In today's Wall Street Journal there is an article entitled "Hollywood Hits the Books." The second paragraph of the article begins with this sentence, " Hollywood is racing to adopt novels, comics, and children's stories, as the ability of movie stars to draw audiences wanes."Images

I have added an emphasis on the final part of the sentence because it is conventional wisdom that movie stars are what "makes" a film. As is often the case with conventional wisdom, this "wisdom" is not  nearly persuasive as one might think. In other words, the ability of movie stars to draw audiences has never been as powerful as many people would like to believe.

In his outstanding 2007 book, "Super Crunchers: Why Thinking by the Numbers is the New Way to Be Smart," Ian Ayres profiles Epagogix, a company which uses a neural network to predict a movie's receipts based primarily on the characteristics of the script.

Amazingly, the system can more accurately predict the future success of movies better than veteran Hollywood executives. One of Epagogix's findings is that the influence of Hollywood stars "turns out to be a surprisingly small factor in terms of its overall weighting in the box office results."

Do you know what matters the most? The answer is: where the movie is set! (This matters because it can either drive the cost of producing a movie up or down.)

Alas, as Ayres writes, "Old habits, like the star system, die hard." He is absolutely right. But for those Hollywood executives and producers who can unlearn the "star system," the future might be considerably brighter.

(P.S. For an Unlearning 101 extra credit assignment look at the list of the 200 all-time best-grossing movies and review how many of the actors were stars at the time those films were released. Hint: Harrison Ford was not a star before the first Star Wars movie.)

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