Analysis: Superstars, Side Kicks and Cameo Kings
Over the past two or so years, we've been working on one of the biggest projects we've ever undertaken: building out our database of acting and technical credits to include complete information on every acting role and significant technical credit for movies for which we have box office information. While work on this vast task continues (and will, of course, continue as long as films are being made), we have enough coverage of the industry now to start doing some serious analysis. Over the next month or two, I'll be looking at some of the things we've found and we'll be rolling out new features at The Numbers that take advantage of the dataset. This week, I'll look into how we are categorizing acting roles, and discuss the first charts in our new People Records section.
Every acting credit that we enter into the database now comes with nine attributes, as shown in the example below:
Jennifer Lawrence's credit for Catching Fire
The first few attributes, the film, the person and the character name, are pretty obvious. The rest could use some explanation.
We classify a Role Type as leading if the character appears in the poster for the film. If there are more than four people (or animated characters) on the poster, then we consider the film an ensemble piece, and the people on the poster are "lead ensemble members." We also have special cases for cameos, documentary subjects and interviewees, and for bit parts and uncredited roles as extras. In all other cases the Role Type is "supporting."
The Above the Line field indicates whether a credit is above the line or not. Above the line credits are the names that appear one by one on the screen during the opening (or sometimes closing) credits for a film. They also appear in the spidery writing at the bottom of the film's poster. And they're a big deal to all concerned. Above the line parts are generally the key roles in a film and form the center of casting decisions and budget negotiations. So they're a really good indication that someone is a sought-after actor (for this particular film, at least).
Voice Only, as one might expect, indicates whether someone actually appears on the screen, or only their voice is heard. Obviously roles in animated films are voice-only roles, but so are some roles in live action films.
The Billing attribute allows us to order the credits when we present them, and is another indicator of the relative importance of a role. We start with the above the line credits (in the order they appear on screen), and then follow the order in the credits that scroll by at the end of the film.
Finally, we have a record of any Oscar nominations or wins for this role and the name under which the person was credited.
We've now been through this process for just under 100,000 acting roles (and something over 50,000 technical credits, which I'll talk about next week). More are being added every day, and I'd encourage anyone with credits in films with reported box office to fire us a line if you can't find your credit listed on the site. We use the official credit list for the film to enter the data, so sending that across with your email would be particularly helpful. firstname.lastname@example.org is the email address to use.
With all this data entered, we're able to do a lot of interesting number crunching. So much, in fact, that'll take a while to get everything up on The Numbers, and several articles here at The Crunch to explain everything. To kick things off, we're introducing an updated People Records section on the site. Here are some of the things we've found...
Frank Welker and Samuel L. Jackson continue their titanic struggle for domination of the chart that counts total box office for all films someone has been in. Welker currently has the edge, $6.8 billion to $6.4 billion, which means Jackson is just an Avengers Sequel away from regaining the lead.
One of the most interesting charts is the Top Grossing Live Action Stars chart, where we look at only live action, non-cameo roles. If you're an average film-goer, these are the people you should instantly recognize when they appear on screen (or at least go, "hey, I know that guy..."). Samuel L. Jackson easily tops this list, ahead of Morgan Freeman. Some interesting names high on the list are Warwick Davis (who's less recognizable because he's usually under a bunch of prosthetics), Gary Oldman (being Sirius Black and Commissioner Gordon does him no harm) and Michael Papajohn.
Our analysis of actors and actresses in above-the-line and below-the-line roles gives Tom Hanks as the top above the line performer in terms of box office. Robert Downey, Jr. has the most above-the-line credits in total right now, with 43, although it'll be interesting to see if anyone catches him as we round out the database.
In contrast, our Top Grossing Actors and Actresses in Below the Line Roles chart is a list of the unsung heroes of the industry: people who work on lots of films but don't get their names in lights on the marquee. Frank Welker tops a list dominated by voice actors and the supporting cast from the Harry Potter franchise.
Finally, we have the top-grossing stars in cameo roles, where Stan Lee wins handily over John Ratzenberger. Lee appears in every Marvel film, and Ratzenberger in every Pixar film, so they have something of an advantage over everyone else. Stan Lee wins the battle because John Ratzenberger has several substantial roles in Pixar pictures, including Hammy the Piggy Bank in the Toy Story franchise.
Go to our People Records section for a complete rundown of all the charts. As I mentioned earlier, this is the tip of the iceberg. We'll be rolling out more charts and analysis over the weeks to come. Watch this space.
Bruce Nash email@example.com
Date posted: 2013-09-14