Over the past few weeks and months, we have seen an increase in press articles covering music–based feature films.
Only last week, The Guardian stated, “We are in an uncommonly busy period, if not a flat-out golden age“, the BBC declared that “2019 has been the year of the music film” and The Independent claimed that “we may be in for a new musical renaissance“. (The Indie gets points for at least being cautious in their language when declaring the new dawn of dance).
This has led to a few readers contacting me to ask if this is true.
Are we in a boom of music-based movies, or are over-enthusiastic journalists turning a couple of movies into a trend?
Let’s zoom out and look at the big picture.
Are more music-based films being made?
We’ll start by looking at the number of films made that are based around music. It will come as no surprise to anyone that the heyday of movie musicals was the middle of the last century.
In the mid-1950s they accounted for just over 6% of films, but by the early 1990s had fallen to just 2.5%. The 1990s saw them drop below 2% of films made, with a rise to almost 3% in the mid-2000s, only to fall below 2% again in the past few years.
In fact, 2018 saw the lowest representation for music-based films for all but four of the past 70 years.
So if there hasn’t been a renaissance of music-based movie production, why the recent hype? Let’s investigate a few other possible datasets.
Are more music-based films being released?
If we narrow our focus to films which grossed at least $1 at the US box offices in the past 25 years… we see the same pattern. Music-based films make up a larger share of the marketplace (3.5% in 2018) but display the same mid-2000s peak and recent flatline as we saw in the production figures.
So there are not more music-based films being made or released. But there is one last thing we can check: namely, box office gross.
Are music-based films making more money?
And here we find our boom. The chart below shows the same release date from the previous chart but with the box office share added. It shows that in both 2017 and 2018, music-based films massively outperformed the past few decades’ averages.
A few big music-based hits have swollen the genre’s share of box office and attracted the attention of journalists. Headline films include Bohemian Rhapsody, Mamma Mia and La La Land.
Before I finish, I wanted to share one last tidbit about musicals. Movies based on musicals are, on average, the best kind of movies.
This is according to film critics and using the Metacritic average of all movies. The Metascore is an average of reviews from a number of key film critics and expressed as a value out of 100. I took those scores for all movies over the past 25 years and split the results by the movie’s script source.
Musicals come out top, just beating films based on short films or real-life events.
And this isn’t just a consequence of musical-loving critics. if we apply the same process to IMDb user scores (out of 10), we get a similar result.
The raw data for today’s research came from IMDb, The Numbers and Wikipedia. I took as “music-based” any film which had the genre of “music” or “musical” from major movie listing sites. The years relate to when movies were first released, not their production years.