Your movie ticket is a vote

I was playing around with some data on the highest-grossing film of each year (I’ve explained before that this is what data analysts do in their free time).

Take a look at the table below. It is a timeline of the top films in revenue from 1975 to 2018 (from left to right). On the vertical axis you have the primary genre of each film as listed on IMDb. The lighter the color, the fewer the number of films of that genre featured in the top-10 list in a particular year. It’s also noteworthy that action films were not really the biggest hits before the 2010s, contrary to the popular belief.

As you can see, up to 2013 (the year I’ve marked with a green vertical line) there was a variety of genres selling lots of tickets every year. Genres like comedy, romance, sci-fi, thriller, fantasy seemed to be staples of movie-going audiences. Tastes of course shifted over time but there was no particular genre that dominated the box office.

Enter 2013 and onwards. Superhero films (or big franchise tentpoles like Star Wars) became a synonym to a night at the cinema. Gone are the days when you had a whole slew of different films to choose from. Notice that the last 5 years, it’s almost only action films earning top dollar at the box office.

That doesn’t mean that those films are bad. On the contrary; they are magnificent productions. But the fact that the box office has become so monolithic poses a risk to all other types of films, especially independent filmmaking.

And that’s because studios respond to what audiences pay for. If we’re willing to buy tickets only for superhero films, that’s the only genre that will be widely available soon. The new Soderberghs and Linklaters will struggle to find financing for their ideas, thus making the world of cinema less varied and interesting.

So, remember, the next time you go to the cinema that by buying a movie ticket you’re casting a vote. A vote that determines what type of films we’ll be seeing in the future.