand.  To properly study the profession, I would need to build a huge database of every actor working in the UK, at all levels, along with all manner of details about them, including their level of experience and skills.  Only a fool would go to such lengths.  So I did.

I’ve built a database of every working actor in the UK who has a public profile (see the notes section at the end of the article for my sources and methodology).  This includes 66,011 actors, ranging from A-list names through to new and emerging talent.  I found data from a number of public sources and merged these sources so that I had as much data on each performer as they chose to put out into the world. (I should add that I only looked at the professional data related to their role as an actor – no cyberstalking or Facebook mining!)

Now that I have this database, I can start addressing a backlog of questions I’ve received over the years about acting.  This week: age.

Acting your age

We are not able to track the age of all actors as many choose not to report their date of birth publicly.  Only 15% of the actors I tracked reported a real age.  This is likely caused by two main factors:

  • There is a perception that it will harm their careers.  Some actors will go as far as to sue sites like IMDb to get their real dates of birth removed. When Huong Hoang sued IMDb in 2013, she claimed that her income declined after her true age was published.  In that case, IMDb won, although we cannot unpick the broad principles out from the specific details of that particular case.
  • It shouldn’t matter. An actor’s real age is far less relevant than their ‘playing age’ (i.e. the age of characters that they could convincingly play). As Spotlight puts it: “It doesn’t matter how old you are – it’s how old we believe you are“.

Based on playing ages, the UK’s acting pool skews rather young.

If you put out a casting call for a “25-year-old female” then 60% of working female actors would deem themselves eligible.  Male actors skew older, although 47% still claim to be able to pass for 25 years old.

Professional age is a range, not a number

Part of the reason that such a high percentage of actors can claim to play a 25-year-old character is that an actor’s playing age is a range, not a single figure.  It states the youngest and the oldest age the actor feels they can represent.

A third of all actors claim a playing range of ten years, such as 25 to 34, inclusive.

Under or overage?

Finally, I wanted to take a quick look at the relationship between actual age and playing age for the 15% of actors who stated both.

Actors in their early-20s tend to be aged around the middle of their playing range (i.e. someone who says she can play “16 to 24” is likely to actually be 20 years 0ld). Actors older than around 25 tend to be closer to the top end of their range, a pattern which continues as actors age.

A female actor who is really 40 years old will report an average playing range of between 30 and 41.  This is likely to be a reflection of the industry’s veneration of youth, and actors being concerned that if they better align their playing range with their true age, they will lose work.  (Of course, it could also be that by pure virtue of being an actor, you look five years younger than similarly-aged people in other professions, although this seems less likely).

On the chart below, the orange line is their real age and the light block bars indicate the average playing age.  For example, for eighteen-year-olds, the average minimum was 16 and the average maximum was 22 years old.

The chart above is for female actors and for brevity I have not included the male actors’ chart.  The pattern is the same, although slightly closer to the middle of the playing range, which is unsurprising as the industry applies more pressure to be young on women than on men.

Bonus question – What gets shorter with age?

This actors’ dataset is going to be fascinating to explore in future articles.  For now, I wanted to end on one interesting titbit I found, when looking at how actors’ appearances change as they age.

I looked at hair length for both male and female actors.  I can’t use their real age as it limits the data so as a proxy I used the mid-point between the youngest and oldest ages each actor says that they can play.  As we saw above, this may be a slight under-representation of their true age but not wildly so.

For female actors in their 20s and 30s, the most popular length is long, but from the late 30s, mid-length hair is far more common.

The male picture is a little messier, as I included ‘shaved’, ‘balding’ and bald’.  Fewer than 0.1% of female actors fell into this category, so I did not show them on the chart.  However, 3.5% of male actors are shaved, 4.3% are balding and 2.2% are bald.

Overall, around two-thirds of male actors keep their hair short, no matter their age.

