Why Things (like, some Movies) Are Popular – and – The Anna Karenina principle (Diamond 1997).

This is a quote from me:

`Good movies are all alike; every bad movie is bad in its own way.’

– JT Velikovsky Ph.D

And this, below, is the legendary screenwriter William Goldman, saying basically the same thing (namely – the Anna Karenina Principle), at the 48 minutes mark in his writer’s commentary on Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969)…

Goldman makes this remark, right after we hear the basso-profundo RUMBLE sound that accompanies the super-posse who are chasing the heroes at this point in the movie… (and which many audiences probably never consciously notice; as like good film editing, good directing and good acting, good sound design is “invisible” / mostly unnoticeable)

Butch & Sundance 0

Butch & Sundance 1Butch & Sundance 2

Butch & Sundance 3Butch & Sundance 4

`When a movie works, as I think this one does, everything’s gotta work: sound, the look, directing, acting, writing, all that stuff. The score – it’s all gotta work. And, if any of them doesn’t work –  if any of those elements aren’t working – you’re dead.’

William Goldman

So now – to get into the details:

The evolutionary theorist Dr Jared Diamond ((Ph.D., Cambridge University, England) a UCLA Professor with research interests in Biogeography, Geography and Human Society) wrote the excellent Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (Diamond 1997). The book also won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize.

Guns Germs and Steel (Diamond 1997)

Guns, Germs and Steel (Diamond 1997)

In Chapter 9 of the book, in a chapter titled `ZEBRAS, UNHAPPY MARRIAGES, AND THE ANNA KARENINA PRINCIPLE’, Professor Diamond rightly notes the following:

`Domesticable animals are all alike; every undomesticable animal is undomesticable in its own way. If you think you’ve already read something like that before, you’re right. Just make a few changes, and you have the famous first sentence of Tolstoy’s great novel Anna Karenina:

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

By that sentence, Tolstoy meant that, in order to be happy, a marriage must succeed in many different respects: sexual attraction, agreement about money, child discipline, religion, in-laws, and other vital issues. Failure in any one of those essential respects can doom a marriage even if it has all the other ingredients needed for happiness. This principle can be extended to understanding much else about life besides marriage.

We tend to seek easy, single-factor explanations of success.   For most important things, though, success actually requires avoiding many separate possible causes of failure.

The Anna Karenina principle explains a feature of animal domestication that had heavy consequences for human history – namely, that so many seemingly suitable big wild mammal species, such as zebras and peccaries, have never been domesticated and that the successful domesticates were almost exclusively Eurasian.’

(Diamond 1997, p. 157)

Professor Diamond also provides an excellent summary of the book (and its updates, in 2003, and 2007), here.

Why I raise all this:

Professors Csikszentmihalyi and Wolfe (2000) suggest that artifacts (or, memes – or ideas, processes, products) judged creative by the field (or, audience) have the following characteristics.

General Model of Creativity Source: (Csikszentmihalyi, M & Wolfe 2000, p. 81)

General Model of Creativity
Source: (Csikszentmihalyi, M & Wolfe 2000, p. 81)

So – I suggest that the Anna Karenina principle (Diamond 1997) has a very important application in understanding: Movie Story, Movie Screenplay, and, actual Movie – success.

StoryAlity Theory - Comparing the Top and Bottom 20 RoI Films (Velikovsky 2014)

StoryAlity Theory – Comparing the Top – and Bottom – 20 RoI Films (Velikovsky 2014)

And indeed, I suggest that the Anna Karenina principle is also crucial for understanding the success of any creative cultural artifact (e.g., such as, successful novels, songs, videogames, poems, plays, television series, and so forth)…

Namely, as Dr Diamond (1997) notes:

`We tend to seek easy, single-factor explanations of success.

For most important things, though, success actually requires avoiding many separate possible causes of failure.’

(Diamond 1997, p.157)

To be precise, there is not simply one single cause of success, when a movie succeeds (for example, in going viral in culture, as a meme).

…To assume so, would be a case of `the single cause fallacy’.

