Film Diversity Helps Drive Box Office Hits, Study Shows

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From left: 'Us,' 'Crazy Rich Asians,' 'Black Panther'

Considering cinematic hits like 'Us,' 'Crazy Rich Asians' and 'Black Panther,' Movio is examining how theatrical audience composition correlates to increased representation onscreen.

Movio, a film industry marketing and data firm, on Thursday released a new study called "The Diversity Demand: Securing the Future of Moviegoing." In the white paper, Movio examines how theatrical audience composition correlates to increased representation in film — and if that suggests an opportunity to drive success at the box office by featuring more diversity onscreen.

The analysis draws a correlation between a minority group’s representation onscreen and that group’s audience turnout, with some groups attending in numbers at more than twice the usual rate. The research also shows that increased representation of minority groups onscreen can influence less engaged moviegoers within that demographic to come out to the theater.

As a cursory analysis, Movio chose several pairs of theatrically released films which would generally be considered "similar" in terms of both genre and budget. For each pair, one film featured an underrepresented lead or co-lead and the other did not. The audience composition of each title was then analyzed by Movio’s data science team.

For example, Movio found that the audience for Pixar’s animated feature Coco was nearly 75 percent more Latinx than the audience for Pixar's other hit Incredibles 2; and Jordan Peele's horror pic Us brought out an audience that was nearly 100 percent more black than the audience that attended John Krasinski's similarly scary A Quiet Place. However, Us' diverse cast — including stars Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke — also drew large numbers of non-black moviegoers and was widely successful at the box office, making eight times its production budget.

When analyzing a trio of similar romantic comedies, Movio's research found that Crazy Rich Asians (starring Constance Wu and Henry Golding) attracted an audience that was 186 percent more Asian and What Men Want (Taraji P. Henson) attracted an audience that was 296 percent more black than the audience that attended Isn’t It Romantic (Rebel Wilson).

And in comparing the DC films Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Movio's study shows that the female-fronted title did not significantly alter the demographic profile that typically makes its way to the theater for superhero flicks. Both titles attracted an audience that was 40-41 percent female. Despite Hollywood's long-standing skepticism about the potential success of a female-led superhero pic, the "absence of underperformance " (in this case, male moviegoers) seems to be just as meaningful as a film's overperformance with another.

In compiling the section of the study that analyzes mega blockbusters, Movio found that Black Panther, with a predominantly black cast, attracted an audience that was 38 percent more black than Avengers: Infinity War, which features mostly white actors. This number is significant considering that, according to Movio, 40.7 percent of all black U.S. moviegoers attended Black Panther.

In a statement, Craig Jones, chief commercial officer and president of Movio Media, explained why understanding how to attract diverse audiences will soon be paramount to the success of filmmakers and marketers.

"Today’s consumer has countless entertainment options, making it easier than ever for diverse audiences to find content that speaks to their tastes and experiences," said Jones, who will discuss Movio's findings on Tuesday during a New York Film Conference panel moderated by The Hollywood Reporter. "If cinema is to remain relevant and continue having a cultural impact, it must attract these audiences by delivering more representative content."

Read Movio's complete study here.