Maths+Movies


A recent article on Salon.com uses witchcraft math to show how critically acclaimed films actually make more money per screen than films with (as I like to say) “bad reviews.” The idea is that perhaps movies like Transformers and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, two of the highest grossing films of 2007, made a lot of money not because they were good movies that people liked, but because they were shown on tens of thousands of screens. Smaller films that did not have a huge gross and played on less screens, but had good critical reviews nonetheless made more money per screen than the huge summer blockbusters. In the middle, you have movies that made a good deal of money, got good reviews and had a wide release. These films also made more money per screen than the highest grossing, lowest rated movies. The conclusion of the article? That film critics still matter; that people like quality films; that people are “paying attention” to reviewers. Unfortunately, the same methods do not work with libraries. Here the big and small films have equal footing:  we have one copy of I am Legend and we have one copy of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, but which one do you think circulated 16 times and which one 7 times? Do film critics still matter? How do you decide which movie you are willing to pay to see in a theater or rent? How do you decide which films you’ll check out from the library?

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