Notes

I built my database of actors from a number of public sources including Spotlight, Equity, Mandy / Casting Call Pro, Wikipedia and actors’ own websites.  I was helped by a couple of key facts:

  • The vast majority of actors need to have a public profile of some type.  Most UK actors have a Spotlight page as Spotlight acts as the industry’s de facto indicator of an actor’s professional status and is a trusted source for actor CVs.  The most famous actors don’t tend to keep their Spotlight page up to date and some take it down altogether.  But this accounts for a small number of performers.  At the other end of the spectrum are those actors who do not have the required experience, or who cannot pay the ~£150 annual fee, to keep an active Spotlight page.  But if they are looking for work then it’s extremely likely they will have a profile on at least one of the other sites I used as sources.
  • Each actor has a unique stage name.  The UK actors’ union, Equity, requires that all performers have a unique stage name which they use across their professional career.  Not only can a new performer not use the name of an existing, active actor but they cannot even use subtle variations (i.e. adding a middle name or initial, hyphenating, etc).  The only exception is when an actor retires (and/or stops renewing their professional presence, such as on Spotlight) at which point their name is up for grabs again.  This quirk of the acting business allowed me to mix data from a number of sources for the same performer, enriching the dataset and preventing double counting.

A few caveats are needed on the data, including:

  • I built this dataset last year (2018) but it has taken me a while to get to the number crunching.  As this is a study of actors aged 18 or older, there are a handful of 18-year-old actors right now who are not included.  Plus it will include actors who have retired extremely recently.
  • This is self-reported data which actors have chosen to reveal publicly in order to help them get hired.  Therefore, there are a few layers of artifice which could mean that the numbers differ from reality.  For example, I wouldn’t be shocked if some actors claim that they are slightly taller, younger or more talented than they actually are. It’s also possible that actors have not kept their profiles up to date as they learned new skills, changed their appearance or as they aged.

Each of the sources provided different data points.  If the same actor appeared within multiple sources then I gained a detailed and rich picture of their professional profile.  However, if they only appeared in one or two, then I may not have data for some of the topics I studied.  Therefore, the percentages shown above are for actors whose data I had on the topic in question.

I removed rare outlying data points which were patently untrue and were skewing the data.  A good example is the actor who claims a 940-year playing range.  I suspect this is hyperbole than a true reflection of the age audiences will judge him to be.

I did not include ‘real vs playing age’ data for actors over 40 years old as so few reported their age as to make the data unreliable.

Epilogue

As well as giving us a fascinating snapshot into the actor-base in the UK, this data can also be used to spot inefficiencies and inequities in the sector.  In the coming months, I hope to use the data to track how different types of actors are treated by the industry and how their experiences differ.

If you have a theory, question or even a dataset which you think could help to advance the study of my current actor’s database, please do get in touch.

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Earlier this month, Disney published release dates for their upcoming slate of movies, including their newly expanded roster of titles acquired when they bought rival studio Fox.

This included a domestic theatrical release date (i.e. when the movie will open in American and Canadian cinemas) for Avatar 5 of 17th December 2027.  Yup, the date has been fixed a whopping 3,144 days ahead of the actual release.

In many cases, the release date is literally the only piece of information revealed about an upcoming movie – even before the movie’s title.  Disney’s future release schedule currently contains dates for 29 “untitled” films, including:

  • Twelve movies called “United Disney Live Action”
  • Eight called “United Marvel”
  • Four “Untitled Pixar” (although only two of them are described as animations)
  • Three “Untitled Star Wars”
  • One “Untitled Indiana Jones”
  • One “Untitled Kingsman movie”

This led me to wonder: just how far in advance do studios announce their movie release dates.  And how often do those announced dates turn out to be correct?

To find out, I built a database of 8,324 release date announcements made over the past ten years, using the domestic theatrical release dates of feature films. See the Note sections at the end of this article for details of the data.

What are they announcing?

