May the critics be with you


For a week now, my co-workers Ivan and Gregor could not shut up about the new Star Wars movie. And about all the old ones. It’s a while since I watched them (some flatmates convinced me during an internship in Munich eight years ago), so the content is kind of lost on me. But while lunch-chatting with Gregor and Ivan, I did get reminded of the social rules when it comes to Star Wars movies:

  • Liking part I, II and III you must not (these are the Star Wars movies from the 1990s and 2000s).
  • Preferring part V you must (released 1980, that’s “The Empire Strikes Back”).
  • Allowed to argue which of the latest movies is the best you are (released in the past three years.)

I wondered if this conventional wisdom can be backed up with data, and if the opinions about the quality of the movies correlated with the box office gross. Here’s my attempt to find out:

What can we see here?

The first Star Wars movie was the most successful one in terms of box office results. I find that curious. I assumed that a series gains more and more of a following over time. Seems like the second movie, “The Empire Strikes Back” didn’t get as many fans in the theatre as the first one – although it got highly favorable reviews from critics as well. Many fans now think it’s the best Star Wars movie.

Also: The Star movies from the 1990s and 2000s really are the worst. Interesting enough, the worst rated Star Wars trilogy movie to date, “Episode I”, made more money than any other one except the first Star Wars movie and “The Force Awakens”.

When looking at the movies of the last years, things seem to get back on track. They’re very well rated – far better than the Star Wars movies from the 1990s and 2000s. So should I be excited about “The Last Jedi”? The data says yes. (But who really cares about the data when it comes to movies. I would have watched it anyway.)

Chart choices

This week, I chose a scatterplot for my data. The years are on the x-axis, which is kind of an odd choice. Why do I not show the Rotten Tomato score on the x-axis?

Because then the chart would not be useful at all anymore for people like me who have no idea if “Return of the Jedi” was released before “The Empire Strikes Back” or afterward. For Star Wars noobs, seeing when the movies were released is crucial to understanding the data. Here again, we have a good example of how knowing your audience can influence your chart choices. In general, I think representing the Rotten Tomato score with color works fairly well. But I’m happy to hear other ideas!

You can also see that I chose the inflation-adjusted gross. Inflation-adjusted Dollars take into account that you got more for your money in the 80s than you get now: A cinema ticket cost far less back then. In actual US-Dollars, the first Star Wars movie made only a third of the money that “The Force Awakens” grossed. It would be a less honest chart if we take these actual Dollars, instead of the more complicated inflation-adjusted Dollars.

Maybe you also noticed a special effect: There’s a subtle Star Wars logo shining through the chart! Hover over the chart and click on “Edit this chart” to find out how I did that (hint: look in the Annotate > “Notes” section).

We’re getting closer and closer to the holidays. Enjoy a hopefully relaxing week!