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Once upon a time, Hollywood was filled with actors and actresses who could slap their names on a movie poster and almost guarantee success. That star power has lessened over the years. We can all agree on that. Exactly how much is still a matter of fierce debate, but if one hot and trendy new algorithm can be relied upon, the answer is almost none at all. In fact, the numbers claim only Johnny Depp, Will Smith, Brad Pitt and an unnamed actress have any tangible effect on box office gross.
The mathematician behind the numbers is Englishman Nick Meaney. His company is called Epagogix, and it has designed a program that analyzes thousands of different factors related to projects. From the budget to percent of screentime for the protagonist to whether or not there’s a sidekick, he uploads all of these answers to his computer. It eventually spits back a number, and according to More Intelligent Life, that box office prediction is allegedly ultimately within $10 million 83% of the time.
Perhaps more interestingly, Meaney claims Depp, Smith and Pitt are the only three actors who still have enough star power to overcome all of those other factors and increase the amount of money the film makes. He also claims there’s one actress he’s identified who actively hurts the box office of every film she stars in, though he won’t be open about who that woman is.
So, how much of this is legitimate and how much of it is bullshit? It’s impossible to know for sure since predicting human behavior is, by definition, an inexact science, but clearly, studios are taking this algorithm very seriously. A number of them have hired and continue to hire Epagogix to help decide whether or not to make certain projects and how much money to dedicate to others.
Don’t expect salaries of high end actors to lessen anytime sooner, however. While a case could certainly be made that George Clooney can’t guarantee a movie’s success, for a certain movie to be successful, it likely needs someone of George Clooney’s caliber. Beyond that, it is a fact that good reviews and good word of mouth do lead to more money. So, finding the right person for a role is extremely important.
There are certain TV networks that rely heavily on focus groups and consumer data to decide what shows to move forward and what directions they might take. There are others that rely on feel. Obviously, in a perfect world, the right answer is a combination of both, and we'll see more of that with movie studios moving forward.