Let’s start by understanding what a release date announcement can look like. My full dataset includes three types:

  • Just year.  This is the vaguest of announcements, often reported by trade papers based on a comment or remark made during an interview with someone close to the production.  For example, there is a new animated version of Super Mario Bros in the works and on 6th November 2018 Variety reported that the founder of Illumination Entertainment was quoted as saying that the film was in “priority development” and “could be in theaters by 2022“.
  • Month and year. Other announcements come with an estimated month as well as a year.  In reality, this isn’t giving a whole lot more information away, as movies are typically released in fairly well-defined slots within the year.  (More on release patterns here and here).  Almost half of Illumination’s past titles were released in June.
  • Exact date.  This is the studio or distributor announcing the specific date their movie will open domestically.

Nearly four out of five release date announcements are in the form of an exact date.

For the rest of this article, I’m going to focus on the 79% of announcements which specify a particular day in the calendar.

How far in advance are release dates announced?

Almost a fifth of release dates are publicly announced within a month of the film’s opening day. This is not because the distributors or cinemas didn’t know the date before then, but just that there was no need to publicly promote it.  The vast majority of cinema tickets are purchased either on the day of the screening, or a few days before.  Tickets for high demand movies, such as Star Wars and Marvel movies, will go on sale in advance but not by much (Avengers: Endgame tickets were on sale just 23 days early) and this is for only a handful of movies a year.

20% of movie release dates are announced at least a year early, and within that, 2% are announced three years prior.

So far, I have been treating all movies equally, however, there is a huge difference between a big budget studio tentpole and a small indie flick with a limited release. If we subdivide the advance notice data by genre, we can see some very clear patterns.  Animations have the longest lead time – an average of 875 days.  This is likely a combination of the big budgets needed to create modern animated movies and the fact that animations typically take far longer to make than live action movies (more on that here).

The genres with the shortest time between the announcement of a specific release date and said date were dramas, sports movies and documentaries.  These types of movies typically don’t have big budgets, a large marketing spend or an existing support base, thereby reducing the utility of an early announcement.

One other factor to bear in mind is how anticipated the new movie is.  The easiest way of seeing this is with the announcement of release dates for sequels.  Sequels are only created because the first movie was a financial success, meaning that it’s fair to assume that sequels, on average, command more public interest than non-sequels.

This is reflected in how early release dates are announced.  In all genres (which had enough sequels to made the results meaningful), they are announced earlier than non-sequels, on average. In the case of comedies, it’s getting close to twice as early, with non-sequels being announced an average of 325 days before release whereas it’s 552 days for sequels.

Are early dates often correct?

Given how far in advance some movies are confirming their exact release date, you may wonder how many of these dates turn out to be correct.  If so, good news – I checked!

Unsurprisingly, the nearer the release date, the more accurate the information ends up being.  Dates announced within a month are correct 97% of the time, compared with just 45% of the time with dates announced a year out.

Less intuitive is the flattening of the curve once we get past one year.  This is a reflection of the fact that the vast majority of movies with such early announcements come from major studios.  This is because:

  • Studios have the infrastructure to plan this far ahead;
  • They have the clout and money to scare off rivals who were previously eyeing up the same date; and
  • They actually have a very small number of possible dates to pick from.  In the case of Avatar 5, they are claiming the pre-Christmas slot which big budget movie franchises covet (i.e. Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Star Wars, etc) and so there were only maybe one or two other dates within 2027 that they could have selected.
Are they over- or under-estimating dates?

Finally, when movie release dates change, which direction do they tend to move in – sooner, or later?

In three-quarters of cases, when revised release dates are annouced they are later than the previous date.

Further reading

I have studied the topic of release dates a few times before, and so you may enjoy the following articles:

Notes

The data for today’s piece came from IMDb, Movie Insider, Wikipedia and The Numbers / Opus (who have recently started offering access to their data on changing release dates).

All the release date announcements I studied were made between October 2009 and May 2019, inclusive.

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The recent release of Pokémon Detective Pikachu has prompted some readers to get in touch and ask about the quality of movies based on video games.

