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January 03, 2005

Sour Grapes

Ogged is afflicted with a case of the sour grapes, and asks:

Unfogged: Sandra Bullock seems like a real sweetheart, and good for her for what she's doing, but in what just world does she have $2 million to give away?

Well, Ogged, if your name on a movie poster had as big an effect boosting the number of people who go see the movie as hers does, you'd have two million to give away too:

Open Knowledge: Michelle Pfeiffer and Sandra Bullock are the stars most likely to have a hit. Arthur De Vaney, an economics prof. at UC-Irvine examined which stars altered the probability that a movie would be a hit (defined as a movie that makes more than $50 million). Only eight percent of all moviews in the past decade grossed more than that:

The power of the females reflects not only their appeal but the movies they chose to appear in. The top female stars lift the box office above the level that would be expected from the production cost, genre, rating, and year of release. In other words, they bring more revenue per dollar of production cost than the male stars. Because the distribution of box office outcomes has infinite variance, none of these stars can guarantee a hit; in fact, there are no guarantees---all stars carry significant risk and they have to make good choices in films or their careers will be short-lived.

Posted by DeLong at January 3, 2005 02:18 PM

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Sandra Bullock seems like a real sweetheart, and good for her for what she's doing, but in what just world does she have $2 million to give away? UPDATE: I had no idea. I haven't seen a Sandra Bullock movie since the original Speed. Go Sandra.... [Read More]

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Tracked on January 3, 2005 04:39 PM


Hey, if we are getting into sour grapes, there are some really big offenders out there who can afford $2 million and I bet they haven't ponied up!

Posted by: sm at January 3, 2005 02:46 PM

Interesting. I've always read that it's male stars like Stallone or Schwarzenegger that carried movies. Until recently, it wasn't believed that woman star can carry a movie.

Posted by: Unstable Isotope at January 3, 2005 04:55 PM

I think the last time Pfeiffer, for all of her looks and talent, had a genuine hit was 1997 or 1998, and before that, 1993. Bullock might be a bit better, but not by much.

Honestly, even though she has hit something of a rough patch lately, Julia Roberts is still the queen of the box office. All together, she's got the highest numbers. But Natalie Portman, for no other reason than the Star Wars movies, could end up beating her soon.

Posted by: Brian at January 3, 2005 05:18 PM

“Because the distribution of box office outcomes has infinite variance, none of these stars can guarantee a hit …”

Well that’s interesting. Somehow Levy distributions get involved here. However, even with finite variance stars can’t guarantee a hit. I don’t get this sentence.

De Vaney evidently covers the model in his book. Anyone find a link to an article?

De Vaney’s web page covers a more important topic that he calls “evolutionary fitness,” a subject I have been thinking about for several years. Check this out if staying healthy is of interest. http://www.socsci.uci.edu/econ//personnel/devany/evolutionaryfitness.html

Posted by: A. Zarkov at January 3, 2005 05:56 PM

I think what the professor is talking about is "solid" hits, movies that make their money back and a nice profit. The female-driven films he is talking about tend to have much lower budgets than the big summer movies, and thus more likely to turn a profit even if they "only" gross $50 million.

Posted by: Mary R at January 4, 2005 07:09 AM

I think Ogged's problem had nothing to do with how much money someone is willing to give Bullock, but how much of it she gets to keep.

$2M is roughly 46 times the average U.S. annual household income. It is more than most people will earn or possess in their entire lifetimes. Bullock just has it sitting around, superfluous, to give away.

I mean to take nothing away from her--she's a talented actress, willing to work, pretty, affable, and possessed of the rare kind of charisma that reliably drives movie ticket sales.

I give her full credit for the first, second, and fourth of these, and partial credit for the rest. However, in no way does her effort, that for which she can be said to be "justly" compensated, begin to compare with even that of the average Wal-Mart employee.

A titan of industry, someone who has invented an item or process that changed the world and made life better for a huge number of people, should have a spare $2M lying around, but an actress?

It's possible to have incentives to work that don't involve being able to buy and sell the labor of dozens of one's countrymen on a whim. Progressive income and wealth taxation would go a long way toward making this world more "just" in an Oggedian sense.

Posted by: David Yaseen at January 4, 2005 09:51 AM

Or, say, what about a Franklin Raines with his outsized pension?

Anyways, it was my understanding -- probably gleaned from one of William Goldman's books -- that the logic of how Hollywood pays stars is based on how a movie "opens" - the total gross is understood to be a function of the movie's quality, somewhat (and I know there are many exceptions), but the opening weekend itself is thought to be mostly related to the drawing power of a star.

Posted by: ArC at January 4, 2005 05:06 PM

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