The Story Behind Our Cult Classic Ratio

How we used social analytics to predict the next cult classic

A few months ago, we wrote a post making a bold prediction: Of all the movies released this decade, The Babadook is most likely to become a cult classic. Using two main metrics — box office revenue and social media conversation — we analyzed nearly 50 films from the last five years and came up with a repeatable way to predict the overlooked movies that are most likely to endure.


We got a lot of feedback about this post (and the analysis supporting it), so we decided to pull back the curtain and explain how we conducted the research, the choices we made in visualizing it, and the important role that social media data played in it.
But the story behind our Cult Classic analysis starts before we even collected a single piece of data.

The Brainstorm Process

Brainstorming may seem like an obvious step, but it is an important one — especially in the unstructured world of social data. This process consists of formulating questions, hypotheses, and speculations. It helps you avoid unnecessary rabbit holes and focus on key questions that really matter.
The Cult Classic analysis was part of our campaign analyzing a trillion social media posts to identify cultural trends, so we knew we wanted to look cultural phenomena. What could be more cultural (and relatable) than movies?
This is where the ‘storm’ part of the brainstorming process began. Should we look at which movie was most popular over the past five years? Should we focus on a specific genre, production company, or blockbuster hit?
And, most importantly, what else can social data tell us about movies? What’s the unique value social data can bring to the entertainment industry that they don’t already know?
Once we sorted through these preliminary questions, we arrived at our ultimate hypothesis: Does social conversation help predict and/or lengthen the shelf life for movies that might have been overlooked at the box office?

The Methodology

To answer our initial questions, we needed data. Lots of it.
We couldn’t analyze every movie released this decade, so we started with a small assumption: cult classics are likely to be highly rated by fans. Thus, we used Rotten Tomatoes for a list of the 50 highest-rated films since 2010.
But if cult classics are traditionally highly rated by fans, they are also not something else: blockbuster hits, like Star Wars: The Force Awakens. To avoid these mega-blockbusters skewing the list, we removed any film that was also on Box Office Mojo’s list of top 50 highest-grossing movies. We also set a consistent timeline for pulling all our data (that accounted for yearly spikes in conversation, like those around award shows) and compiled the raw numbers to analyze.
Once all this data-gathering was complete, we were ready to start crunching the numbers.

With the ratio in hand, we were able to produce a list of the movies since 2010 that we think are most likely to become cult classics. If you are in the entertainment industry, and looking to make your film the next cult classic, you’d want to achieve similar ratios as The Babadook.
For example, if your film generated a million dollars at the box office, it would have to generate at least four million social posts to achieve the level of The Babadook’s cult classic fame. But what is even more compelling about the power of social is how The Babadook’s underwhelming performance at the box office had zero impact on its cult classic success. The movie generated so much social conversation post-theaters that it created a rebirth. What prompted its rebirth is something Hollywood producers should investigate and is perhaps an analysis for another day…but here’s a hint: Netflix seemed to help.
For more insights from our trillion analysis, visit our what can you do with one trillion posts page.

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