Sentiment of the Week: Déjà vu in Summer Films

By: Dheepan Ramanan

June 11, 2015

Sentiment Analysis
Voice of the Customer

Trips to the box office seem to trigger a sense of déjà vu. More and more, summer movies are filled with sequels, reboots, and comic-book heroes. It’s a pattern that has dramatically increased this millennium. In 2000, only 2 movies of the top 10 grossing summer movies were reboots, comic-book movies, or sequels. In 2014, that number grew to 8 out of 10.

Although some movie-goers are put off by this lack of originality, the revenue numbers show that most are supportive of this overall direction. In analyzing 297 summer movies and 105,000 IMDB reviews through Clarabridge, I have found that Hollywood is one of the best industries at consistently listening to the voice of the customer.


A Hollywood director, particularly of a blockbuster, holds a position of massive fiscal responsibility. The average production budget of a summer movie is $115 million. Due to this large financial investment, directors are under tremendous pressure to generate high revenues to meet the expectations of their budget. Indisputably, the most successful director of summer movies from a financial perspective is Michael Bay. From 2000 to 2014, the Transformer’s director grossed $4.3 billion. However, this massive box office total was not met with critical acclaim; in fact, the average Bay film scored a paltry 22.8 RT critic score. Christopher Nolan of Batman and Inception fame was the next highest in total gross at $3.6 billion, with a RT score of 87.4, one of the highest in the data set.

What drives these directors’ successes? Is there a formula to crafting perfect blockbusters?

The Popcorn Effect

What ultimately drives the success of blockbuster films is audience reception. Although Michael Bay’s critical approval is amongst the lowest of all directors, he scored the biggest net difference between audience and critical scores of any director. The average Michael Bay film netted a 37.4 difference between audience score and critic score. He’s not unique: the top 20 directors by summer movie reception scored nearly 7 points better with their audience than with critics.

However, as in every other industry, using a single metric to gauge performance (whether it is NPS or RT audience score) is not adequate to understand the voice of the customer. Unstructured text analysis is critical for truly understanding the audience experience and increasing revenue.

The Blockbuster Formula

Like any other industry, Hollywood can benefit from using text analytics and sentiment analysis to uncover key trends behind the revenue numbers. By combining Rotten Tomato (RT) audience scores, box office revenues, and IMDB data, I was able to look at multiple data points to uncover which themes create the financial success of blockbusters.


When comparing the top grossing films to average performing movies, there are dramatic differences in the conversation in IMDB reviews:

  • IMDB reviews for top grossing summer movies mention CGI effects 75% more often and with positive sentiment. This is unsurprising given the makeup of the top franchises, but the dominance of this topic shows how integral top notch visual effects prove to be in drawing movie-goers.
  • Films that are reboots or draw on comic-book origins score a full 9 points higher in Rotten Tomato audience score.
  • Sequels are also very popular, and films with sequel mentions have an audience score 6 points higher than average.
  • The highest grossing films mention the emotion of excitement often, whereas conversation around plot, characters, humor, and originality are mentioned less frequently.

The propagation of comic book films is understandable in this context. Simply by focusing on action, CGI effects, and being a comic book adaptation, these films start off with a nearly 15 point RT audience score.  Interestingly, mentions of sex appeal are featured 18% less often in the highest grossing films. Although this theme is mentioned less often within top movies by revenue, when we apply sentiment analysis we find that negativity has a severe impact on revenue. Disproportionately high mentions of this topic actually contribute to less revenue.

Sex Appeal Comments:

  • The type of humor juveniles think is funny about abusing women, sex, drugs, and lots of curses Ted
  • Biggs butt is visible, the tired sex stuff is dove right into, and there is yet another new girl to lust after. – American Wedding
  • Leave it to Paul “sex on the brain” Verhoeven to come up with a pointlessly sleazy and juvenile version of the INVISIBLE MAN story. – Invisible Man

CGI Effects:

  • Now do not get me wrong, this movie really had great potential, nice story, I will give a perfect 10 to that, great action, great effects, great actors and everything. – Live Free or Die Hard
  • The performances, script, special effects were all amazingly brilliant. – Spider Man 2


  • The first Transformers movie was a so good adaptation that I was completely delighted with it. – Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
  • I am 50, I have an engineering degree, my favorite pastime is movies, my favorite genre is Sci-Fi, my favorite movie is Blade Runner and THIS IS STILL THE BEST SUPERHERO COMIC BOOK ADAPTATION I HAVE EVER SEEN (sorry for shouting). – Marvel’s The Avengers


  • It is a special treat when a sequel reaches up and delivers an excellent film that you thoroughly enjoy as much if not more than a beloved first installment. – Iron Man 2
  • my expectations of the very best sequel to dawn of the planet of the apes will no doubt amaze and sit me through cloud 9. – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The Monetary Impact

The final step of the customer experience management journey is to tie together the key themes of the customer feedback with the revenue numbers.


Using box office revenue data and the sentiment in IMDB reviews, I analyzed how much box office revenue is impacted by themes and sentiment. On average, any positive review indicates a box office total that is $9 million higher than average, and a negative review indicates a loss of $5 million dollars.

However, the impact of individual themes is much greater:

  • The inappropriate use of sex appeal is found to decrease average box office totals by $90 million. Movies that mention this theme with more frequency tend to skew negative in terms of sentiment, dropping their overall totals.
  • Positivity around CGI and visual effects see an increase of nearly $60 million
  • Sequels are close behind with an average boost of $47 million.
  • Comments around story and characters, although still beneficial, are lower in boosts to revenue and show no above average negative impact to revenues.
  • Excitement, most in the form of violence and explosions, also boosted earnings when mentioned positively.

All of these findings point to why the first Avengers movie was the highest grossing summer movie since 2000. The film features characters that are adapted from comic books, tremendous visual effects, high levels of action, and positive sentiment around humor. From a customer experience standpoint, the film hit every single possible indicator of a high grossing film and scored an extremely high audience score.

Example comments:

  • In a time of dazzling CGI and insanely fun action sequences, The Avengers lives up to the hype.
  • A great action movie that will keep you on the edge the entire time.
  • Seeing Thanos made me gasp in excitement.
  • In part that is because Whedon’s script delivers – pathos, humor, dread.
  • I am coming out straight up to say this is the most freaking amazing comic movie adaptation I have ever seen….
  • he wrote and directed a perfect comic book adaptation.
  • Seriously, it is such a great film, and it is the biggest, and best, comic book adaptation in worldwide history

Using customer feedback, it is easy to spot key features that appeal to summer movie audiences. The same kind of analysis can identify product features, services, and messaging that will resonate with customers in any industry. Déjà vu may conjure familiarity, but often the best customer experiences are about echoing a familiar feeling of excellence.


Dheepan Ramanan is a data scientist at Clarabridge. Follow him on Twitter @DheepanRamanan.