This also all goes towards explaining the `Less Than 1% Problem’ in the Domain of Movie Screenwriting.

The Less-Than-1% Problem in the domain of Movies (Velikovsky 2014)

The Less-Than-1% Problem in the domain of Movies (Velikovsky 2014)

To be deemed `worthy of making’, a movie screenplay needs to have a great (or, at least, good) story.

But… a movie story involves many aspects. These include: the premise of the story, the plot, setting, theme/s, characters, characterisation, the structure, the dialog, the style, the point of view, casting, acting, the writer’s voice – and many other factors.

When screenplays are assessed by Script Readers (professional movie Story Analysts), those people function as `gatekeepers’ to the domain of movies, and can determine which movie stories (i.e. screenplays) are selected (and conversely, de-selected,if rejected) for production, as a movie.

The first round of `selection’ by the Movie Field: Screenplay Coverage… 

Screenplay Coverage typically means, a 3- to 4-page report, completed by a professional movie `Script Reader’ (or Story Analyst) – on any screenplay submitted to a movie production company. In the Coverage, there is also usually a `grid’ like the following.

i.e., Below are three examples of what can happen in `the Grid’, depending on the Script Reader’s assessment of the movie story (i.e. as executed, and presented, by the screenwriter, in: the submitted screenplay).

  1. A Movie Story (Screenplay) with a high probability of getting financed, and made:
Script Coverage - Example 1 - `Recommend'

Script Coverage – Example 1 – a `Recommend’

i.e., The hypothetical screenplay that was assessed (as per the Grid, above) is ultimately being `Recommended’ to the Development Executives, or Producers, namely the people (stakeholders) who have the power to “greenlight” (or, finance) a movie screenplay, so that it may then become a movie (assuming nothing goes wrong in the financing and filmmaking and distribution of the completed movie).

The above example assessment (i.e. an assessment of `Excellent’ in every element of the movie story) is extremely rare – as less than 2% of screenplays presented to producers are made.

And – conversely – the example `Grid’ below also shows, why a movie story (i.e. as executed in the submitted screenplay) may be rejected… (i.e. the Recommendation in the below example is in fact a `PASS’ – which means that the Story Analyst feels the script should be rejected. Financiers and Producers will likely not bother reading such a script (not least as they are often time-poor). In other words, the subtext of the example Grid below, is: “Don’t waste your time, this screenplay is terrible-!”)

  1. A Movie Story (Screenplay) with a low probability of getting financed, and made:
Script Coverage - Example 2 - `Pass'

Script Coverage – Example 2 – a `Pass’ (i.e. screenplay `Rejected’  or, De-selected)

The above example movie-story (i.e. screenplay) is also especially unlikely to be produced, as, also – the Budget of the proposed movie in this particular example is also ‘HIGH’. (Perhaps, it is an Action genre movie, or, is a historical period piece, and/or, features `a cast of thousands’ and, so on).

One major problem is that, all movie investors are risk-averse. So, why would they risk a lot of money (a high budget) on a potential movie that, for example, an expert in movie Story Assessment already deems to be: lousy?

And finally, below is an example of a screenplay that has an average chance of being `Considered’ by the film producers and financiers, who are “higher up” (than Script Readers) the food chain of movie story selection…

  1. A Movie Story (Screenplay) with an average probability of getting financed, and made:
Script Coverage - Example 3 - Average

Script Coverage – Example 3 – Average Probability…

i.e. Note the above was a `PASS’ (i.e. Reject, or De-Select this screenplay and story). This is because: 98% of screenplays presented to producers go unmade (see: Macdonald 2004).

So the `average’ screenplay is rejected (given that 98% are rejected).

Note that, the story `Premise’ and `Theme/s’ were judged `excellent. by the Script Reader/Story Analyst. But, almost everyone has a great idea for a movie. However – executing that story well in a screenplay requires a great many writing (and, screen storytelling) skills and talents, and they are skills that can take around ten years – on average – to master.

