Possibly: Why 7 in 10 Movies Lo$e Money.

In Entertainment Industry Economics, Vogel states:

‘…of any ten major theatrical films produced, on the average, six or seven may be broadly characterized as unprofitable and one might break even.’

(Vogel 2011: 71)

So: Why do 7 in 10 movies (on average) lose money?

The only real reason that a movie is `good’ or `bad’ is: The Story.

At the risk of being obvious – the reason people go to see a movie is that: it is a good story.

So – Why are 7 in 10 movies bad?

I would like to propose a serious answer to this problem. In doing so, I will draw on three main sources:

a)    Ian W. Macdonald’s 2004 PhD thesis, ‘The Presentation of the Screen Idea in Narrative Film-making’, Macdonald, I W, Leeds Metropolitan University. (Macdonald 2004)

b)    DK Simonton’s Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics, Oxford University Press, New York; Oxford. (Simonton 2011)

c)     Creative Practice Theory Narratology – my own synthesis of practice theory (Bourdieu 1993) the systems model of creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1988), memes (Dawkins 1976), holons (Koestler 1964, 1967, 1978) and narratology (selected narratology methods since Plato).

(See also: https://storyality.wordpress.com/practice-theory-narratology/)


My own formulation of “the problem” – and its solution – runs like so:

1)    There currently exists a “screenwriting convention”. This is `the dominant discourse’ around what makes a good (even “great”) film story; “the knowledge” contained in screenwriting manuals, and screenwriting seminars. This convention is taught in high schools, universities, colleges, and film schools.

2)    This “screenwriting convention” is dominated by a discourse that contains `film story dramatic principles’ proposed by various script `gurus’ (and, it appears that the 10 best-selling and most frequently academically-cited of these are: McKee, Field, Seger, Truby, Hauge, Vogler, Snyder, Stefanik, Trottier, Walter, Egri, etc).

3)    The current “screenwriting convention” is primarily based on quasi-Aristotelian ideas of drama.

4)    Many – in fact, arguably most – movie stories (screenplays) are therefore developed (conceived, written, and rewritten) in relation to this dominant screenwriting discourse / the “screenwriting convention”.

5)    It is possible that the current `screenwriting convention’ is incorrect. Potentially, the most likely reason for this is that it does not employ a  consilient (empirical nor a scientific) method in arriving at the `dramatic principles’ that characterize a great (film) story. Examples given by various authors of the approximately 2500 screenwriting manuals in existence (e.g. McKee, Field, Hauge, etc) are – in general – selective and illustrative; they are not the result of (derived from) comprehensive consilient (scientific and empirical) studies of empirically-successful film stories. (Such as, say: a list of, the Top 20 RoI films)

6)    Aristotle’s notions of what makes good drama possibly applies to ancient Greek plays, but it too (Aristotle’s Poetics) is neither empirical – nor scientific in its methodology. It appears that Aristotle apparently selected various plays as examples of good drama, based on his own opinion.

7)    If the existing `screenwriting convention’ itself is neither empirical nor scientific in its methodology, then it is possibly not surprising that 7 in 10 movies lose money.

8)    The Domain of Film/Screenwriting is therefore (currently, in 2012) possibly in a “pre-paradigm” / “pre-science” state. (See also, Thomas Kuhn: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions)

9)    This domain problem in Film, namely that 7 in 10 films lose money can potentially be corrected – or at the least improved – by an empirical and scientific approach to studying film story.

10) A comparative empirical and scientific study of the top 20 and bottom 20 RoI feature films may address the above problems, and specifically the core domain problem that: 7 in 10 films lose money.

This logical argument is the core premise of my doctoral research thesis, which is titled:

“Understanding and Exploring the Relationship between: Creativity; Theories of Narratology; Screenwriting; and Narrative Fiction Feature Film-making Practices.”

Naked Philosophy Guy does: Philosophy

Naked Philosophy Guy does: Philosophy

…Thoughts? Comments? Feedback?


JT Velikovsky

High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher

The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky

JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/



Kuhn, TS & Hacking, I (2012), The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 4th edn, University of Chicago Press, Chicago; London.

Macdonald, Ian W. (2004), ‘The Presentation of the Screen Idea in Narrative Film-making’, (Leeds Metropolitan University).

Simonton, Dean Keith (2011), Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Vogel, Harold L. (2011), Entertainment Industry Economics: A Guide For Financial Analysis (8th edn.; New York: Cambridge University Press) xxii, 655 p.

One thought on “StoryAlity #25 – Possibly: Why 7 in 10 Movies Lo$e Money.

  1. Pingback: StoryAlity #30 – Abandon Aristotle(!) | StoryAlity

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