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Movienomics: Explosions and Movie Posters

July 15, 2013

Hello all. Mark here.

It all started with “the overcoat discovery.” Movie posters featuring Jason Statham in an overcoat averaged a 70% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes whereas posters featuring him in suits/cardigans only received a 40% average. Of course, correlation and causation are impossible to predict but I  found the results of the analysis to be intriguing, cheeky and fun.  This got me thinking about movie posters that feature explosions. Do explosions matter? Does placement matter? Is it a marketing trick? Why are people standing motionless whilst engulfed in flames?

The Expendables 2 movie poster

Our crew at MFF compiled a list of 266 action film posters (one poster per film. We used the theatrical trailer) from 2000-2013. We set up a spreadsheet and sent the data to my Swedish number crunching cousin to analyze. What follows is an exploration of whether movie posters can make a difference on box office and critical reception.

Without further ado here it is! Do explosions matter?

The marine movie poster

Most mainstream movie critics will tell you that, of the many different factors that can effect a given movie’s success, the placement of explosions in a move poster doesn’t rank in the top 5.  Or 10.  Or 1000.  We say, “Whateves, it does.”  Their response to that would probably be something like, “Any relationship you found between placement of explosions in a movie poster and success would be spurious.”  To which we would reply, “Whateves.  No one would use the term ‘spurious’ in any movie with an explosion on the poster.  I think Vin Diesel would get an aneurysm just trying to pronounce it.”  That imaginary debate (and unnecessary slap at the greatest actor to ever drive fast and furiously) is all we needed to crack the whip and get our interns to work digging up some (surprisingly reliable) data.

Objectives and Methodology

We started with a basic question:  is there a relationship between the placement of explosions on action movie’s poster and of the movie success.  We defined success in two ways:  critical and financial.  Our outcome measures for critical success are the movies scores on the Rotten Tomatoes and Cinema Score websites.  Our outcome measure for financial success was a given movie’s total domestic box office gross.

Our sample was all (or at least most) big-budget action movies released in the US between 2000 and the mid-point of 2013.  Here is how all of those 266 movies did on our two measures of success:

Table 1

Critical Success

Financial Success


Rotten Tomatoes

Cinema Score

Domestic Box Office

(from Box Office Mojo)

Top quartile



$132.4 million




$98.8 million

Bottom quartile



$28.0 million

As you can see in Table 1, action movies scored better on Cinema Score’s (CS) rating methodology than they did on Rotten Tomatoes’ (RT).  Biggest benefactors of the CS-bump were Underworld 2 (17% on RT and 77% on CS), Bad Boys 2 (23% on RT and 80% on CS), and Transformers 2 (20% on RT and 76% on CS).  We would also point out that the average action movie released between 2000 and 2013 made close to $100 million dollars.  Top three grossing flixs were Avatar ($760.5 million), The Avengers ($623.3 million), and The Dark Knight ($533.3 million)

The Dark Knight Rises movie poster

Explosions and Success

If you accept our premise that the inclusion of explosions anywhere on an action movie’s theatrical poster can influence its critical and financial success, behold Table 2:

Table 2

Average Critical Score and Box Office (Domestic) Gross

Percent Change

No Explosion in Poster

Any Explosion in Poster





Cinema Score




Box office/Domestic




Apparently, action movies with an explosion on their theatrical poster did about 4.5 percent worse on both measures of critical success (e.g., RT and CS scores) but did about 7.5 percent better at the box office.

The last Stand Arnold movie poster


If you are producer and want to make a few extra bucks at the expense of a few Oscar votes, slap some explosions on your movie poster.  If you’re an art-house director who needs those Oscar votes to (ironically) shore up your indie cred, leave them off.  Or not.  Whateves.

Next in our Series on Explosions on Posters…

We break down success by location of the explosion in movie posters. Does it matter whether or not the explosion is on the left or right!

The Avengers Movie poster


15 Comments leave one →
  1. johnleavengood permalink
    July 28, 2013 7:53 pm

    I wonder how much bare bicep size has to do with action movie success. Here’s a testable hypothesis I’d like to look into: Movie posters featuring bare biceps of at least 20 inches average at least $100 million dollars in box office sales.

  2. statsbro permalink
    February 2, 2014 9:40 pm

    you need some p values bro

    • February 2, 2014 10:09 pm

      I totally would have. I didn’t think the data reached a decent significance level though.

    • February 2, 2014 11:28 pm

      Indeed, that’s what I was missing when reading this article, especially as it suggested the findings were “surprisingly reliable”! Can’t imagine there’s any real significance though.

      • February 2, 2014 11:38 pm

        I think the box office/critical/audience data was reliable. The findings weren’t significant though.


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