So – not only must the many (and various) elements of a movie story (as manifested in: the submitted screenplay) all receive better than a `Fair’ when assessed by Screenplay Assessors (i.e. from, professional Movie Story Analysts), and also – later on, the movie story (and its execution in the screenplay) also must be `liked’ by Producers, a Director, and possibly also Actors who are `Stars’, (and then later – when released as a movie, it must also receive a `Pass’ (as opposed to a `Fail’) – or better – from a large consensus in the Field, or Movie Audience)… So there are many hurdles, any of which can cause a movie to fail (or, not happen).

Another problem is that: What specifically interests one person, may not interest another. You may well write a brilliant screenplay about a certain topic, and/or in a certain genre, but – you might not find a Producer (who can finance your particular movie) who is interested in telling that particular movie story…!

This is another (partial) reason that: 98% of screenplays presented to Producers are rejected.

As an aside, legendary screenwriting guru Dave Trottier has 14 dimensions of analysis, in his Screenplay Coverage Service… i.e., from Dave’s site:

`14 POINT ANALYSIS – My 14-point analysis consists of the following:

A ratings page that presents the standard pass-consider-recommend “box score” along with specific grades (excellent, very good, good, fair, and poor) of your script in 14 key areas:

Story structure, character development and motivation, dialogue, formatting, heart/relationships (emotional impact), conflict, commercial appeal, characterization, theme, believability, originality, foreshadowing, conflict and action.’

(Trottier 2019, online)


So – the better that all of your movie-story elements are (in comparison to other, competing screenplays, and also – in comparison to `the screenplay/movie canon’, or `the screenwriting convention’) – the more likely the movie story (or, screenplay) is, to be: optioned – then perhaps, financed – and then perhaps, produced, as a movie…

(Although – of course, the execution of the actual filmmaking of that screen story, if not optimal, can also mean that, a `bad movie’ may then be made, from a great script…!)

In short – see, the Anna Karenina principle (Diamond 1997)…

– there are many (possible) ways to fail-!

Commercially-minded films usually stink

This particular movie story/screenplay: stinks.

And, all of these possible causes of failure (plus even, some others) must be avoided, for: movie story success.

Another way to view all this, (i.e. The Anna Karenina principle) is by comparing Culture to Biology: for example –

Q: What’s the secret to: being healthy?

A: Easy. Just don’t have anything wrong with you!


Q: How many ways are there, to have `something wrong with you’ ?

A: Lots! At least, 291… e.g., Disease (there are thousands of these), accidents (there are many ways to have these), and also: bad diet, and, lack of exercise, and so on.

As Pinker notes in his great book, Enlightenment Now (2018):

`A heroic project called The Global Burden of Disease has tried to measure this improvement by tallying not just the number of people who drop dead of each of 291 diseases and disabilities, but how many years of healthy life they lose,
weighted by the degree to which each condition compromises the quality of their lives.’

(Pinker 2018, p. 59)

So – by comparison, or analogy:

Q: What’s the secret to: making a successful movie?

A: Easy! Just don’t do anything wrong – and, just do everything right-!

As Daniel C Dennett in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995) cites Richard Dawkins (1986):

`However many ways there are of being alive, it is certain that there are vastly more ways of being dead, or rather not alive.’

(Dawkins 1986, p. 9) (cited in Dennett 1995, p. 104).

So – for anyone who wants a really simple, short, answer on `the secret of movie success’, all you really need to do is, follow this recipe:

1. Just make a movie, that lots of people like!

2. And – What do people like? (And also, conversely, dislike?)

3. That’s simple, just see: Evolutionary Psychology.

Human nature - Gaussian `normal' distribution = bio-psycho-socio-cultural "norms"

Human nature – as a Gaussian `normal’ distribution = bio-psycho-socio-cultural “norms”… See Evolutionary Psychology for more detail.

So, I suggest that Evolution works the same way in Culture as in Biology: namely, selection (and, de-selection).

This is all explained in more detail by: the Systems Model of Creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1988-2014), and, its equivalent, Evolutionary Epistemology (Campbell 1974, Popper 1979).

This all also (partly) explains the `Less Than 1% Problem‘ in Movies.

