Sunday, February 1, 2009


As a writer you have two customers, the studio and the ticket buyer. Let’s look at what these two were selling and buying in 2008.

Give yourself a quiz, no really. Grab a sheet of paper and a pen and answer these questions. They all apply to 2008 films and therefore the current state of the marketplace.

#1 What was the average length of the top 10 grossing films in 2008?

#2 Of those top 10 grossing films, what were the top genres and place them in order?

#3 Of those top 10 grossing films, what were the most popular ratings, in order?

#4 Of ALL films released in 2008 what was the best performing genre… meaning avg. gross per film? What was the worst genre?

OK here are your answers.

#1 108 minutes. See the chart under #3. So remember, every time anyone is about to read one of your scripts the first thing they are going to do is check the length. If it’s a family comedy that’s 127 pages, you might want to do a little cutting first.

#2 Drum roll please… 1) Action 2) Comedy 3) Adventure 4) Family 5) Drama

Genre Total Gross
Action $1,561,281,485
Family $616,258,290
Comedy $998,734,003
Adventure $717,924,818
Drama $176,922,850

Now notice I added together the grosses of any film containing any portion of that genre because it is very rare that a film is just a comedy or just an action film. It effectively shows you what attributes filmgoers most coveted from the top 10 in 2008. Does your screenplay contain some of these attributes?

#3 PG-13 is the clear winner

Ratings Gross Avg. Length
G $378,336,328 92 min
PG $392,451,401 90.5 min
PG-13 $1,738,204,335 120 min

#4 By this definition, Action was the best and Drama the worst. Now this doesn’t mean your script should never have great drama or all scripts should be straight action, but it is a clear reflection of what the current ticket buyer is wanting most from you. It also may reflect those genres with a higher probability of sucess.

1 Comedy 133 $2,981,119,208 30.28% $22,414,430.14
2 Action 37 $2,040,042,510 20.72% $55,136,284.05
3 Adventure 39 $1,802,838,468 18.31% $46,226,627.38
4 Drama 222 $1,125,484,774 11.43% $5,069,751.23
5 Thriller 44 $762,196,068 7.74% $17,322,637.91
6 Rom/Com 23 $335,612,934 3.41% $14,591,866.70
7 Horror 24 $294,178,978 2.99% $12,257,457.42

This is a simple exercise designed to remind you of what your customer wants. Hopefully your answers didn’t differ greatly. If they did, hopefully this will help you see what consumers and studios are looking for.

And I know a few of you are going to point to several films outside the top 10 that buck the trend and I fully acknowledge their existence and that this quick exercise is not an exhaustive study.

But that’s kind of like pointing to the market for bubble gum flavored soda while ignoring it in comparison cola’s utter dominance of the soda market. Thank god for us Coke and Pepsi aren’t movies and the soda has to be reinvented every year. This being the case, do yourself a favor and write a cola.

I apologize for the charts. Apparently formatting is lost when pasting from Excel to the Blog.


  1. Awesome job man...truly. However, that is what Hollywood pumps out. You will have a fluke come down the pike like THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST or MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, etc. For the writer it's hard to chase the tail of that commercial dragon. Believe it or not I am just not sure “ticket sales” is a genuine response to the material. I see a film in theaters rarely because I know most movies suck. And yet they are huge at the box office. That’s because I am a discerning audience goer. Maybe I slip below the radar. Try and catch me…lol.

    Look at BENJAMIN BUTTON...who would have thunk it? Or A BEAUTIFUL MIND. Who would have thought the idea of a guy suffering from schizophrenia hanging around a college campus would be remotely “commercial.”

    However your numbers do not lie. I think that oh, yes, marketing play a huge role. Audience goers are lazy. Stick it in their face and they buy it.

  2. I agree with you about the marketing thing...

    In the beautiful city that I live in, I've been chasing blondes left, right and center for the past four years. Last week, all of that changed when I met this cutie with short black hair.

    Was it love at first sight, or was I just reminded that those are the type of women I actually really like?