NPR logo NYT Excerpt: Mysteries Of The Movie Business

NYT Excerpt: Mysteries Of The Movie Business

HOLLYWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 5: The newly refurbished Hollywood Sign is seen atop of Mt. Lee
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This week in the New York Times Magazine, Adam Davidson asks why companies stay in the movie business when the vast majority of movies fail to break even, and no one really knows why the remainder succeed:

...All business requires guessing, but future predilections of moviegoers are especially opaque. If a large company wants to introduce a new car, it can at least base its predictions, in part, on factors like where oil prices are headed. Movie executives, on the other hand, come up with a host of new theories each summer about what audiences want — 3-D tent poles, 2-D tent poles, vampires, comics, board games and so on — then, sometimes over the course of a weekend, ricochet toward a new theory. Will the tepid economics of "Men in Black 3" spell trouble for "The Amazing Spider-Man," this holiday weekend's big release? Who knows.

Unlike other decades-old industries, Hollywood not only has a hard time forecasting, but it also has difficulty analyzing past results. Why was "The Hunger Games" such a big hit? Because it had a built-in audience? Because it starred Jennifer Lawrence? Because it was released around spring break? The business is filled with analysts who claim to have predictive powers, but the fact that a vast majority of films fail to break even proves that nobody knows anything for sure.

In other words, Hollywood studios still muddle their way to a hit. Read the full column to find out why a handful of studios prefer to keep it that way.