The Less-Than-1% Problem in the domain of Movies (Velikovsky 2014)

The Less-Than-1% Problem in the domain of Movies (Velikovsky 2014)

One Definition of – and, list of some of the Elements comprising – a Movie `Story’

Given extant definitions of `story’ by Gottschall (2012), Boyd (2009, 2012) and Scalise Sugiyama (2012) – one proposed operational definition of `movie story’ – which applies to all of the movies under formal study, herein – is:

A narrative (cause-and-effect chain, over time) in which a character (or characters), in a situation (or, situations) has a goal (or goals), and encounters a problem (or problems) and experiences conflict in achieving that goal – and must make a sacrifice (or sacrifices) to achieve (or then fails to achieve) that goal or goals (and/or, solve the problem, or problems).

This thesis contends that story – in popular movies – contains the following elements:

Genre, Setting, Time, Style, Theme/s, Character/s, Characterisation, Plot, Structure, Pacing, Dialog, Mood, Tone, Point of view, and (Author’s) Voice.

Operational Definitions of these categories are below:

Genre – defined here as a category of movie story type, identifiable by its recurring tropes (or, story patterns) of: setting, character archetypes, and plot patterns. Examples of movie genre include: action, adventure, family, fantasy, musical, western, gangster, thriller, mystery, romance, rom-com (romantic comedy), science fiction, horror, drama. Given creative evolution, and that genres in film stories are frequently combined, blended or mixed by story creators, the identification of a movie’s `singular’ genre can also be problematic and blurred. Herein, for simplicity, IMDb.com’s genre classifications (as listed above) of movies are used.

Setting – refers to the primary spatial (or, geographic) setting of the story, for example the country and whether primarily urban or rural; domestic, or industrial.

Time – refers to the temporal setting of the story; namely whether set in the past, present, future, or combinations thereof.

Style – in simplest terms, refers to whether the screen storytelling is recognizably (for example), realist (i.e., naturalistic) or surrealist, and/or expressionist or impressionist, although `style’ can mean the `personal narrative style’ of a writer, a director, an actor and so on. See also: On The History of Film Style (Bordwell 1997).

Theme/s – herein, `theme’ can mean variously: the message/s the author wishes to convey in the story (i.e., the moral/s of the story), but may also mean visual or audio motifs, symbols, and tropes [see definition of `tropes’ below]. Like the term `story’, `theme’ can also be a vague and problematic term; Bordwell (2008) gives several different definitions of theme, including: unique particulars, “deep structures”, the Soviet suggestion that a theme is a pattern that a theorist invents after the fact to give a work cohesiveness; political ideas; and also Nöel Carroll’s definition of themes as `illustrated homilies’ (Bordwell 2008, p. 18).

Tropes – recurring patterns in story types (e.g. happy ending, sad ending), and/or genres. In terms of Aristotle’s two categories of `comedy’ (happy ending for the protagonist) and `tragedy’ (sad ending for protagonist), the happy or sad ending tropes are themselves what results in their classification. `Genre tropes’ in movie story plots and character archetypes are often recognized and identified by viewers, and indeed the story may be deemed unsatisfying if too many of the expected tropes are absent from a story that the audience assumes to be in a certain genre both before, and while experiencing, a specific movie story. Tropes may range from the `monomyth’ plot stages and character types, stereotypes and archetypes (c.f., J Campbell 1949, Propp 1958) to the James Bond plot tropes and character types (see: Eco 1979). On a simple level, this means that romance stories often follow the pattern of `boy meets girl, girl goes for wrong guy, girl finally goes for right guy, and true love wins out in the end’, and also that in classic war movies, any soldier who shows around a photo of their loved ones will die very soon. Tropes can refer to: motifs, patterns, themes, configurations, complexes, ideas, beliefs, values, rules, principles, symbols, and concepts; this StoryAlity thesis contends that these individual manifestations in movies are all memes (units of culture); see also: `What’s In a Meme?’ (Chick 1999).