Most of the questions were variations of: “Are video game movies the worst type of movie adaptations?

To answer this, I looked at all movies released in US cinemas between 1993 and 2018, inclusive. (See the Note section for a more detailed explanation of the dataset and sources).

I’m going to use the Metacritic score and IMDb rating to serve as measures of quality from the perspective of film critics and film audiences, respectively.

Let’s first acquaint ourselves with the genre.

A primer in video game movies

The first movie adapted from a video game was 1993’s Super Mario Bros and in the 26 years since then, 45 such movies have reached US cinemas – an average of just under two per year.

2016 has been the peak year so far, with big screen audiences “enjoying” Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XVRatchet & ClankAssassin’s CreedResident Evil: The Final ChapterThe Angry Birds Movie and Warcraft: The Beginning.

The largest such movies to date have been Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Warcraft: The Beginning and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.

Unsurprisingly, the league table of ‘top grossing video game movies’ contains many of the same titles as the chart above showing the movies with the biggest budgets.

But let’s get to the topic at the heart of today’s question – quality.

Are movies adapted from video games any good?

In a word: no.

In a few more words: No, and they are often very, extremely, very bad.

Across all movies in the US cinemas between 1993 and 2018, the average Metascore was 55 out of 100 and the average IMDb rating was 6.4 out of 10. Only one video game adaptation beat the average score for critics (Mortal Kombat, with a Metascore of 58) and just six for audiences (Warcraft tops the list with a score of 6.9).  

How do video game adaptations compare with other script sources?

Let’s end by looking at how the scores for video game adaptations compare with those of other script sources.

On average, critics give movies based on musicals or operas 63 out of 100, whereas they give video game adaptations just 32.  In fact, video games are the lowest rated source for movies.

“But, wait” I hear you cry, “Movies based on video games are not for snooty critics but for the public.  Only they can fairly judge the quality of movies“.

Well, the result is the same, albeit less pronounced.  Audiences give video game adaptations an average of just 5.3 out of 10.

So, it would be fair to say that almost everyone agrees that most video game movies are awful.

Notes

The raw data for today’s research came from IMDb, The Numbers and Wikipedia.  The script source classification came from The Numbers, although in some cases I tweaked the data due to differing criteria (see below for more on this). I excluded some script sources as there were too few movies to make the results meaningful.  These include movies based on a toy, song, ballet, web Series, theme park ride, among others.

Not all movies have all the required metadata (i.e. some movies were not reviewed sufficiently to receive a Metascore, some movies do not have a script source from The Numbers, etc) and so any percentages are of those movies with the required data available.  I only used IMDb audience scores for movies with at least 500 votes, to combat vote stuffing by the cast and crew.

The lineage of a movie’s script or idea can be complicated.  For example, it could be argued that some of the later Pokémon movies are described as adaptations of a television show rather than from Pokémon’s original source, that of a video game.  For today’s research, I have used the broadest definition of “based on a video game” which would, therefore, include all of the Pokémon movies.

I am only looking at movies which grossed at least $1 at the domestic box office.  This means we’re measuring the types of movies the public are most likely to see (and this had the added bonus of meaning that I didn’t have to rule over whether or not unauthorised fan-created movies should be included!)

Epilogue

The vast majority of video game adaptations are either horror or adventure films.  However, in researching this piece I discovered a courtroom drama that was adapted from a video game.

Ace Attorney is based on the game Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. IMDb describes the movie thus:

The plot follows Phoenix Wright, a novice lawyer, who faces off against expert prosecutor Miles Edgeworth, who had a perfect win record. He defends Maya Fey, the sister of his deceased mentor, Mia Fey. The court system of the time dictates that the trial can only convene for a total of three days before a verdict must be reached. In the second case, Miles is charged with murder, and it is up to Phoenix to defend him against the best prosecutor of all time, as well as Miles’ mentor, Manfred Von Karma, who has not lost a case in forty years! In order to resolve this case, Phoenix must look beyond the drama of the courtroom and search for clues left by Mia on a 15 years old case, the DL-6.

