What people spend their money on is a strong indicator of what they enjoy. You dont buy a rug unless you think it ties the room together. The same holds true for movies. Buying a ticket is your voice, saying I like this type of movie. Movie studios study the numbers and look at each ticket sale as a vote. The more sales or votes a movie receives, the more likely it is that there will be sequels or something similar. I wondered if there is any pattern in movie votes across the decades. For example, is each decades history somehow reflected in the choices of moviegoers? To figure this out, I adjusted the domestic box office totals of the top 10 movies from each decade, starting with the 1960s. Sorry, 1910 to 1959, but I wanted to look at no more than two generations worth of films. Next, I listed 14 different genres, from animation and romance to musicals and thrillers. I then classified each of the selected movies into these genres. Some were difficult to classify. Take E.T., for example. Is it sci-fi or a family film? Once the films were classified, I recorded the adjusted box office total under that genre. The idea was that the money spent on specific genre films during a decade may tell us about the decade, or about moviegoing in general. Lastly, I figured out what percentage of the top 10 adjusted box office take for that decade was taken in by each genre. Lets take a look at the 1960s.
Family 26% Drama 25% Animation 20% Romance 12% Action 9% Western 8%So what do we see? That 71% of the box office take for the biggest movies in the 60s belonged to the following genres: family, animation (also family driven), and drama. Where is the turbulence of the 60s? The social unrest? I guess they were too busy protesting to go to the movies. We do see some interesting changes in the 1970s.
Horror 27% Sci-Fi 27% Crime 19% Musical 9% Comedy 7% Superhero 7% Drama 5%Wow! So maybe the societal changes of the late 60s didnt fully invade mainstream film until the 70s. A total of 73% of the top box office money went to horror, sci-fi (famous for escapism), or crime films. And the only musical of the entire study, Grease, shows up amidst the darker fare. So between the 60s and 70s, there was a huge shift in what audiences wanted to see. The 1980s are probably known as the decade of blockbusters, particularly for generation x-ers. Did that hold up under the data?
Sci-Fi 42% Comedy 25% Action 24% Superhero 9%Amazingly, only four genres dominated the top 10 moneymakers. Gone are family films, animation, drama, and romance. The voices of the Reagan decade wanted their movies big like their shoulder pads. The 25% comedy and 24% action values are impressive outliers, as no other decade had representatives in these genres to come close to those numbers. It looks like the decade of blockbusters earned its reputation. The 1990s was a decade of world change and a generally prosperous America. What did that mean for the most popular films?
Sci-Fi 28% Animation 21% Drama 12% Romance 12% Comedy 10% Suspense/Thriller 9% Action 7%The 90s werent sure what they were for a while, and the movies reflect that. This was the most diverse decade I studied. Yes, sci-fi dominated again, and the advent of solid computer special effects opened the doors for what had been impossible or impractical. Animation also jumped back into the game, also thanks to computer animation (Pixar). People in the 00s faced global terrorism and an unsteady economy. Sociologists would say that the populace wanted to escape from their worries. Did they?
Sci-Fi 40% Superhero 30% Animation 11% Action 10% Drama 9%In a word, yes. Getting away from foreign wars and high gas prices was a priority. Sci-fi, superheroes, and animation accounted for 81% of the top 10 box office. All of these genres rely heavily on special effects and computer animation. When you ask yourself why they are making drek like Green Lantern or Transformers, look at these numbers; the studios are. Now what did this study really tell us? It does corroborate the idea that in 1974, Jaws (the first real blockbuster) changed the film business. The types of genres being mega-successful before 1974 have not seen duplicate success. We also confirm that Star Wars kicked down the door for special effects and that science fiction movies became the driving genre. Westerns, musicals, and sports movies may have a mild success story here and there, but they are not a factor at all anymore (Lone Ranger, anyone?). I went into this study unsure of what to expect, but very interested in the results. What I am left with is a pattern pointing toward what I feared. Modern producers know what makes money, and they face a question. Do I back a movie because I love the art form/believe in this story, or do I back a movie because the odds are that it will make gobs of money? You, as a ticket buyer, are casting a vote with each purchase. You are ultimately left with the choice. What do you want to see more of?