Character/s – conscious agent/s in a narrative with needs, wants and goals (agents may be human, another animal, or normally-inanimate anthropomorphic agent/s). Typically characters are organized via agonistic structure (i.e., protagonist/s, antagonist/s, and their allies and/or associates). For more detail on agonistic structure, see: (Graphing Jane Austen, Carroll et al. 2012)

Characterisation – the way in which the characters are portrayed in the movie narrative (or, movie story). Dimensions of character may be categorized into at least four areas: (1) Biological – or, How the character looks; (2) Psychological – How the character behaves, acts, thinks and feels; (3) Sociological – The social networks of the character (family, friends, associates); and (4) Cultural – The language/s the character speaks, and the social and cultural customs they may display, and so on.

Character archetypes – character archetypes (and even stereotypes) are the general recognizable categories of character typically found in certain story genres; for example, the `super-genre’ of the `monomyth’, since any genre (for example: adventure, fantasy, science fiction, western, romance and so on) may feature a `monomyth’ plot structure. Archetypes in the monomyth correlate closely with Jungian character archetypes from dreams; see Man and His Symbols (Jung, Franz & Freeman 1964) . E O Wilson in Consilience lists some key human archetypes and story tropes – and which variously apply to some or all the stories in the top 20 RoI movies (see: Wilson 1998, pp. 243-5).

`Although recognizable through their repeated occurrence, archetypes cannot be easily defined by a simple combination of generic traits. They are better understood with examples, collected into groups that share the same prominent features. This method – called definition by specification – works well in elementary biological classification, even when the essential nature of the species as a category remains disputed. In myth and fiction as few as two dozen such subjective groupings cover most of the archetypes usually identified as such.’

(Wilson 1998, pp. 243).

Plot – the cause-and-effect temporal arrangements of events in the narrative. In Bordwell’s film poetics (originating with the Russian narrative formalist scholars of style), plot is also referred to as fabula. See also: (Bordwell 2008, p. 98).

Structure – the arrangement of the plot events in the presented narrative, which can differ in sequence from the plot, due to flashbacks, flashforwards and parallel or multilinear narratives. Also referred to as syuzhet. See also: (Bordwell 2008, p. 98).

Pacing – the relative speed and rhythm at which the narrative (and/or parts thereof) unfolds.

Dialog – the spoken words of the characters in the story; dialog styles in different stories and genres may include realism, hyper-realism, stylized, or even silent (as in, silent films).

Mood – refers to the atmosphere/s created in and by the story, and often correlates closely to genre (e.g. the mood is frequently joyful and light-hearted in comedies, stark in horror stories, romantic in romances).

Tone – is distinguished from, but related to, mood; the storytelling (or narrative) style can include: serious, sentimental, naïve, ironic, satirical, absurd, and so on.

Point of view (or, POV) – the narrative’s adopted perspective; ranging from an `omniscient narrator’ mode, to subjective, single character and/or multiple character points of view. POV is most clearly observable in `point-of-view’ shots, but also applies to whether a movie `stays with’ just one or is focalized around more than one character.

(Author’s) Voice – closely associated with (the deeply problematic, in my view) `auteur theory’ in movies (customarily dating to Truffaut, and Sarris) but also recognizable in screenplays, often reflecting the attitude, concerns and point of view of the author. Some distinctive `voices’ in cinema often cited are: Ingmar Bergman, Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, Alfred Hitchcock, Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick. In screenwriting, frequently-cited distinctive authorial `voices’ include Charlie Kaufman, Robert Towne, Shane Black and William Goldman.

So, those are some of the elements that combine to make a movie story.

It also should be noted, that “the whole is more than the sum of the parts”. (As Aristotle also noted.)

Film Story Structure (Velikovsky 2014)

Film Story Structure (Velikovsky 2014)

This is known as `emergence’ in Systems Theory.

It is also the reason that the `code’, or canon, or `rules’ change on different levels of a holarchy.

