Patterns In The Top 20 ROI (Return On Investment) Films: On Frequency (over time)

During this empirical and scientific doctoral research study, I discovered a (relatively) surprising pattern, in The Top 20 ROI films Of The Last 70 Years:


Time clock

With amazingly regular frequency:

The Top 20 Audience Reach/Budget Films of the Last 70 Years. Data Source: The-Numbers.com. Analysis: JT Velikovsky

The Top 20 Audience Reach/Budget Films of the Last 70 Years. Data Source: The-Numbers.com. Analysis: JT Velikovsky

The time series (below) shows that: Top 20 ROI Films occur with a surprisingly regular frequency:

Since 1968, every 2 years, on average (every 2.05 years, to be exact). 

There is therefore a clear pattern to their emergence from the feature film system.

The formula that results from a linear regression[1] is:

Formula for the frequency of Top 20 ROI films

The Formula for the Frequency of Top 20 ROI films

The time series shows a clear pattern, as revealed below, by the “line of best fit”/trend line:

The Top 20 ROI Films by Release Year (Velikovsky 2012)

The Top 20 ROI Films by Release Year (Velikovsky 2012). Note the 10-year “gap” between 1983 and 1993, and also, the subsequent “market correction”: the 4 films that emerged `all at once’ in 2004.

This time series (above) also clearly shows the 10-year gap – from 1983 to 1993, and also, the four Top 20 ROI films that emerged in 2004 (Primer, SAW, Open Water, Napoleon Dynamite).


The suggested reasons for the 10-year “drought” (1983-1993) and the 2004 “flood” (the four Top-20 ROI films) include that:

1)    From 1983 to 1993, (an economic boom-time, and notoriously “the rise of Wall Street” as satirized in the book and film American Psycho, 2000) the worldwide film industry was dominated by big-budget “blockbuster” films and their sequels, creating a competitive climate for original, independent films.

Among the highest-grossing films worldwide for the period from 1983 to 1993, were:

1983 – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) – $572 million

1984 – Ghostbusters – $291 million, Beverly Hills Cop $316 million

1984 – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – $333 million

1985 – Back to the Future – $382 million, Rocky IV – $300 million, Rambo: First Blood Part 2 – $300 million

1986 – Crocodile Dundee – $328 million

1987 – Fatal Attraction – $320 million, Beverly Hills Cop 2 – $300 million

1988 – Rain Man – $355 million, Who Framed Roger Rabbit – $329m, Crocodile Dundee 2 – $239 million

1989 – Batman – $411 million, Back To The Future 2 – $332, Lethal Weapon 2  – $227 million

1989 – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – $474 million, Ghostbusters 2 – $215 million

1990 – Ghost – $505 million, Home Alone – $476 million

1991 – Terminator 2: Judgment Day – $519 million, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – $390 million

1992 – Lethal Weapon 3 – $321 million, Batman Returns – $266 million, Home Alone 2: Lost In New York – $358 million, Basic Instinct – $353 million

1993 – Jurassic Park – $914 million, Mrs Doubtfire – $441 million

Confused Crowd


And the major contributing factors for the “glut” of high-ROI films in 2004 was that:

35 mm film prety much went out in the noughties

35mm film cameras (with the Mickey Mouse ears) pretty much `went South’ in the `Noughties’ as digital camera and digital editing equipment technology became more affordable

2)    In 2002, digital films (both in terms of cameras – and digital editing software, even where films were shot on 35mm) became very affordable for independent filmmakers[2]


So – the regular frequency of emergence of `Top 20 ROI’ Films (as in the chart above) is clear empirical evidence that – there is a predictable system at work, in the domain of Theatrical Feature Films.

And, if indeed as the empirical data suggests, there is “a system” (or in fact, multiple, overlapping systems) in existence, from which these feature films emerge with such regularity, then which theory (or, combination of theories) might both describe and explain the workings of such a system (or, systems)?

The answer is: Creative Practice Theory Narratology – a synthesis of Csikszentmihalyi’s systems model of creativity, and Bourdieu’s practice theory. This theory accurately describes the feature film system in action.

Figure 1: Creative Practice Theory Narratology: the agent-based model online computer simulationAnalysis: the author (Velikovsky 2012f)

 Creative Practice Theory Narratology: the agent-based model online computer simulation (Velikovsky 2012)


Although this empirical and scientific method (the StoryAlity system) appears to have “presumed a system, and then found one” – importantly, Blaikie finds that:

`Rubenstein et al have argued that science is a process that progressively explores the world by means of a systematic alternation between induction and deduction, an iterative process for refining and testing ideas’

(Blaikie 1993: 82)

Inductive vs Deductive Methodologies (Blaikie)

Inductive vs Deductive Methodologies (Blaikie 1993)

Figure 3: Inductive and Deductive strategies

Source: (Blaikie 1993: 157)

So; yeah. Re: The Problem of Induction? Don’t even think about it… (Nassim Taleb*, this means you 😉

Also described in the previous posts (StoryAlity #50 – 52) I also discovered The Fibonacci Sequence and The Golden Ratio in the structure of the story of these Top 20 ROI Films.

The StoryAlity Syntagm (Velikovsky 2012)

The StoryAlity Syntagm (Velikovsky 2012)

Next up: More Patterns in the Top 20 RoI Films: Number of Scenes, and Film-Duration / Screenplay-Length

Bottom ROI left tail of the bell curve

We shall see

Right before your very eyes

Poor old `Creativity-Magic-Guy’ is currently nursing Repetitive-Strain-Injury in his left elbow.

Thoughts, feedback, comments?


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/


* Nassim Taleb is an ex-Wharton School (the University of Pennsylvania) scholar, whose work is focussed on randomness, uncertainty and probability. He is also the author of The Black Swan (2007) and Fooled By Randomness (2001), in which I have discovered two errors (i.e. logical lacunae).

[1] Note that, in regression analysis, the closer R2 is to 1, the better is “the goodness of fit”. The R2 coefficient of determination is a statistical measure of how well the regression line approximates the actual data points.

[2] http://cinematech.blogspot.com.au/2006/01/jeremy-coon-of-napoleon-dynamite-and.html


Blaikie, Norman W. H. (1993), Approaches to Social Enquiry (Cambridge: Polity Press).

10 thoughts on “StoryAlity #55 – Patterns In The Top-20 ROI Films: Frequency

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