Sounds thrilling!

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In a previous article, I have looked at the ‘brands’ of top actors by studying the genres they most frequently appear in.

Today, I am going to look at another facet of an actor’s brand: what their presence in a movie signals to the audience about the movie’s quality.

Quality is obviously a subjective term and so rather than trying to figure this out myself, I’m going to use two proxies:

  • Metascore, which is a weighted average of the ratings given by top film critics, as calculated by Metacritic.
  • IMDb audience rating, which is the score given by IMDb users.

I’ll be looking at both measures as these two constituencies – critics and audiences – don’t always agree.  Critics tend to favour high-brow, dramatic content while looking down on more populist fare such as horror movies.  If you see ‘quality’ as a measure of the artistic merits of a movie, then you may chime more with the views of film critics, whereas if you link quality to audience enjoyment then the IMDb audience scores may make more sense to you.  You can read more on that here.

For each measure, I split the movies into five equal groups:

  • Excellent – The top 20% scoring movies (scoring above 69 from Metascore and above 7.1 from IMDb users).
  • Good
  • OK – Middle 20%
  • Bad
  • Awful – Lowest 20% of movies (with less than 39 from Metascore and under 5.5 from IMDb users).

Finally, I generated a list of 275 famous actors and actresses, who I will collectively refer to as ‘actors’. All had received high billing in at least ten movies over the past twenty years.  See the Note section at the end of this article for my methodology and reason for the gender-neutral noun.

Together, this data allows us to take a snapshot of what film critics and audiences think about the quality of top actors’ movies.

And the award for “Most Commonly Starring in Excellent Movies” goes to…

Carey Mulligan is the actor who has spent the highest percentage of her film career in excellent movies, as defined by both critics and audiences.  Her movies appear in the top 20% of movies as judged by the Metascore 60% of the time, and 74% of the time, as judged by IMDb users.

Other actors who are worth looking out for include Tilda Swinton, Tom Hardy, Andy Serkis, Ralph Fiennes, and Tom Hanks.

If you prefer audience ratings over those of film critics then you may want to look out for movies starring Ryan Gosling, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benedict Cumberbatch, Leonardo DiCaprio or Emma Watson.

Actors who should act as trigger warnings…

And at the other end of the spectrum, we have actors who are frequently cast in worst-rated movies. Critics dread seeing Alexandra Daddario, Adam Sandler, Milla Jovovich, Kevin Durand and Gerard Butler.

While audiences have a stronger dislike for movies featuring Danny Trejo, Robert Patrick, Billy Burke, Keith David and Ron Perlman.

Meh movies

At this point, I know exactly what you’re thinking – “Stephen, it’s all well and good to know which actors to look out for and which to avoid, but what if I would like a profoundly middling experience?”

I’m glad you asked.  I also looked at the actors who most commonly appear in movies which are best described as “Ok, I guess”.  The cinematic equivalent of a shrug.

Perhaps as a consequence of this search for adequate movies, you’re less likely to have heard of the names of the ‘OK’ lists.  Film critics are most apathetic about movies starring Bobby Cannavale and Isla Fisher – both actors who may be better known to fans for their TV work than their movie careers.

Jason Statham tops the audience indifference poll, with almost half of all his movies being just ‘OK’, according to film audiences.

To be clear, I’m not saying that these actors are mediocrity personified.  Just that their agents seem to manage to keep them out of bad movies but also out of good ones, too.

Contentious Actors

Finally, I thought it would be interesting to see which performers most divide film critics and audiences.

As you can see from the scatter plot below, the two groups broadly agree – if critics like movies starring a certain actor then there’s a good chance that film audiences will too.

The actor whose movies critics enjoyed disproportionately more than audiences is George Clooney, followed by Brie Larson, Dave Franco and Robert Downey Jr.