For more on all this, (e.g. holarchies, and, how new/different `rules’ can change – or emerge, at new levels of the holarchy), see also:

  1. StoryAlity #42 – On Free Will – and Screenwriting
  2. StoryAlity #48 – On Film Holon-Partons, and Holarchies – and How Holarchies Work
  3. StoryAlity #49 – On Movie Screenplays, Viral Memes, and Cultural Evolution
  4. StoryAlity #100 – The Holon-Parton Structure of the Meme – the Unit of Culture (Velikovsky 2013, 2014)

I want to suggest that evolution applies to biology – and appears to apply to a great deal in culture (creativity) as well… (and I am certainly not the first to suggest this…)

Note what is said (below) about theories of creativity in The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity (2010).

in the Cambridge Handbook of Creativity (Kaufman & Sternberg 2010), Kozbelt, Beghetto & Runco summarize ten major categories of theories of creativity (Kozbelt, Beghetto & Runco 2010, p. 21).

Regarding Evolutionary Theories of creativity, the authors state:

`Evolutionary Theories – researchers have proposed a number of theories of creativity drawing on ideas from evolutionary biology, which can be Darwinian (e.g. Albert, in press; Lumsden, 1999; Lumsden & Findlay 1988; Simonton, 1997, 1999) or Lamarckian (Johnson-Laird, 1993) in nature.

Of these, a strong candidate for the most comprehensive theory of creativity – generally speaking – is the Darwinian (formerly “chance configuration”) model of Dean Keith Simonton (1984, 1988, 1997, 1999, 2003, 2004).

To varying extents, Simonton’s model covers all of the P’s of creativity: person and potential, in identifying dispositional and developmental idiosyncrasies associated with the realization of initial creative potential into actual creative achievements; process, in laying out a two-step model of ideation and elaboration, in which chance combinations of ideas play a paramount role and whose complexities are hard to control; product, in noting sometimes unreliable initial assessments versus longer-term stable judgements of creative artifacts; place, in identifying social factors leading to outstanding creativity; and persuasion, in emphasizing how social dynamics establish verdicts of creative outcomes.

More than any other theory of creativity, Simonton’s Darwinian view aims to understand the nature of genius, eminence, and Big-C achievements.The basis of Simonton’s Darwinian model is a two-stage mental process, involving the blind generation and selective retention and elaboration of ideas (Campbell 1960).In this view, ideas are combined in some blind fashion, typically below the threshold of awareness; the most interesting combinations are then consciously elaborated into finished creative products; these in turn are judged by other people. Simonton (1984, 1988, 1997, 2004) has developed Campbell’s argument into a sophisticated quantitative model of how creative productivity unfolds over the life span, with broad implications for understanding the nature of eminence, the creative process, and creative environments… In general, it is probably fair to say that the model’s highly quantitative basis gives it a rigor that is unsurpassed by any other major theory of creativity… An array of theoretical arguments has also been offered that dispute fundamental processes of the Darwinian view (e.g. Dasgupta 2004; Gabora 2005, 2007; Sternberg 1998). For instance, one objection is that ideas are not discrete, independent units that exist in some dormant state, waiting to be selected out from other alternatives in a Darwinian manner (Gabora 2005).’

(Kozbelt, Beghetto & Runco 2010, pp. 35-7)


As it happens I believe Gabora (2005) is incorrect. Namely:

…ideas actually are discrete, independent units – that exist in some dormant state, waiting to be selected out from other alternatives in a Darwinian manner…(!)

Specifically, please see: StoryAlity #100 – The Holon-Parton Structure of the Meme – the Unit of Culture (Velikovsky 2013, 2014)

(But also please note, in the excellent Simonton paper below, it does not necessarily need to be Darwinian.)

Simonton, D. K. (2012). Creative Thought as Blind Variation and Selective Retention: Why Creativity is Inversely Related to Sightedness. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 33(4), 253-266.  

The evidence from my ongoing studies supports Simonton’s (whether Darwinian or not) BVSR model (which I also suggest, is essentially the evolutionary `selection, variation and transmission-with-heredity’ model), and also I am fairly certain that the above point of Gabora’s (2005) is incorrect, if: (a) memes (as ideas) are indeed holon-partons, (as this theory suggests) and, (b) If Popper’s (1978, 1999) theory of `Worlds 1, 2, 3 and 4’ are understood with regard to memes (ideas, processes, and products). That is, I contend that ideas are indeed discrete, independent units; they are holon-partons.

