September, When the Movies You Expect to be Good Are Bad and Vice Versa

Picking “really like” movie prospects for September is a tricky game. The movies that sound good probably aren’t and the movies that don’t sound good may be alright

Picking “really like” movie prospects for September is a tricky game. The movies that sound good probably aren’t and the movies that don’t sound good may be alright. As I mentioned in my last post, there is a 38.3% chance that I will “really like” a movie released in September. That means that, if I pick five movies as “really like” September prospects, I could randomly pick five and stand a good chance that two of them will be “really like” movies. Right? Theoretically, that’s true. But, I’m not picking randomly, I’m trying to pick movies I’d like which may work against me.

For example, my first movie is:

Sully. Release Date: September 9, 2016       “Really Like” Probability: 40%

This movie is directed by Clint Eastwood and stars Tom Hanks. In the last 15 years I’ve seen 15 movies directed by Clint Eastwood and “really liked” 12 of them. Over the same time frame I’ve watched 25 movies that Tom Hanks starred in and 20 of those I “really liked”. So, I “really liked” 80% of the movies I’ve seen for both the Director and the Actor. Here’s something else those 40 movies have in common. None of them were released in September. If a movie that involves the pedigree of Eastwood and Hanks is released in September, should we be skeptical? Yes, but because of the pedigree, I have to put the movie on the prospect list.

Similarly, my second prospect:

The Magnificent Seven . Release Date: September 23, 2016  “Really Like” Probability: 35%

This movie also stars a very bankable actor, Denzel Washington, and a new star, Chris Pratt. I’ve seen 23 Denzel Washington movies and “really liked” 17 of them. The movie is also in one of my favorite genres, the Western. But, guess what, none of those 23 movies was released in September. Again, this is a movie I want to see but the release date makes me skeptical.

Which brings me to three movies that don’t jump out and say “watch me” but are intriguing nonetheless. The first is:

The Light Between Oceans. Release Date:September 2, 2016 “Really Like” Probability: 35%

This movie stars two big name actors, Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender, who happen to be in a relationship in their private lives. Does the off-screen chemistry translate on-screen a la Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy? We’ll have to wait and see if this melodrama rises above September expectations.

The next movie may be September-proof:

Queen of Katwe.  Release Date: September 30, 2016    “Really Like” Probability: 45%

Walt Disney Pictures over the last couple of decades has developed  a sub-genre specialty in their efforts  to produce family oriented entertainment, the “true underdog ” Sports Movie. While on occasion they’ve taken liberty with the facts, as in the 2015 McFarland, USA, their product has been consistently entertaining.This year’s underdog competitor is a young girl from a Ugandan village who trains to be a world chess champion. I believe that this movie is the most promising of the month.

For my final choice, I’m going with a selection from the odd filmography of Tim Burton:

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.  Release Date: September 30, 2016         “Really Like” Probability: 35%

Why did I pick this movie? Maybe it’s because it has a little bit of a Harry Potter feel to it. The clincher though is that Samuel L. Jackson is in the movie. There are five actors who I’ve seen in at least 25 movies over the past 15 years. Samuel L. Jackson is one of the five. And, he ranks only behind Tom Hanks in the average rating I’ve given those movies.

That’s all I’ve got. After all it is September movies we’re talking about.

 

 

 

Can the Westerns Genre Thread the Gender Gap Needle?

The big box office news this past weekend was the big decline in ticket sales for Suicide Squad and the strong opening for Sausage Party. But, without much fanfare, the best performing movie of the weekend was Hell or High Water. Because it only opened in 32 theaters this weekend, you won’t find it in the box office top ten. It was, however, the number one movie of the weekend in terms of ticket sales per theater, racking up an impressive per screen average of $18,500, well ahead of Sausage Party at $10,828 per screen. Could the Western genre be experiencing a renaissance?

The big box office news this past weekend was the big decline in ticket sales for Suicide Squad and the strong opening for Sausage Party. But, without much fanfare, the best performing movie of the weekend was Hell or High Water, a modern day Western. Because it only opened in 32 theaters this weekend, you won’t find it in the box office top ten. It was, however, the number one movie of the weekend in terms of ticket sales per theater, racking up an impressive per screen average of $18,500, well ahead of Sausage Party at $10,828 per screen. Could the Western genre be experiencing a renaissance?

Westerns were very popular in the twentieth century up until the 1960’s. After that it seemed like their audience rode off into the sunset with the heroes of this genre. The decline of the Western genre may be influenced by the growing purchasing power of women. Today women purchase more than half of the tickets sold at movie theaters and Westerns have not been popular with women.

In a study I did of IMDB’s top movies from the Western genre the problem becomes evident. Women typically make up around 16% of the IMDB vote. For the Western genre women make up around 9% of the vote. For all movies, women have the same IMDB average rating as men. For Westerns, women have an average rating that is 0.3 points lower.

It appears that movie studios recognized that they had a problem attracting women to Western movies and began to make them more female-friendly. My study bears this out.

Movie IMDB Average Rating
Release Male Female Female % of all Votes
Pre-1970             8.4             8.0 8.5%
Post-1969             7.8             7.8 13.0%

In terms of female participation and average rating, the gender gap was clearly narrowing in the Post-1969 era.

In my 40 movie sample, three actors appear in multiple movies and they are instructive of the Western gender gap.

IMDB Average Rating
# of Movies Male Female Female % of all Votes
John Wayne 6             7.9             7.4 10%
Clint Eastwood 8             8.4             8.1 7%
Kevin Costner 4             7.7             7.7 13%

John Wayne and Clint Eastwood are symbolic of the golden age of Westerns and representative of the gender gap experienced by the genre. John Wayne is the tough as nails hero. Clint Eastwood is the tough as nails anti-hero.  Kevin Costner, on the other hand plays a more charming and humanistic hero in his movies. Where John Wayne is an Indian fighter in his roles, Costner becomes a friend of the Indians in Dances with Wolves. Where Clint Eastwood is the less than noble loner, Costner in Open Range becomes the romantic partner of the female ranch owner in her quest to protect her land.

In the Post-1969 era of the Western genre, movie producers are clearly recognizing the need to appeal to women to make the genre viable again. On the flip side, the average male vote is lower as the machismo in these movies is mitigated. It is an interesting case study in movie market dynamics.

It will be interesting to track Hell or High Water  as it moves to wider release next week. In early IMDB voting, it has 15% female participation in the voting, above average for the genre, and a male average rating of 8.2, suggesting strong male appeal. Early on it is threading the gender gap needle. We’ll have to wait a few weeks to see if this early trend continues.