At the opposite end of the spectrum (i.e. the actors whose movies audiences like significantly more than critics) are Jim Sturgess, Hugh Jackman, Sean Bean, Chris Evans and Vin Diesel.

Notes

My actors list is all performers who were among the top ten billed names on at least ten movies which were first released in domestic cinemas between 1st January 1999 and 31st December 2018, and who were ranked in the top 5,000 on the IMDb MOVIEmeter. See my previous piece for why I chose this methodology.  This produced 275 names, which split into 200 male actors and 75 female actors (why this wasn’t an even gender split is a topic for another day!)  With my list of 275 names, I then went back and looked at all the movies they had made during their career, ignoring TV, shorts, music videos and other non-movie output.

I opted for the gender-neutral usage of the word ‘actors’ as I don’t feel that gender has a role to play in the topic at hand.  We are looking at the diversity of productions a performer has worked on, and their gender is not a factor.  That’s not to say that gender is not a factor for the film industry, as the uneven numbers within the 275 top actors show.

Movie data came from IMDb, Wikipedia and The Numbers. Genre classifications were from IMDb, which meant an average of 2.8 genres per movie.

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The Cannes Film Festival and Market are just around the corner. It’s a mad mix of five-star movies, five-minute meetings and five-Euro bottles of water.

To help attendees get the most out of their trip, I have gone through my archives of Cannes research, and conducted some new research, to see what a data-led analysis can reveal.

I’ve boiled down the key points to just eight main takeaways, with links to explore each in more detail.

1. The opening weekend is the time to be there

Over the years, I have conducted numerous studies into when people attend top film festivals and the opening weekend always comes out on top.  This year that means the 18th and 19th of May.

In 2016, I interviewed 575 Cannes veterans to collect a long list of tips for attending the Cannes Film Festival.  Their attendance plans are revealed below, showing just how much attendance drops off after the first weekend.

That study also showed that film buyers (i.e. distributors looking to acquire films) arrive earlier than most while film financiers tend to arrive later.

Further readingUltimate tips for attending the Cannes Film Festival.

2. Don’t worry if you miss a shortlisted movie as the vast majority make it to public cinemas

Movies nominated in Cannes have rarely been seen by anyone outside the core filmmaking team, meaning that ‘the buzz’ about a new movie can get out of hand.  Without critical or audience reviews, the rumour mill goes into overdrive and everyone tries to get tickets for the small number of screenings.  This can mean that you can leave Cannes having missed out on some hot new movies.

But, fear not, there’s a high chance the movie will get a public theatrical release.

Over the past three decades, the number of Cannes-nominated films reaching UK and US cinemas has increased.  In 1990, only 56% of these films were shown in UK cinemas and 67% reached US cinema audiences.  Compare that to 2015, when all of them reached US cinemas, and 84% made it to UK cinemas.

That said, the eventual theatrical release is likely to be a long time after Cannes and may not be in a cinema near you.  The average delay between Cannes and the US theatrical release for Cannes-nominated films was 286 days (or nine and half months).  Plus, over half will be released on fewer than 50 screens in the US.

Further reading: How many Cannes-nominated films get a theatrical release? and How many festival-nominated movies get theatrical distribution?

3. Cannes is expensive for everyone, but most of all for those selling

It’s possible for cash-strapped European filmmakers to attend Cannes fairly cheaply.  Low-cost fights, taxi pooling, camping or staying one town over and eating from supermarkets can make a trip cost under €500.

However, those who have movies to sell have far fewer option to save money (without losing face).  Having an official base from which to preview your movies and negotiate deals start in the tens of thousands of Euros and can quickly move up to hundreds of thousands.

