Well, this is sure to spark an intense debate. The classic 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz is the most influential film of all time, featuring Star Wars: A New Hope and Alfred Hitchcock’s psychosis in second and third place respectively. That is the conclusion of a new study by Italian scientists in the journal applied network science, suggests a new benchmark for determining the success of a film, similar to that used for scientific publications.
According to study co-author Livio Bioglio of the University of Turin, the usual metrics used to measure a film’s success are inadequate to judge its true quality and significance. For example, receipts are influenced by non-aesthetic factors such as advertising and distribution, while ratings are inherently subjective. Numerous now-classic movies were box-office bombed and/or critically destroyed at the time of their release. (Ahem. Blade Runnereverybody?)
The Italian scientists reasoned that perhaps the science of complex networks can help. “We propose an alternative method for box office receipts and reviews to analyze the success of a film,” said Bioglio. “We’ve developed an algorithm that uses cross-film references as a measure of success, and can also be used to evaluate the careers of directors, actors and actresses, considering their participation in the highest-rated films.”
Bioglio et al. applied their algorithm to information collected on 47,000 movies on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). (The authors caution that there is a bias in their data toward western movies, as those are the movies most likely to be listed on IMDB.) Each movie is treated as a node in the network, and the number of connections it has. has with other films indicates how influential it is likely to be, especially if it relates to several other influential films.
With the exception of Star Warstheir results were markedly different from traditional box office rankings. King Kong (1933), 2001: A space odyssey (1968), Metropolis (1927), burger Kane (1941), The Birth of a Nation (1915), Frankenstein (1931), and Snowwhite and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) round out the top ten. If we rank movies by receipts (adjusted for inflation), Gone with the wind (1939) is in first place (it is #19 in the Italian ranking), followed by Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) and The sound of music (1965), who failed to make the top 20 of the Italian team. The Wizard of Oz and psychosis (1960) didn’t even make the top 100 for receipts.
This new approach is similar to the metric used to rank the prestige of academic journals – known as the “impact factor“—or the citation index used to determine the relative importance and influence of individual articles in an academic field. The impact factor is based on the average number of times a journal’s articles have been cited in the past two years. But it has met with harsh criticism in the last decade because the distribution of citations is very skewed Nature have very high impact factors due to a small number of highly cited articles, but most articles published in Nature received only 10 to 20 citations on average.
There is clearly a bias towards older films in this new analysis.
A solid argument can be made for skewed results when it comes to determining the most influential films. For starters, there is clearly a bias towards older films in this new analysis; no film in the top 20 was released after 1977. That makes sense. Older movies have been around for much longer, so they will naturally have more connections to later movies, influential or not. But it’s not fair to more recent releases.
A similar skew affects directors’ rankings, as the authors acknowledged (and tried to address). When the Italian researchers applied their algorithm to directors, the most influential were George Cukor, Victor Fleming and Alfred Hitchcock. Cukor and Fleming probably earned their spot because of their association with away with the wind, while five of the men credited for The Wizard of Oz ranked among the top eight drivers.
Deciding that a different yardstick was needed for evaluating directors (and actors and actresses), Bioglio et al. used a medal ranking similar to that of the Olympics. A “gold” point was awarded for each film that reached the top 5 percent of influence in the year it was released; a “silver” point was awarded for a film in the best 5 to 10 percent ranking; and a “bronze” point was awarded for each film in the best 10 to 25 percent ranking. All points were added together for each person, with the more precious metals playing a greater role in the final rating.
The result: Hitchcock took first place for directors, Steven Spielberg rose from fifth to second place, and Brian de Palma – who failed to make the top 20 in the first analysis – took third. Cukor and Fleming failed to make the top 20 in the second analysis.
The top actors were Samuel L. Jackson, Clint Eastwood and Tom Cruise. The top actresses were Lois Maxwell (she played Miss Moneypenny in the early James Bond films), Carrie Fisher and Maureen O’Sullivan. Unsurprisingly, there was a strong male bias. The authors noted that actresses consistently amassed lower point totals than their male counterparts. When actors and actresses weren’t segregated by gender, only Maxwell broke the top ten. “The only exceptions were music films, the results of which showed moderate gender equality, and films produced in Sweden, where actresses outperformed actors,” says Bioglio.
It’s great that scientists are applying the tools of network science to develop a better movie rating system, just as the search for the perfect academic rating system continues. Every alternative proposed in academia has its pluses and minuses so far, and the same can be said for Bioglio et al.’s new algorithm. It has admittedly provided some insight into certain trends, such as the influence of 1950s Japanese monster movies on Western cinema and Hollywood’s infamous gender inequality.
But it is notoriously difficult to measure such a vague quality as ‘influence’ because definitions and criteria for determining that influence can vary widely. The princess bride It didn’t break box office records or receive more than moderate critical acclaim, nor did it score very highly based on this new analysis. Still, since its release in 1987, it has had an undeniably huge cultural impact.
Bottom line: at least let’s keep fighting for better stats in Hollywood. But in the end there will always be a degree of subjectivity and bias.
DOI: Applied Network Science2018. 10.1007/s41109-018-0105-0 (About DOIs).