Saturday, December 20, 2014

Maximizing Opening Weekend Sales for Wide-Release Horror Films

As scared as I get, I really do enjoy the experience of watching horror films.  But what exactly determines a horror film's success?  More specifically...

  • How can a horror film producer maximize a wide-release horror film's opening weekend sales?  
  • Does the horror film's budget matter?  
  • Which major studio distributor should the producer use?
  • What other factors (e.g. month of release, runtime, sub-genre, etc.) are at play?

I set out to answer these questions using BoxOfficeMojo data from all wide-release horror films with film budget information.  A wide-release film is released in at least 600 theaters, thereby factoring out all obscure horror films.

I built a regression model to predict opening weekend sales from the following features of each horror film:
  • number of theaters released (≥ 600 for wide-release)
  • budget for the film
  • years since 1975 (are opening weekend sales increasing or decreasing?)
  • runtime of movie (does film length matter?)
  • the rating of the movie (PG-13 or R rating)
  • horror subgenre (comedy, found footage, period, prequel, remake, scifi, serial killer, slasher, supernatural, terror in the water, torture, vampire, video game adaptation, & zombie) ... a movie can be of multiple subgenres
  • studio distributor (Buena Vista, Dimension, DreamWorks, Fox, Lionsgate, MGM, Miramax, Paramount, Relativity Media, Sony Entertainment, Universal Pictures, & Warner Brothers)
  • month of release

Ordinary least squares was used to estimate the parameters for the model below:

There was a significant (p<0.001) positive correlation of number of theaters released with opening weekend sales.  Specifically, the model predicts that one additional theater would result in a $15,560 ± $1,869 increase in opening weekend sales.  

The figure below shows the relationship between opening weekend sales and the number of theaters released and illustrates: 
  • the positive correlation of opening weekend sales with the number of theaters released
  • the observed data compared with the model prediction (R-squared: 0.871).

R-squared goodness of fit value: 0.871

Interestingly, the only other significant correlation found in the regression model was a positive correlation (p=0.026) of the period horror subgenre on opening weekend sales.  Specifically, the model predicts that releasing a period horror film (i.e. a horror film set in a past time period) would result in a $7.66 ± $3.39 million dollar increase in opening weekend sales.  Some examples of period horrors include Paranormal Activity 3, The Conjuring, Exorcist: The Beginning, Sleepy Hollow, and Shutter Island.

Why do period horror films appear to do better than the rest?  My hypothesis is that period horrors are usually based on something familiar, whether it being the time period or the story.  Due to the mere-exposure effect, individuals tend to show an affinity toward encountered items over unencountered ones.  This may result in a subconscious preference for watching familiar period horror films, especially for older generations.  In addition, the availability heuristic biases individuals to believe that more familiar events are more likely to occur.  This can intensify the creepiness of the film and increase viewership by horror film fans.

These features did not have a significant effect on opening weekend sales:
  • budget
  • years since 1975
  • runtime
  • rating
  • studio/distributor
  • month of release

Based on the findings, my advice for film producers wishing to maximize opening weekend sales for their wide-release horror film is to:
  • release in as many theaters as possible
  • produce a period horror thematically based on a legend, myth, and/or time period that most people are familiar with
  • not worry about the film's budget
  • not worry about the possible decrease in the number of movie-goers with the increased accessibility of streaming movie providers such as Netflix
  • not worry about the length of the film or the rating
  • not worry about which studio/distributor to use unless they can release in more theaters
  • not worry about releasing the film around Halloween...there is no evidence that it helps (possibilities include students being in school, lack of proximity to holidays such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, and increased competition from other horror films)

Thank you