A while ago, I saw this presentation (sorry, no embed available) by the always fascinating Malcolm Gladwell and I’ve repeated its chilling message to several screenwriters since.

He talks about some software called Epagogix which can predict the box office success of a movie based solely upon its screenplay.

Regardless of the director or stars attached or the marketing spend, its predictions are accurate to within 6%.

Furthermore, the makers of the software can suggest changes to the screenplay and give the exact monetary value of those changes.

Give the hero a sidekick – add $15 million.

Give the hero a full-face mask costume – lose $30 million.

In particular he mentions the Nicole Kidman vehicle, “The Interpreter” which was a notable turkey after going through several screenwriters and directors before ending up in theatres as a mediocre and forgettable blockbuster.

Epagogix made several suggestions to change the script including relocating the opening scene from an imaginary African state, and changing the entire twist at the end. Their advice was ignored, and the movie vanished after a couple of weeks.

However they do concede that such a formula is really only effective at this upper echelon of $30m+ budgeted Hollywood flicks. The more arthouse, auteurish fare below that threshold seem to carry an expectation of an eccentric lack of formula.

The presentation was based on Gladwell’s New Yorker article “The Formula” which you can read in full here.