Can Metascores Predict Box Office Performance?

  • Publish Date: April 12, 2016
  • Comments: ↓ 15 user comments

Yes, they can (for major releases)

ImageThis fight was over in the 1st round

Just a few weeks ago, the blockbuster Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice set a number of box office records during its opening weekend, grossing more in its first few days than any other March release in history (or any other Warner Bros. film, period). The following week, it made headlines in the industry press for more dubious reasons: the film's domestic receipts plummeted 69.1% in its second weekend.

It turns out that Batman v. Superman just wasn't a very good movie; critics gave the film lackluster or even scathing reviews upon its release. So was the film's second-weekend failure predictable? Do bad movies perform worse at the box office than good movies?

To answer those questions, we examined box office and film quality data for all major nationwide releases from the past decade, using our favorite proxy for film quality: Metascores. (For the uninitiated, Metascores represent the consensus opinion of top professional critics on a scale of 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating better reviews. Batman v. Superman scored a meager 44.) And it turns out that, on average, good movies really do make more money than mediocre or awful films.

Good movies open bigger than bad movies ...

Nationwide releases are heavily marketed prior to their release dates, and—especially for "event" films—thousands of tickets may be sold before a film's first review appears online. It would be fair to assume, then, that many mainstream movies are somewhat "review-proof" for their opening weekends. However, moviegoers certainly seem to be able to sniff out crummy movies in advance, as there is a surprisingly strong correlation between film quality and opening weekend grosses:

MetacriticAverage Opening Weekend for Major Releases*, by Metascore
$14.0M
$16.5M
$21.4M
$26.9M
$35.5M
$37.1M
$49.6M

$59.1M
019 2039 4050 5160 6170 7180 8190 91100
bad reviews mixed reviews positive reviews

* All charts on this page include films originally opening in at least 2,000 theaters between January 1, 2006 and December 31, 2015 (but excludes re-releases of older films). Grosses are U.S. only. Source of box office data: Box Office Mojo

... but differences are even more pronounced over the full run

While better movies tend to open bigger than lousy films, it is actually the period after the opening weekend when the link between film quality and box office performance becomes even clearer.

Second weekend declines

After the initial wave of support from any built-in fanbase, films perceived as poor quality will presumably fizzle out rather quickly, while those bolstered by positive reviews will continue to attract filmgoers. The data support this assumption, with ticket sales for lousy films falling off much more sharply over the first week than those for better quality releases.

MetacriticAverage Drop in Box Office Receipts Between 1st and 2nd Weekend

52.5%
50.2%
49.5%
46.2%
44.2%
42.1%
38.8%

37.7%
019 2039 4050 5160 6170 7180 8190 91100
bad reviews mixed reviews positive reviews

You can view each film's details below (hover over any dot to see the film's name). Note that the size of each dot corresponds to the film's total domestic gross (for its full run), with larger dots indicating higher total grosses. Just for fun, we added Batman v. Superman into the chart so you can see how much of an aberration its second-week performance was (hint: you'll find it next to a bunch of Twilight films).

Multipliers

Do Metascores correlate with a film's enduring popularity over the course of its entire theatrical run? Yes. As you can see below, the higher the Metascore, the higher a film's multiplier, on average. In this case, we are defining "multiplier" as each film's total box office gross divided by its opening weekend gross. A film with a higher multiplier will thus have more "legs" and earn a larger chunk of its receipts after opening weekend.

Oddly, the highest scoring films don't do quite as well as the second-highest group. This is likely an oddity caused by the tiny size of the 91-100 group: just seven films (four of which are Pixar releases).

MetacriticAverage Multiplier for Major Releases, by Metascore
2.6
2.8
2.9
3.1
3.4
3.8

4.3

4.1
019 2039 4050 5160 6170 7180 8190 91100
bad reviews mixed reviews positive reviews

Total grosses

You can see that multiplier in action in our final chart, which compares the average total domestic box office grosses for each group of films. Because of the gradual rise in multiplier as the Metascore increases, the difference between each group's total grosses is more extreme than the difference between opening weekend grosses. In both measures, however, the simple rule holds: the better the film, the more money it collects, on average. That effect becomes even more pronounced once the Metascore reaches 81 or higher:.

