Last week, I took on an interesting question–are there too many horror films in theaters? Thanks to The Numbers website, I was able to attain the number of films, by genre, for each year since 1995. Their data also includes a market share percentage, based on each genre’s total gross. While putting together my horror info, I noticed that the horror genre tends to have a larger market share (a larger total gross) than their percentage of films released. Intuitively, this implies that the horror genre outperforms expectations. After all, in a vacuum, a film’s market share would be equal to the percentage of films released, if all genres were viewed at the rate with which they’re released. After wrapping up my horror article, one other question remained, and I’ve held it back until now. Which genre’s market share (total gross) outperforms its percentage of films released the most?
Let’s start with a simple pie chart illustrating the number of films released, by genre, for the 12 genres with the largest market share. This excludes only two genres in The Numbers’ data–”Multiple Genres” and “Genre Unknown”, both of which had a market share of less than 0.1%. The pie chart:
Shockingly, documentary films came in as the third-most represented genre, with 1,026 films from 1995 to 2011. However, keep in mind that this includes the various IMAX films that show throughout the year, and many films which never receive a wide-release. I’d also add that I’m not sure why “Black Comedy” is a separate genre instead of part of the overall Comedy genre. But, you play the hand you’re dealt, and this is how The Numbers has broken it down. Predictably, Drama dwarfs the other genres, with Comedy coming in a distant second. Now let’s take a look at the market shares for these genres:
To re-define it, this is market share–the total gross of the genre, divided by the total gross of all genres. Comedy and Adventure films each earn a fifth of the market, while Documentary films make up a miniscule 1.09% of the market. Put another way, $1.09 out of every $100 spent at the box office is spent on films in the Documentary genre. Now we need to take the Total Film Release data from the pie chart above and put it into the same terms as market share. Here’s the same pie chart, in bar chart form.
Now we have all of the pieces in place. Both the releases by genre and the market share are in percentage form. Now, we’ll want to subtract the percentage of all releases by genre from the market share. Again, theoretically, they should be the same. If a genre is putting out 25% of all films, then the total gross for that genre should make up 25% of the market. In the case of genres with a positive difference, the implication is that they’re selling more tickets than their percentage of the market dictates they should. In other words, this is a genre that outperforms box office expectations. Likewise, genres with a negative difference are underperforming expectations. How does it look? Here’s another bar chart detailing the percentage by which a genre over or underperforms its market share expectation:
Let’s get to the big, juicy conclusions first. The Action and Adventure genres are the big winners. By a wide margin, they possess the biggest positive differential between the percent of films released and their genre’s market share. To give you an idea of what that particular genre includes, the top grossing films from the last three years in the Adventure genre were Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II, Toy Story 3, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It also includes several superhero films and the second Star Wars trilogy. On the other side of the coin, Drama and Documentary films have the largest negative gap. Comedy, Horror, Thriller/Suspense, and Romantic Comedy all outperform their expectations, but nowhere near to the same degree as Action and Adventure movies. Musicals, Black Comedy, Westerns, and Concert/Performance films are just a tick below expectations, but it’s such a small number that I think it’s more appropriate to say that studios have a really good idea of how well these films will sell at the box office.
That figure for the Drama genre is clearly a function of an oversaturated market. After all, the Drama genre comprises a whopping 36.4% of all genres. NO genre is going to produce THAT many films and see them all do well at the box office. The more films you make, the more likely you are to have several bombs that drag your numbers down. To a lesser degree, the same could be said of the Documentary genre. The overwhelmingly negative numbers for these two genres aren’t at all telling us that these genres lose money. More likely, it tells us that production cost on these type of films is so miniscule compared to the other genres that a studio can produce tons of films from each genre for the same price it costs them to make one Transformers. Think of it this way–I can buy two $10 lottery tickets, or twenty $1 tickets. The guy who buys the $1 tickets will have a lot more duds in the lot. But he’ll also have a lot more chances at success, and all it takes is one to make money.
Finally, I think it’s important to add the appropriate caveats here. These figures are from all films from 1995 to 2011. It doesn’t include any sort of recent trend, nor does it include a wider sweep of pre-1995 numbers. As such, we’re not talking about a very large sample size. The data is interesting, at least to number nerds like me, but that doesn’t mean that it’s completely (or even partially) reliable. If one of the middling genres–say, Romantic Comedy–happened to bang out one huge money-maker during each of the next five years, the figures for Romantic Comedy would skyrocket. That’s how volatile the sample size really is.