Skip to main content

Using Data to Predict the Next Hollywood Blockbuster

August 10, 2017

The Hollywood movie industry expects to make $35.3 billion by 2019. By any measure, that is incredible success.

But data might provide movie producers a way to do better. Much better.

Hollywood currently operates on a system in which movie executives green light projects they feel will have a market. That can range from summer blockbusters to smaller, independent films.

It’s the blockbusters that help overcome box office bombs. Movie studios need them. That’s because for every Harry Potter or Batman movie that becomes a hit, there is a “Lone Ranger” or “Catwoman” that does not.

Hollywood increasingly is interested in using data to better give viewers what they want. It also can optimize marketing efforts to help reach the right audience.

Uses of Data in Hollywood

There are two keys areas many areas where data can help with both making movies and marketing them.

Real-Time Reaction

Internet sites such as the Internet Movie Database provide tons of data on consumers’ reactions to movies. With its anonymous nature, the site provides a wealth of raw reaction to films. Looking at such sites as well as social media also generates feedback that goes beyond age-old demographics.

IBM’s Richard Maraschi told The Atlantic that movie studios still group audiences into large segments such as over and under 25. He feels collecting data from online reactions can drive better results for studios. He noted that such data gives a finely grained look at movie audiences, such as “soccer moms in Florida that are really passionate about action films.”


Movie marketing remains mass market. However, some studios have moved into using data from past movie reactions to market toward niche groups. An example is Legendary Entertainment. The company is behind the “World of Warcraft” movies, and has used a data-driven approach to marketing.

The company’s chief analytics officer, Matt Marolda, told the Boston Globe that the company wanted to target gamers. They also wanted to avoid people who had no interest in the film who would respond negatively to advertising. They did so by targeting online marketing to gamer sites.

The Netflix Method

Netflix started as a digital streaming company for movies and television shows. The company now makes its own films using a data-driven strategy. It won’t be surprising if they eventually produce major movie blockbusters.

Netflix has enormous amounts of data at its disposal. It goes far beyond what movies are the most popular and what ratings people give them.

Some of the data Netflix collects includes what days of the week people watch television and when they watch movies. They know at what point people paused a movie or hit fast forward. They know which show in a TV series is the one that a majority of people bail out on and never finish the series. They know how fast people binge-watch different kinds of television series.

They even used data to develop the hit television show “House of Cards.” They picked director David Fincher because his movies are popular and often watched all the way to the end. They picked Kevin Spacey because he remains popular no matter what genre he stars in. And they remade the British series “House of Cards” because the original had proven popular with viewers.

It became the most streamed television show in the U.S. and 40 other countries.

Clearly, data is the future for Hollywood. Netflix and Amazon, another data-driven company, have access to information beyond what traditional media companies have. But ideas such as the one from IBM on data collection will increasingly drive decisions.

And based on how good television series offerings have gotten on Netflix and Amazon, everyone can also hope it will lead to better movies.