MetacriticAverage Total Box Office Grosses for Major Film Releases
= opening weekend
$35.1M

$47.8M

$62.7M

$81.3M

$112.4M

$137.8M

$197.8M


$238.4M

019 2039 4050 5160 6170 7180 8190 91100
bad reviews mixed reviews positive reviews

To sum up

How strong is the connection between film quality and box office performance? Here is a recap of some of the data presented in the charts above:

MetacriticBox Office Performance by Metascore, 2006-2015
(Films Opening in 2,000+ Theaters)

Metascore Range # of Films Avg. Opening
Weekend
Avg. 2nd Weekend
Decline
Avg.
Multiplier
Avg. Total
Gross
Films scoring 019 22 $13,961,514 ▼ 52.5% 2.6 $35,081,918
Films scoring 2039 301 $16,503,055 ▼ 50.2% 2.8 $47,785,166
all with bad reviews: 323 $16,329,947 ▼ 50.4% 2.8 $46,919,929
Films scoring 4050 294 $21,353,058 ▼ 49.5% 2.9 $62,658,866
Films scoring 5160 255 $26,890,484 ▼ 46.2% 3.1 $81,265,377
all with mixed reviews: 549 $23,925,086 ▼ 48.0% 3.0 $71,301,234
Films scoring 6170 163 $35,480,314 ▼ 44.2% 3.4 $112,446,672
Films scoring 7180 87 $37,112,105 ▼ 42.1% 3.8 $137,787,032
Films scoring 8190 29 $49,583,445 ▼ 38.8% 4.3 $197,836,138
Films scoring 91100 7 $59,076,012 ▼ 37.7% 4.1 $238,356,646
all with positive reviews: 286 $37,984,253 ▼ 42.8% 3.6 $131,895,188

Back to Batman v Superman

Based on Batman v Superman's Metascore of 44, we would expect a second-weekend box office decline of close to 50%. Instead, the film dropped nearly 70%. So its performance is more extreme than the typical film, though it is not without precedent. In fact, it isn't even a record. Here are the biggest second-week declines in the past decade—a group that includes mostly horror films and the Twilight Saga, with a few exceptions:

Biggest Second-Weekend Box Office Drops (by Percentage), 2006– *

Film/Metascore Opening
Weekend
2nd Weekend
Drop
Total
Gross
Multiplier
1 34 Friday the 13th (2009) $40.6M ▼ 80.4% $65.0M 1.6
2 46 Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) $85.2M ▼ 73.9% $166.2M 2.0
3 35 A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) $32.9M ▼ 72.3% $63.1M 1.9
4 87 Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 (2011) $169.2M ▼ 72.0% $381.0M 2.3
5 40 Paranormal Activity 4 (2012) $29.0M ▼ 70.7% $53.9M 1.9
6 78 Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) $34.5M ▼ 70.7% $76.0M 2.2
7 34 Valentine's Day (2010) $56.3M ▼ 70.4% $110.5M 2.0
8 44 The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009) $142.8M ▼ 70.0% $296.6M 2.1
9 38 Eragon (2006) $23.2M ▼ 69.9% $75.0M 3.2
10 45 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt. 1 (2011) $138.1M ▼ 69.8% $281.3M 2.0
11 34 Year One (2009) $19.6M ▼ 69.3% $43.3M 2.2
12 69 The Fault in our Stars (2014) $48.0M ▼ 69.2% $124.9M 2.6
13 52 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt. 2 (2012) $141.1M ▼ 69.1% $292.3M 2.1
14 44 Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) $166.0M ▼ 69.1% ??? ???

* Among films opening at 3,000 theaters. Domestic grosses only.

... and here's how it compares to other recent Batman and Superman films:

Second-Weekend Box Office Drops for Recent Batman & Superman Films

Film/Metascore Opening
Weekend
2nd Weekend
Drop
Total
Gross
Multiplier
1 44 Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) $166.0M ▼ 69.1% ??? ???
2 55 Man of Steel (2013) $116.6M ▼ 64.6% $291.0M 2.5
3 78 The Dark Knight Rises (2012) $160.9M ▼ 61.4% $448.1M 2.8
4 72 Superman Returns (2006) $52.5M ▼ 58.5% $200.0M 3.8
5 82 The Dark Knight (2008) $158.4M ▼ 52.5% $534.9M 3.4
6 70 Batman Begins (2005) $48.7M ▼ 43.4% $205.3M 4.2

 

Comments (15)

  • Cranksy  

    With over 1000 movies that were released during a 10 year period, it seems that severe weather alone during some of their opening weekends would have cause more than 20 movies to do better on their second weekend.

