Predicting Opening Weekend Movie Ticket Sales


I'm often asked to give examples of the types of projects students conduct using SAS.  This week I am delighted to have Beth Leslie, a graduate student at Kennesaw State University, as our guest blogger.  Beth recently presented her research at Analytics 2012 and is busy working on a paper submission for SAS Global Forum 2013.  Beth shares a project she recently conducted as part of a class project.

Beth Leslie

Graduate student shares how she uses SAS to predict ticket sales

I hear it again and again.

Random person: “what do you do?”

Me:” I’m getting my masters of science in applied statistics!”

Random person: “Ugh, MATH! I HATE math!”

Well, I don’t hate math. In fact, I sort of love math. I’m usually amazed that some people hold such a grudge against math, especially since the world would be a very boring place without mathematics.  A friend of mine recently called me a Mathemagician. I called that an apt description.

But I guess my passion for applied mathematics and statistics is a good sign that I’m right where I’m supposed to be, studying and working in a field as exciting as analytics. One reason that I am so fascinated (and entertained) by applied statistics is that it’s…well…applicable to so many different areas. I was recently lucky enough to be a Student Poster Presenter at the SAS 2012 Analytics conference where I presented some research on movie success I did as a graduate student in the Masters of Science in Applied Statistics program at Kennesaw State University (MSAS for short and the name is fitting because we use a lot of SAS!)

What led me to do research on movie ticket sales? I thought it would be interesting to see what makes a movie successful. Is it a good plot? Humor? Your favorite actors? Maybe it’s a familiar story or familiar characters that make you want to go see a movie. I measured movie success by opening weekend ticket sales, collected a lot of data on movies, and built a mathematical model to predict whether or not a movie is going to be a success on opening weekend.

It turns out that the movies that are most likely to be successful are the action movies with a hefty budget. Also, if a movie was part of a series, people were more likely to go buy a ticket for it on opening weekend. That makes sense to me; if I’ve enjoyed a movie I’ll usually go see its sequel (I will definitely go if it’s the 3rd or 4th installment in a series) and the big-budget action movies with cool special effects are always fun to see in the theater. These are pretty general sentiments that I sort of already knew, but the cool thing about applied mathematics is you can get really specific. For instance, I found out that an action movie is 3 times more likely to be a success for every additional $50 mil spent on the budget. That’s math applied to the real world and that just blows me away. And it’s useful to know in case I ever find myself in a situation where I need to fund a movie.

Movies are not the only thing that you can go around building mathematical models for. That is another reason I wanted to attend the Analytics Conference - so I could see what was going on in the world of analytics. And there are some pretty cool things going on. But it gets better! It seems that just about everything we do these days is electronic. And when something happens electronically, it usually generates some data. And I think that someone who gets excited at what we might be able to find out with that all data is going to have a very exciting time coming up. The world is generating more and more data and more people need to know what to do with all that data and how to use the tools, like SAS, needed to handle all that data. Personally, I can’t wait to get started. Happy calculating!

Thanks for sharing Beth! If you are a student researcher looking for an opportunity to present your research at a conference, check out the SAS Student Ambassdor Program. Submit your paper to SAS Global Forum (deadline is November 19, 2012) and complete a SAS Student Ambassador application for your chance to receive a conference scholarship to attend and present your research at SAS Global Forum 2013.  For more information or if you have questions, contact


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Julie Petlick

SAS Student Programs Manager

Julie Petlick works in the SAS Education Division as part of the Global Academic Program team. Julie is responsible for the SAS Student Program and is dedicated to supporting teaching and learning.

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