As well as paying your staff, flying them to Cannes and feeding them, here are some options for your Cannes office:

  • The smallest booth in the least desirable part of the market (9m2 in the Palais -1) starts at €4,650.
  • You’ll then need to advertise your movies, which can range from just a few thousand Euro up to €30,000 for a poster outside the Palais, the main building.
  • Some sales agents choose to take over a hotel room in one of the major hotels, stripping out the beds and turning it into an impromptu office.  A night in The Grand hotel will set you back €980 during the festival (the same room a week earlier is half the price).  Likewise, staying in a standard room at The Majestic during the festival costs €815 per night, whereas in the week before the festival it’s just €205 per night.
  • It’s not just those selling movies who pay big bucks to be seen in Cannes.  Along the beach are a row of pavilions, promoting different regions of the world.  The official list price for a small pavilion (25m2 inside and the same again for a beach-front terrace) is €17,025.  But that’s just the ten-day rent; after that, you’ll need to furnish, staff and supply the tent. Between 2012 and 2016, the British Pavilion cost an average of £390,000 per year to run.

Further reading: How much does it cost to exhibit at the Cannes Marché?

4. Some of the ways Cannes works are downright bizarre

If you’re going to be attending for the first time, it’s worth reading up on how Cannes works.  Much of the rules and customs everyone follows are strange and far from common sense.

Among the Cannes contradictions are:

When I surveyed 575 Cannes venturans I asked them to describe what Cannes means to them.  The word cloud below shows the words they used, with the most frequently used words appearing the largest.

Further readingCannes film festival mysteries explained (via Nicolas Cage) and Ultimate tips for attending the Cannes Film Festival

5. There is a fairly even gender mix, although men hog the top jobs

Ten years ago, women accounted for 36% of people attending the Cannes market, whereas by 2018 this figure had risen to 45%. On the face of it, this is encouraging. It shows that we are getting close to equal representation and the trend is upward (albeit slowly). However, the devil is in the detail.

In Cannes in 2018, 35% of the high-status jobs were taken by women, along with 52% of mid-status jobs and 65% of low-status jobs.

Female representation in high-status jobs is strongest among those working for film commissions and in publicity, whereas men dominate high-status jobs in distribution and production companies.

Cannes is a distillation of the best and worst of the film industry, crammed into a short period of time, in a small place and amped up to eleven.  Therefore, it often features many of the seedier aspects of the industry.  I have heard stories from female producers of how they are careful not to drink too much, not to get onto boats alone and to be wary of predatory men promising them the world. It would be naive to suggest that this will not be present at Cannes this year, but, hopefully, we will start to see the effects of #MeToo, Time’s Up and the Weinstein revelations on peoples’ behaviour.

Further reading: Gender diversity among film professionals working in sales and distribution

6. Plan for sun but be ready for rain

One of the nicest things about Cannes is that it takes place in the early summer in the south of France. As a result, it’s not uncommon for people to get sunburn while running between meetings. The average temperature during the Cannes film festival over the past decade was 17.7ºC (63.8ºF).

Over the past ten years, it has rained on 29% of festival days.  The worst year of the past decade was 2012, which the Hollywood Reporter described as having a “London feel” due to the “rain, thunder and howling winds”.

Further readingWill it rain at the Cannes Film Festival?

7. The films in Cannes are likely to be French dramas, represented by Wild Bunch

The Cannes Film Festival is often referred to as the world’s top film festival, and therefore you might expect it to objectively treat films from all over the world equally. Not so. Between 2000 and 2015, 84% of nominees were dramas, 53% were French and 19% were sold by one company, Wild Bunch.

Another interesting trend is that English has become the most frequently used language among Cannes-nominated movies, due in part to an increase in French movies using English.

I have not watched every Cannes-nominated film (they’re next on my Netflix list after I finish Queer Eye) but I was able to get the official plot summaries for each from the Cannes website. By removing common English words (like, the, of, a, etc) we are able to get a snapshot of what is going on in Cannes nominated films (1939-2015) – the larger the word, the more popular it is.

