This is the second is a series now where I’ve been breaking down wide-release bad movie data through time. The previous installment can be found here. The conclusion there was that one should split Rotten Tomatoes data at around 1998 since pre-1998 and post-1998 (when Rotten Tomatoes was established) behaved much differently. At the end I suggested I wanted to start looking at more recent trends in bad movie releases. This analysis focuses on whether studios have become better at recognizing bad films and either not releasing them (or releasing them to Video on Demand (VOD), which to us is equivalent) or dumping them into the classic bad movie dump months (January, February, August, etc.).
Once again, let’s briefly describe the data set. I collected every film released to over 600 theaters from Box Office Mojo. I only included films released to more than 600 theaters (“wide” according to Box Office Mojo) in this analysis as that is one of our qualifying metrics. I had collected the Wikipedia, IMDb, and Rotten Tomatoes links for these films prior to the previous analysis. This analysis ended up being the first step in thinking about a model based on this data, a model that could, eventually, tell us things like e.g. “Here is a set of eight films being released this February, which films are most likely to be bad, should we watch one of those films, or should we wait until March.” It could also tell us a “fair yield” for a years worth of bad movies, and eventually help identify VOD films which should qualify according to their properties (e.g. “In 2010 this film would have been released to 2000 theaters, but in 2020 it is released successfully to VOD”).
Initially I was curious about whether there was an identifiable trend (outside of general yearly trends) in bad movie releases by month. My initial prior was: I think it makes sense that classic bad movie dumps like January are getting worse in general, and that previous semi-dump months like February and March and getting better, and thus reinforcing the monthly differences we’ve seen previously. This was based on the recent discovery that zero wide release films received less than forty percent on Rotten Tomatoes during June and July 2018, which makes it extremely likely that 2018 will become the first year since the establishment of Rotten Tomatoes to not release at least 52 films with 40% or lower on Rotten Tomatoes widely (a requirement for the continued existence of BMT for all eternity, naturally).
The first question to be asked though is the above: Are we just seeing less bad movies recently? Are these films just being released to VOD (or not released at all)? I split the released by Rotten Tomatoes score to get a sense of how the groups have been changing in the last 20 years:
So the answer to whether there have actually been a lot less bad released recently is no I think, the number of bad releases in the past ten years has been rather stable, but there are a few crazy things of note in this data. First, that in 2007 there were over 50 wide release films to get below 20%, which is insane. The collapse of the bad movie industry coincides with the financial collapse, which I don’t think is a coincidence, I think that studios making films like Redline with ill-begotten fortunes went out of business in 2008 and simply have not come back. Second, the number of films with Rotten Tomatoes scores above 80% has ballooned. I think that is more likely a case of multiple compounding factors, namely: (1) the MCU and other franchises are now consistently releasing good-to-great films multiple times a year; (2) more consistent wide releases for independent films; and (3) Rotten Tomatoes has become bigger and in general the largest films in a year are getting more and better reviews (as we saw in the last analysis). I do think it is a combination of all of those things. Regardless we can use these films per year numbers to produce adjusted films per year (in order to prevent general year-to-year trends obfuscating the monthly trends I’m interested in):
Easy enough. I’m generally interested in three things. First, the average number of films released in a given month in each Rotten Tomatoes category. Second, the trend in these same numbers. And finally, the trend in the bad movie share for a given month. With these three plots I think we can get a clear picture of the traditional bad movie dump months, the trend in those months, and the trend in our bad movie probability in order to better inform our BMT Live! choices in the future.
I just wanted to get an idea of good and bad months traditionally. So this is the average films released across all 20 years in each TomatoMeter category. The dotted lines are the average films released across all five categories, and if you draw a line along the category values you can get a general sense of how much a month released good or bad films. Notably January, February, April, and very slightly August generally release bad films. November and December are the big months for good films. So how has this been changing (adjusting for yearly trends in general)?
Here it is quite interesting. Most months are in general a wash, specifically from May to September really doesn’t have much of a trend. But it looks like January is getting worse, April is getting better, October is getting slightly worst, November is getting a lot better, and December is getting a lot worse. Perhaps November is become the main month where Oscar films are being pushed, and December is starting to clear out for larger fish (namely Star Wars) leaving bad Christmas kids’ films? April getting worse could also be a product of more summer films getting released in February and March (a la the MCU). Note that these trends are formed using the yearly adjustment factors in the second plot. Interestingly this is getting mighty close to how one would form a Rotten Tomatoes score model, so … that could be coming down the pipe.
All interesting and good things to know. Finally, since it is most important to know which months might be good for BMT I also plotted the “share” of bad movies (the percentage of a year’s worth of bad movies, <40% on Rotten Tomatoes released in a given month) with a trend line:
This reinforces some of the things said above: January is, somehow, getting worse with about 12% of the bad movies released in that month; and April and November are both getting much much better in general. Other trends are a little less clear when you look at it this way, specifically with all of the noise it is pretty unclear whether October and December are actually getting worse or not. July is almost definitely a mirage, literally zero bad wide release films came out in July this year so that +41% is going to take a huge hit if I recalculate next year.
All of this is super interesting. If I were to try and fashion some rules it would be:
(1) For the first BMT Live try and get a good January and just run with it, it is very likely to be the best bet; (2) January-March and August-October are prime time for bad movies and we might want to consider doing two good Lives in each of those spans if/when they become available; (3) It seems likely that April-July are going to be very dry forevermore, so it shouldn’t be surprising when 2018 repeats itself (missing the Spring BMT Live! because nothing became available), see rule number 2;
All good guidelines. In a single sentence: We have to get a little loosey goosey with our BMT Live!s because bad movies do seem to be released predominantly during certain months, and the trend seems to be reinforcing itself.