Film Finance

Where do highest-grossing screenplays come from?

This week I have been looking at the 100 highest grossing films for each of the last 20 years. This gave me a dataset of 2,000 films with which to answer a question from Tom Worth

Can you crunch the data on the number of films that are original screenplays and those that are based on some other source be it a book, comic, another film, etc. We all know Hollywood has gone franchise crazy recently but I’d be interested to see that actual data.

In summary…

  • 51% of the top 2,000 films of the last 20 years were adaptations
  • The most common source for movie adaptations is literary fiction.
  • 2012 saw five times the number of sequels released compared to 1999
  • Romantic Comedy is the genre with the highest number of original screenplays (79%)
  • Only 16% of Musicals were original screenplays.
  • 18% of Horror films were remakes
  • Between 1994 and 2003, original screenplays outnumbered adaptations every year but one, whereas in the following decade (2004-2013) the opposite was true, with adaptations outnumbering original screenplays in eight of the ten years.

Original Screenplays versus Adaptations

Across all films over the 20 year period, 51% of films were adaptations, 42% were original screenplays, and 7% were remakes.

Detailed Breakdown of Source

Looking at the sources of adaptations we can see that literary fiction was the most common, accounting for a quarter of the money made at the box office between 1994 and 2013.


The number of sequels has grown considerably in the last two decades, from a low of 5 in 1999 to a peak of 26 in 2012.


I’ve left the most complicated chart to last. This shows the data split by the principal genre of each film.


I used the Opus database to find the 100 highest grossing films in each year, in North America. I chose to focus on the domestic box office to generate the list as it appears to be more complete than international box office. The inflation adjusted budgets and box office grosses are to 2013 US$.

14 Responses to Where do highest-grossing screenplays come from?

  1. Pingback: Alfonso Cuaron Wins Best Director At DGA Awards, ‘Ride Along’ Takes First Place At B.O. Again, Grammy Awards: Winners, Highs & Lows ‹ Studio System News

  2. One of the reasons why literature works is because there is a lot of material that has to be cut down. That gives you backstory and characterization you wouldn’t get in a screenplay, unless the writer goes to the trouble to write those kinds of notes, or starts from a much longer work, or if actors flesh out the characters deep and far beyond the written page. Case in point, All is Lost was a 32 page screenplay, which brings to mind the fact that statistics alone have very limited meaning.

  3. Finally someone has put this whole marketing question to task. Thanks for giving me some concrete numbers to work with. I’ve written 6 -7 scripts since 2009 and it’s good to see what’s actually selling.

  4. Many thanks for this, Stephen. Is there any way you can factor in gender as well? I’d love that– And I think others would, too!

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  8. Roger McLeod says:

    Well done, very useful work.

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  12. Jerry says:

    “Gone with the Wind” “Wizard of Oz” Disney’s “Cinderella” adaptations are not new to Hollywood and some of them have been the biggest grossing movies in their respective years. Perhaps a larger data set would show a different trend.

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