I used the data to generate the “perfect” Cannes movie, guaranteed to impress the jury. It’s a French drama called “Ma Vie Pour La Femme” (“My Life For The Woman”, for you English-speaking riff-raff), directed by Ken Loach and written by Jean-Claude Carrière. You can read more about this masterpiece, including the plot, here, in the section entitled ‘Building the perfect Palme d’Or winning film’.

Further reading: What types of films win the Palme d’Or at Cannes? Is English becoming the de facto language of Cannes films? and What do Cannes-nominated short films have in common?

8. The producers are angry, journalists contemptuous and publicists happy

Lastly, let’s end on some number-crunching fun.  As a part of their registration at the market, film professionals can submit a photo to be publicly available in the physical guide and on the official site.  Over 10,000 market attendees have done so, which made me think it would be fun to see what these photos can tell us about the types of people who attend Cannes.

I ran them through Microsoft’s Azure Emotion engine which I have previously used to catalogue emotion within movie posters.  This tool can detect faces and measure levels of different key emotions (anger, contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise). There’s more detail on my methodology in the write-up for my poster research, including a link to where you can try the tool for yourself.

Among the things I discovered was:

  • Those working in production are the angriest, saddest and most fearful out of all Cannes attendees.
  • The happiest photos were of those of people working in publicity and PR.
  • Journalists are the most contemptuous, by a large margin.
  • Journalists and distributors show zero fear and the lowest levels of surprise.

Obviously, this is just a bit of fun, rather than a profound look into people’s souls.  The photo someone picks to be their headshot reveals the version of themselves that they want to put out into the world.

So if we’re being precise, we can’t say that people who work in PR are objectively happier than those in production, rather that their photos convey more happiness.

Further reading: Using facial recognition to track emotions on movie posters and Measuring actors’ brands via facial recognition

Notes

For each topic, I recommend following the link and reading the notes that go along with the research.  This will allow you to understand the exact methodology, time-period and caveats for each.

Epilogue

As regular readers know, when I attend film markets I tend to keep a note of some of the most egregious bullshit I hear.  So, for your delight and delectation, here are some choice phrases I have heard uttered in the UK pavilion during the Cannes Film Festival:

  • “Stick it in a box and people will buy it” “Cool, so a physical release on DVD?” “No, a metaphorical box”
  • “I’m doing a private screening this afternoon in my flat. I can see if I can squeeze you in, if you want to come?”
  • [Two people who have made enthusiastic small talk for about ten minutes – about the weather, parties, films – and then they got onto what they do for a living. It turns out they’re both composers. The disappointment in both of them was palpable and they parted ways soon after]
  • [Actor showing off about the films he’s been in] “And that film has just won an award at a major festival” “Which one?” “Best Editor”
  • “Who’s directing?” “[Says a name] “Great, great, I totally respect him, totally. Would you consider changing to someone else?”
  • “I love that party. Every year I go and get so much arse”
  • “I’ve discovered that during Cannes is the worst time in the world to be trying to sell a film”
  • “Your film is the exact type we finance” “So will you fund us?” “I’m afraid not”
  • “And then we discovered that the producer had been lying to us the whole time” “So what did you do?” “Well, nothing, because to be fair to him we hadn’t really been telling him the truth either. Still, what a bastard!”
  • “There’s two ways the script could go. Personally, I think the flashbacks slow the film down but we’re happy to do that if the investors want to spend more”
  • “[Huge Hollywood star] is very interested. In fact, he’s completely ecstatic about the script and his agent said that he’s in as soon as we have the money for his quote”
  • “There’s a big investor in the background of this one who is completely willing to fund it” “So it’s fully funded?” “Well, no, he wants to get other people to share the opportunity and he’ll be the last in”
  • “I haven’t actually read the script but I really do think it could be the next ‘The King’s Speech’”
  • “The good thing is that it’s the first of a planned trilogy”
  • “We’ve had a breakdown of the special effects and amazingly it came in at just £5 million, which is less than half the total production budget”
  • “It would be good to shoot in Asia so it will instantly have an original look. Or Malta”
  • “This is going to..

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