The 5 Key Factors of Life in the Top 20 RoI Films

Evolution, Literature & Film: A Reader (Editors: Brian Boyd, Joseph Carroll, Jonathan Gottschall, 2010)

In his brilliant chapter “The Wheel of Fire and the Mating Game – Explaining The Origins Of Tragedy And Comedy” in the book Evolution, Literature & Film: A Reader (2010), Daniel Nettle states:

`In primate societies, the ultimate goal of fitness maximization decomposes into several distinct more proximate goals.

At the most basic level, we can identify the following fundamental sub-goals:

(1) Self-preservation. An animal should stay healthy, which means being well fed keeping away from fights and predators.

(2) Mating. An animal should seek to mate when opportune. Males need to ensure fidelity from their females, in order to be sure of paternity, whereas in altricial species females need to secure post-reproductive investment from their males.

(3) Status. An animal should maximize its position on the status hierarchy, as this dictates access to mates, and resources in times of scarcity.

(4) Coalition formation. An animal should maintain its coalitions.

(5) Kin. An animal should protect the interests of its kin.

(For a very similar list, see Carroll, `Deep Structure’.)

All organic life involves trade-offs, and in primates these five goals are often in conflict, suggesting different strategies in the game of life.

Should I seek the mate I want (2) even at the risk of physical danger (1) or the wrath of my friends (4)? Should I seek the alpha status position (3), even at the expense of my kin (5)?

There is no definitive answer to these questions.

The future can only be guessed at, and besides, the outcome of my choosing one course will depend on what everyone else decides to do. Thus the dilemma resonates ceaselessly; solutions can be guessed at but never known.

These are the universal problematics of our order.

Any primate should be interested in how others solve them, for two reasons.

First, it will have to solve them too, and seeing the result of someone else’s negotiation of them might provide a partial model.

Second, in tight groups, the way one individual solves them will have direct effects on the fitness prospects of all the others too. Given all these considerations, we can derive a design specification for a fictional form that would have extremely strong intrinsic capture potential for human minds.

i. It should essentially involve the observation and conveyal of social information about relationships within small tight groups similar to those typical of our species’ natural behaviour

ii. These groups should interact in smaller units with especially strong relationships (cliques)

iii. The individuals involved should make attempts to maximize their biological fitness, with reference to goals 1-5 above

iv. The more extreme the fitness stakes, the greater the intrinsic interest. The most significant domains are mate choice and status competition, and the extreme outcomes in these domains are mating and death

v. The attempts by the protagonists to maximize their fitness will bring about conflict, either between different individuals or between different sub-goals for one individual. The richer and more complex these conflicts, the more captivating the product will be.’

(Nettle in Boyd, Carroll & Gottschall 2010, pp. 316-22)

These reasons above also explain why the Top 20 RoI films went so viral in the culture.

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

Note how all of these films (the Top 20 RoI Films) revolve around:

(1) Self-preservation.
(2) Mating.
(3) Status.
(4) Coalition formation.
(5) Kin.

Keep those 5 balls in the air, guy

Keep those 5 balls in the air, guy!

For more specific details, for each of the Top 20 RoI Films, see the previous post.

And for the evolutionary systems view of narrative, see this chapter:

StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture – and the narreme, or unit of story – book chapter (Velikovsky 2016)

Comments always welcome.


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/



Boyd, B., Carroll, J., & Gottschall, J. (2010). Evolution, Literature and Film: A Reader. New York: Columbia University Press.

Velikovsky, J. T. (2016). `The Holon/Parton Theory of the Unit of Culture (or the Meme, and Narreme): In Science, Media, Entertainment and the Arts.‘ In A. Connor & S. Marks (Eds.), Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications. New York: IGI Global.

2 thoughts on “StoryAlity #75 – The 5 Key Factors of Life in the Top 20 RoI Films

  1. Pingback: StoryAlity #91 – Status and Mating Games (Nettle) – Part 1 | StoryAlity

  2. Pingback: StoryAlity #92 – Status and Mating Games (Nettle) – Part 2 | StoryAlity

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.