When looking at the top ten grossing sports movies in recent history, you might ask exactly what propelled these feature films to the top of the box office. Was it because the true stories were just the inspiring tale that the world needed? Did the love stories capture the hearts of women while the sports element kept the men rapt? Or was it simply the presence of Adam Sandler and his bottomless production budget? From personal experience, I would say that the inspiring aspect of the true stories like Seabiscuit and Unbroken frequently moved me to tears, and is admittedly the main reason that Remember the Titans is at the top of my “Movies to Watch When Sad” queue. Others, like Rocky IV and Rocky III, I had never encountered before conducting this data set to analyze, and still find little to no connection with their plot besides the inevitable defeat of whoever Rocky decides to fight in that particular sequel. Slapstick comedies such as Adam Sandler’s Waterboy and The Longest Yard, or Will Ferrell’s famous Blades of Glory and Talladega Nights seem to rank in the top ten for other factors, quality of humor aside. So, what is it that connects these hall of famers?
While rewatching all of these movies with a critical eye, I focused on the narrative elements that incited a positive reaction, whether that be empathy or pure laughter. In this manner, I wanted to get to the heart of what landed these movies in the hearts of so many people around the world (see Appendix A). The greatest split within the ten movies comes with whether or not they are based on true stories. Elements such as the use of profanity, the classification of drama or comedy, and the time period the movie is set in had little to do with the popularity of the movie and everything to do with the fictionality of the story itself. Whereas the non-fiction drama films (Unbroken, The Blind Side, Seabiscuit, Remember the Titans, Rocky III and Rocky IV) used little profanity and were set in their appropriate time periods, the comedies (Waterboy, The Longest Yard, Blades of Glory, and Talladega Nights) were much looser with their f*&% bombs and were always set in a modern day America. By analyzing the ten movies as two separate groups, fictional comedy and non-fictional drama, it was clear that each had distinct elements that were necessary to drawing in the audience. As a whole, all ten movies had an element of love, an adult lead, and were rated PG-13 or lower. Each of these consistent elements appeals to a broad audience, which may have helped bring in maximum revenue. The element of love or romance can appeal to anyone, but none of these movies are strictly romance films, which simultaneously does not exclude anyone with particular apathy to such films. Having an adult lead does not exclude the interest of the younger demographic, but may make the prospect of viewing the film much more enticing to adults themselves. Lastly, the PG-13 or below rating does not limit the majority of movie-goers from seeing the move in the first place.
Stepping out of the audience and into the directors chair, I then analyzed the elements of the movies that had nothing to do with the plot (see Appendix B). Initially, I investigated individual production budget and studio, noting that the range went from Rocky III at $17 million to The Longest Yard at $82 million. Studios that produced these films include big names such as Warner Brothers, Paramount, Universal, Columbia, Buena Vista, and United Artists. Due to the wide range of money spent by a wide range of bigtime studios, I concluded that neither budget nor studio had a grand effect on the success of these box office hits. The conflict resolution is an element that is consistent throughout all ten movies and provided a sense of ending and a sense of satisfaction that came with a “happy” ending. Even if this conclusion did not result in the team or individual “winning”, it saw through a larger resolution such as reconciliation with family or loved ones, the overcoming of racial disparity, or a broader internal conflict. While I recognize that any feature film needs a notable studio to produce it with a sufficient budget, the variance of these factors signaled to me that there was not one consistent production team or amount of money that led to these movies’ place in sports film history.
On average, wide-released movies play in around 2,000 theaters. Among these ten sports films, each were playing in an average of 2,937 theaters world wide, almost 1,000 more than average. The least exposed movie was Rocky III, playing in only 1,317 theaters, while Will Ferrell in Talladega Nights raced across 3,807 theaters in 2006. Overall larger exposure plays a role in accessibility, a large factor in ticket sales. Average run-time for these movies was between 1 hour, 30 minutes and 2 hours, 17 minutes. This run-time gave each film a chance to develop a conflict and resolve it, generally within the last 10-20 minutes.
In addition to the direct external elements, I analyzed the overall economic status of America at the time of release of each movie. Using the NASDAQ composite as a gauge for economic growth, I plotted one year of historical data from 11 months prior to 1 month after release, as most movies stayed in theaters for an average of four weeks. By creating line graphs of the data, I noted that 9 of 10 graphs showed a positive sloping trend line, indicating a period of economic growth on the stock exchange. During these time periods, personal income rises and families have more money to spend on movie tickets which are, in economics, defined as normal goods: goods for which demand rises when income rises.
In regards to internal elements of sports movies, I concluded that the only real internal distinction lies between comedy and drama, and within each of those there is a clear script to follow in order to bust the guts or tug the heartstrings of viewers, respectively. Contrarily, the external elements seem to have little correlation to success, as most data points are erratic and not directly related to the eventual box office revenue. However, the external influence of economic health provides the most consistent trend in correlating the success of one of these predictable, albeit inspiring, flicks. Or, maybe it is just Adam Sandler.