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What makes a movie a box-office hit?

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Congratulations to Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, who won two Golden Globes for his French movie Elle yesterday night. The film got rave reviews after it premiered – which might explain its international success. But what is it that makes a movie a box-office hit at your local movie theater? According to Dr. Jason Roos, it’s all in the political preference of the audience.

Verhoeven’s movie Elle was already internationally acclaimed before it got awarded. But movie theatres don’t serve an international audience, they serve villages and neighbourhoods. So to make a profit from a movie, it doesn’t matter what the Hollywood critics prefer – it’s the local audience that matters.

Dr. Roos (Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University) analysed box-office data from 25 counties in the USA, and found out that it’s not traditional marketing variables like age, income and education level that predict a movie’s success: it’s the audience’s political preference. While Republicans tend to prefer movies with Caucasian actresses in the lead role, Democrats go for African American heroes.

Something else Roos found out: genre-words like drama, comedy or thriller don’t really speak to people who are trying to pick a movie to watch. It’s whether the whole family can come or if it’s only for adults, or whether it’s emotionally intense or rather easy to watch that’s important to them.

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Want to learn more? In this video, Dr. Roos explains how he found out what makes movies a local success!