  • pardogato  

    Your Squared R values (not corrected) are 0.04 in chart one and 0.15 in chart 2. Thus your hypothesis of predictability must be rejected.
    You can only talk about that a correlation exists, but not an actual predictability. Maybe a non-linear regression model might be useful, especially for chart 2 where there is a visual affinity to a quadratic behavior.

  • EpicLadySponge  

    If you've seen Freddy vs. Jason and gave that one a mixed or negative rating, then Batman v Superman deserves the same score as well. Like what I said earlier, Batman v Superman is a cash-grab and these so-called 'moviegoers' think it's not and they said the same thing to Freddy vs. Jason. There's no doubt you can't claim that Batman v Superman is better than Freddy vs. Jason or the other way around. While it isn't the worst DC movie (I'm looking at Batman & Robin), and really, hate.... on a mixed Metascore (Even they knew it was a cash-grab in the first place), I'm assuming that it should've been split into 4 movies because that's what Batman v Superman is. A confusing movie that never even worked in the first place.

    "The users have it about right on this one, 7-8."

    Lol, trusting so-called 'moviegoers'? That's great because along with them, you're going to regret giving it a positive score when Captain America: Civil War comes out and overtops it.

  • mevan  

    Fantastic article, a great read and I can tell many hours went into writing this. To the editors of Metacritic, thank you for sharing articles like this!

  • Fluid_Dynamics  

    We actually enjoyed Batman v Superman much more than expected based on all the hate the critics gave it.

    I think if folks were comparing it against Batman 4 with George Clooney, they wouldn't be looking at it so harshly, but it's tough to go up against Chris Nolan.

    Also, if you look at the chart, both of the last two Harry Potters, and The Dark Knight Rises had 60-70% drops just like this movie, and those had very positive Metacritic ratings. The users have it about right on this one, 7-8. It's not a spectacular movie, but better than a 29%. Have you looked at some of the crap in the 20% range?

    Lots of herd behavior in the positive and negative camp on this one. It's a divisive movie in that regard, but it's better than the critics gave it. We'll probably see it again.

  • EpicLadySponge  

    Oh look, another one of those people that can't handle the Metascore. I'm the opposite. I can't handle that user score at all. It's too high. 7.3 and 69% user score on both here and Rotten Tomatoes. Captain America: Civil War will obviously be better than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I just know it and it proves Marvel can make great movies and handle them better than DC. Before you flame me, even 20th Century Fox (with the help of Marvel) made one terrible movie in 2015 and that was the new Fantastic Four which scored a 9% and a 27 on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. I've completely lost faith in the users and FYI, you don't always have to listen to the critics. They judge by forming an opinion. You guys do the same as well. I feel like the only reason why Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice exist is to purposely steal your money (because it's a cash-grab), yet you people don't even understand how it got a 29% and a 44 on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. You're entering that moment when you did the worst mistake in your review career (which you gave it a 10). I dare you to watch it again and then come back and give me the total mistakes that film has made.

  • Zaemoncio  

    Too late metacritic. People know now what metacritic and rotten tomatoes really are. 84 early reviews for civil war, 44 and 29% BvS. Now... how is it possible that sensible, educated people that are not "nerds" enjoyed this movie? people that only knew Superman because of Man of Steel or Chris Reeves'? my mother, who looks by the way like Martha Kent, loved MOS and BVS both, and curiously she saw first the second movie (and hated it), then saw the Man of Steel, then she saw IMAX 3d BvS and had a blast. She is not a sheep, nor a fan, she's a pretty good critic too and can see differences between genres.

    If you want my faith you'll have to change. Ban all your "professional" mediocre critics, and start listening to the world.

  • EpicLadySponge  

    The fact that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice got a positive user score totally disgusts me that these people never cared about its fatal mistakes and just went to see the movie without even caring and just going straight to all the fighting. It suddenly became the next Freddy vs. Jason. It totally deserved that Metascore, and that money at the box office too because it's biggest promise for existence is cash-grabbing. I don't get how that's usually a great movie. Before you flame me, I did not gave it a negative score. Check the reviews for my name on it. This, though, is also great comeback for a lot of movies (and also the worst movie I've ever reviewed).

  • frester  

    Incredible data! Thank you so much for your effort.

  • tucotuti  

    Amazing analysis!

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