Culture 3 min read

How Movie Studios Use AI to Predict Box Office Hits

Ivan Cholakov /

Ivan Cholakov /

Hollywood studios are starting to use artificial intelligence to predict if a movie will become a box office hit or flop.

Disney was optimistic about the release of John Carter, a movie adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian novels. And that’s understandable.

The movie had star writer Michael Chabon and acclaimed director of Finding Nemo, Andrew Stanton. There was also the whopping $350 million movie budget to consider.

So, Disney’s confidence in the movie was justifiable. But, Black Swan, a UK artificial intelligence (AI) firm that the entertainment conglomerate hired to predict successful films, didn’t share this optimism.

The AI firm thought John Carter would flop. “But no one listened,” Black Swan co-founder and chief executive, Steve King, told The Telegraph. “People absolutely convince themselves… but the machines are always right – boringly always right.”

Indeed, the machine was right. John Carter turned out to be one of the biggest box office bombs of all-time.

That was 2012. Now, AI has become an essential part of our daily lives, and Hollywood has embraced the trend.

For example, Warner Bros. recently signed a deal with Cinelytic, an AI firm that claims to predict how well a movie will perform. Similarly, Netflix commissions and cancel shows based on data.

But how do these studios use AI?

Using Artificial Intelligence to Spot Box Office Hits

AI predictions depend on data, and the processed information varies with each company.

Black Swan is a trend-spotting company. The UK firm collects data from social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to understand people’s movie interests.

For example, the AI company helps airlines pick the movie to buy for in-flight entertainment. And it discovered that people prefer watching rom-coms when returning home than when leaving.

On the other hand, AI firm, ScriptBook, claims to be “democratizing” storytelling.

Along with predicting box office returns, the Belgium start-up analyses scripts, and predict review scores and viewers’ satisfaction. According to the company’s chief executive, Nadira Azermai, their AI has an 86 percent accuracy rate.

In 2016, ScriptBook told Liongate that its unconventional musical La La Land would be a success. And it turned out to be right.

Despite AI’s success at predicting movie outcomes, experts are still skeptical about its use.

Independent AI expert Lydia Nicholas told the Telegraph that an AI system is designed to be decision support tools. However, users end up treating the system as decision-makers.

Studios would use Artificial Intelligence to justify their dislike for risks. What’s more, previous decisions in Hollywood could create a polluted dataset, which in turn would make a biased AI.

You’d never have another Marvel Cinematic Universe because no one had done that before,” said Nicholas.

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Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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