Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Are remakes in the producers' interests?

Two-bullet summary:

  • Similarly to sequels, remakes perform significantly worse than originals from a rating perspective
  • If you want to predict a remake's IMDB rating, a quick method is to multiply the original movie's rating by 0.84

In three previous posts (first, second, third) I looked at Hollywood's lack of creation and general risk-aversion by taking a closer look at the increasing number of sequels being produced despite the fact that their IMDB rating is significantly worse than the original installment.

We were able to confirm the expected result that sequels typically have worse ratings than the original (only 20% have a better rating), and the average rating drop is 0.9.

Those posts would not have been complete without looking at another obvious manifestation of limited creativity: remakes!

Before plunging into the data, a few comments:

  • finding the right data was instrumental. Because remakes don't necessarily have the same title or because movies may have the same title without being remakes, the data needed to be carefully selected. I finally settled for Wikipedia's mapping Wikipedia. I did however find some errors along the way so bear in mind that the data is not 100% accurate nor exhaustive;
  • one of the greatest drops in ratings was for Hitchcock's classic Psycho (there should be a law against attempting remakes of such classics!), with Gus Van Sant's version getting a 4.6, compared to Hitchcock's 8.6;
  • adapting Night of the Living Dead to 3D saw a drop from 8.0 to 3.1;
  • the best improvement for remake rating was for Reefer Madness, originally a 1936 propaganda on the dangers of Marijuana (3.6), but the tongue-in-cheek 2005 musical remake with Kristin Bell got a 6.7;
  • Ocean's Eleven was originally a 1960 movie with Frank Sinatra, but the exceptional casting for the version we all know with Damon, Clooney and Pitt led to a nice rating improvement (from 6.6 to 7.7)

Let's take a quick look at the data, comparing original rating to remake rating, the red line corresponds to y = x, meaning that any dot above the line corresponds to a remake that did better than the original, whereas anything under is when the original did better:

The distribution of the difference between remake and original is also quite telling:

The first obvious observation is that, as expected, remakes tend to do worse than the original movie. Only 14% do better (compared to 20% for sequels) and the average rating difference is -1.1 (compared to -0.9 for sequels).

The other observation is that the correlation is not as good as we had seen for sequels. This could make sense as in sequels many parameters are the same as for the original movie (actors, directors, writers). One reason parameters are much more similar for sequels than remakes is the timing between original and remake/sequel: 77% of sequels come less than 5 years after the original installment, whereas 50% of remakes come within 25 years! Parameters are more similar and your fan base has remained mostly intact.

From a more statistical point a view, a paired t-test allowed us to determine that the rating decrease of -1.1 was statistically significant at the 95% level (+/- 0.1).

In terms of modeling, a simple linear model gave us some insight for prediction purposes. In case you want to make some predictions to impress your friends, your best guess to estimate a remake's rating is to multiply the original movie's rating by 0.84.

The original Carrie movie from 1974 had a rating of 7.4, whereas the remake that just came out has a current rating of 6.5 (forecast would be 0.84 * 7.4 = 6.2). Given that movie ratings tend to drop a little after first few weeks of release, that's a pretty good forecast we had there! The stat purists will argue that this results is somewhat biased as Carrie was included in the original dataset...

Taking a step back, why does Hollywood continue making these movies despite anticipating a lower quality movie?

The answer is the same as for sequels: the risks are significantly reduced with remakes, you are almost guaranteed to bring back some fanatics of the original.

And less writers are required as the script is already there! However, it appears that sequels are a safer bet: the fan base is more guaranteed. As we previously saw, release dates are much closer for sequels and movies share many more characteristics.

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