Notably also, this approach I am currently using also aims to synthesize Csikszentmihalyi’s DPF (or DIFi) systems theory of creativity (1988-2014), and also Simonton’s evolutionary theory of creativity (1984-2014) with Popper’s Evolutionary Epistemology (1963-1999) with regard to: creativity in movies.

Recall also that Laszlo (1972) showed that systems theory is also a crucial component of evolution, and that evolution is a systems process (Laszlo 1972, pp. 88-87, 176-80), so – in my (current, always open to revision) view, it is therefore logical to use both Systems Theory (eg Laszlo 1972) and Evolutionary (Creativity) Theory at once. This appears to be a close approximation of reality of: How movie stories are created, How screenplays are written, How movies are made, and then viewed and thus judged (as creative, or not) by audiences.

So too – the Anna Karenina principle appears to apply in movie success (and conversely, failure)…

Guns Germs and Steel (Diamond 1997)

Guns Germs and Steel (Diamond 1997)

Also, in novels, TV, plays, poems – and many other cultural art forms. AKP… The Anna Karenina principle!

I also note, the AKP has also previously been used to understand success in science, and in various other research domains (see: `The Anna Karenina Principle: A Way of Thinking About Success in Science’, Bornmann & Marx, 2012).

Just to recap – as Professor Diamond (1997) notes:

`We tend to seek easy, single-factor explanations of success.

For most important things, though, success actually requires avoiding many separate possible causes of failure.’

(Diamond 1997, p.157)

So – for example – if your movie story (including: your story premise, your plot, theme/s, characters, characterisations, style, pacing, voice, and – everything else) is great, but – (say) your dialog in the screenplay (just, as an example) is a “fail” (not quite up to the `pass’ mark or better) – then, the screenplay (and resulting movie) may likely be rejected by a consensus in the field…(!) […Ouch]

(Or – the screenplay may well be Optioned, and – another dialog-writer hired, to `fix’ the dialog).

As an aside – the book Your Screenplay Sucks! 100 Ways To Make It Great (Akers 2008) also shows many ways (in fact, a hundred) that a screenplay can – potentially – fail… (given the AKP… Anna Karenina Principle)

So, as we all knew already – screenplays and movies are: complex creative artifacts…!

Perhaps, see also: Why Some Things Are Popular.

But – on the bright side, here is the `cycle’ that a filmmaker can go through, when it all works:

The `Creative Practice Theory' systems model of creativity -as an algorithm - over time (Velikovsky 2014)

The `Creative Practice Theory’ systems model of creativity -as an algorithm – over time (Velikovsky 2014)

And – for more detail on the evolutionary systems (or, complexity) view of narrative and bioculture in general, see, this book chapter:

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

And for a great consilience & creativity & evolution reading list, see:

StoryAlity #71On Consilience in the Arts / Humanities / Communication

Comments, always welcome.

Also as an interesting aside: Remember the first movie at the start of this post?

I think Fincher is maybe the best living director…? Unless maybe Nicholas Winding Refn is. Anyway – both are great. …Up there with Kubrick, almost.


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/



Bornmann, L., & Marx, W. (2012). `The Anna Karenina Principle: A Way of Thinking About Success in Science’. Journal Of The American Society For Information Science And Technology, 63(10), 2037–2051. doi: 10.1002/asi.22661

Csikszentmihalyi, M & Wolfe, R (2000), ‘New Conceptions and Research Approaches to Creativity: Implications for a Systems Perspective of Creativity in Education’, in KA Heller, FJ Mönks, R Subotnik & RJ Sternberg (eds), International Handbook of Giftedness and Talent, 2nd ed. edn, Elsevier, Amsterdam; Oxford.

Dawkins, R (1986), The Blind Watchmaker, 1st American edn, Norton, New York.

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29 thoughts on “StoryAlity #131 – Why Things (like some Movies) Are Popular – and – The Anna Karenina principle

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