Applying Academic Formulae To Scripts Could Weed Out Hollywood Duds : Planet Money Forget the stars or directors involved in a movie. For real box-office success, Hollywood should evaluate scripts on mathematical formulae, professors argue.

Applying Academic Formulae To Scripts Could Weed Out Hollywood Duds

Toy-Story 3 has been one of the year's biggest moneymakers Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

Plenty of movie fans think Hollywood fare has become too rote.

Now, some professors at U Penn's Wharton School and NYU's Stern School present a case for making it even more formulaic.

In their paper "Green Lighting Movie Scripts: Revenue Forecasting and Risk Management" Jehoshua Eliashberg, Sam K. Hui, and John Zhang show Hollywood how it's done. Never mind the stars or directors hired-- they say it's possible to predict a movie's eventual box-office success by simply applying their mathematical formula to the script.

The academics analyzed the scripts of 200 movies released between 1995 and 2006. They coded the scripts for different variables ranging from the percentage of interior scenes to whether they included a strong nemesis.

Their conclusion: the most important variables in predicting box-office performance are whether the film is in the action genre, how conflict builds, and whether the conflict is multidimensional.

They also looked at risk-adjusted return on capital, and conclude that the movies with the best returns are in what they call the family-movie genre, followed by comedy. The worst risk-adjusted returns are on horror movies, the academics say.

"Based on our interactions with industry executives, forecasting and risk management are the two capabilities that are sorely needed in the movie industry in order to transform it from an intuition and experience-based decision making into a more science-based decision making," Eliashberg, Hui, and Zhang write. "A science-based approach can pay off handsomely."

Maybe, just maybe, there's hope for a little less greenlighting of the "Prince of Persias" of the future and a little more like "Toy Story 3."