Movie Analysis, Part IV


My previous posts on movies compared how critics’ ratings compared to viewers’ ratings. This told us something about how critics and regular viewers differed, but it told us little about the movies themselves. We all know that people tend to go to movies that they believe they will like. Most of the time they know the kind of movie they like so it is to be expected that most movies will get fairly high ratings from viewers even if there are very few people who watched it. It follows that for many movies highly rated by viewers, most people really don’t like that kind of movie and made a choice not to watch it. So, arguably, a better predictor of how well a movie is really liked is not the rating but the number of people who watched it. You could also use tickets sold or box office, but those measures have their own problems. Many movies do much better as DVDs or streaming now, so there are no tickets, and some movies have box office numbers that are relatively larger than the number of viewers due to ticket prices or other variables. I used the number of ratings by viewers as an indicator of how popular a movie was.

The above chart shows how the number of ratings compares to how highly a movie is liked by people who saw it, or at least by people who rated it on Of course, there may be other factors that influence whether or not people choose to rate a movie on that site. I am struck by the huge gap between Titanic and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King at around 35 million ratings and the rest of the pack (the next closest had 1.8 million), yet they rank 2nd and 8th in box office gross. Many possible explanations exist. For example, children attend movies like Frozen (creating ticket sales), but don’t vote on the website. I suspect RottenTomatoes or its parent Flixster was somehow involved in the disproportionate number of ratings of these two films. Was there a contest between them? Every year the site holds a vote as to the best and worst winners of the Best Picture Oscar. That or a particularly active forum post may influence people to vote on one or both.

No matter. The important point to take from this is that movies can be hugely successful as measured by number of viewers, but not necessarily well-received by those viewers. Men In Black II is a good example. This could be due to marketing, expanded markets (e.g. some movies are more suitable for foreign distribution than others), etc. For point of interest, below are lists of the top grossing films and the most often rated movies in my database. You may find some surprises.

Top Ten Box office (all-time including foreign)

  • Avatar
  • Titanic
  • Marvel’s The Avengers
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
  • Frozen
  • Iron Man 3
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • Skyfall
  • Transformers: Age of Extinction

The twenty most rated movies on in my database

  • Titanic
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • National Treasure: Book of Secrets
  • Avatar
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • Up
  • District 9
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • Marvel’s The Avengers
  • Ratatouille
  • Jurassic Park
  • Men in Black II
  • The Hunger Games
  • Inglourious Basterds
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • The Departed