On Reddit today, someone submitted a link to a page which attempted to take a look to see if Hollywood is giving up on original scripts. The approach the author took wasn’t very good, only evaluating the top 10 US grossing movies in 2011, 2001, 1991, and 1981. By taking such a limited sampling of points, without any evidence to show that there is any sort of continuity to the kinds of films in the top 10, you can’t actually make any significant conclusions. Any or all of those years could have been statistical flukes. And as I pointed out before, it seems just as likely that the originality of the scripts in the top 10 movies is just as likely to be more influenced by the movie-going public than by the studios that are making the movies.
I linked that old post in the Reddit discussion, but realized I couldn’t find the spreadsheet file I’d based it off of. It probably got lost among my files on my work computer when I got laid off. But, that just means that I had even more reason to recreate it and improve it. So I did. Wikipedia’s lists of the top grossing movies switches from worldwide gross to US gross somewhere in the early 90s or late 80s, so I ended up repeating myself after I realized the inconsistency. As a result, some of the tables show both the domestic top 10 (as given by BoxOfficeMojo) and the worldwide top 10 (via Wikipedia), but on the domestic top 10 counts are charted. I also cleaned up my categorization of the movies. There are now 6 categories — original, adaptation, original franchise, adapted franchise, original remake, and adapted remake. I think they are all fairly self-explanatory.
For the record, GoogleDocs is not particularly useful if you want to do a scatterplot and then add a trendline. I had to use a function to find the y=m*x+b equations and then calculate yearly resulting values and then plot them. And that’s just for a linear regression. If I want to do polynomial regression, I can’t imagine how obnoxious it would be. But, given all of that, it is pretty clear that the number of original scripts is getting lower. Even if you include the number of original franchises and original remakes.
There is a similar growth in the number of top grossing movies which are parts of franchises, both original and adapted. Prior to 2001, franchise films were only about 1/4 of the top 10, since then, they have been closer to 1/2. And that doesn’t count the first film in the franchise.
And, for all of the 1980s, there wasn’t a single top 10 movie that was a remake of an earlier movie. And even now they aren’t taking over the theaters. Just under half of the years since 1990 haven’t had a top 10 remake, though 2005 had 5 (King Kong, War of the Worlds, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, and Batman Begins (which was really more of a reboot of a franchise than a remake of the original Batman movie, but actual reboots are so rare that there is no reason to create an entirely separate category)).
So, what can we conclude? More franchise movies in the US top 10 grossing films. More adapted scripts as well. And two of the last five years have had no original, non-franchise films in the top 10 in the US. Eyeballing the global numbers since the mid-90s shows pretty much the same trend. But we still can’t make any claims about whether the success of the movies is because the overall Hollywood trend mirrors the top 10 or if the American public just prefers to go see movies in franchises that it knows or based on other sources with which it is familiar.
I would still, at some point, like to take the time to take a look at all of the yearly US wide-release movies, but there were 146 such in 2011 alone. That’s just under half of the number of movies that were counted for this data as it is. But I happen to have some time on my hands, so we shall see.