Math Project: Box Office Totals

Box offic Photo by Bossco

As a teenager, I loved monitoring the weekend’s box office results. This kind of data is exciting and oozing with built in conflict. It sets up intriguing questions that require math to answer.

Students, depending on their level, can use simple addition through more advanced statistics to analyze box office performance.

As with earlier math projects, I’m looking for four criteria:

  • authentic data
  • intriguing conflict
  • expert’s perspective
  • awesome product

The Data

Authentic data’s easy: Box Office Mojo has more box office listings than you’ll know what to do with!

But naturally, you’ll want to keep this information to yourself at first to build some drama. Begin by asking them what they think the top movie of the year was. Also, let them guess how much money the movie made.

Just a couple minutes up front makes a world of difference in their level of investment in the project.

Finally, when they’re going wild with excitement, reveal 2012’s top 10 movies:

Rank Title Gross
1. The Avengers $623,357,910
2. The Dark Knight Rises $447,796,919
3. The Hunger Games $408,010,692
4. The Amazing Spider-Man $262,030,663
5. Brave $236,276,536
6. Ted $218,665,740
7. Madagascar 3 $216,391,482
8. The Lorax $214,030,500
9. MIB 3 $179,020,854
10. Ice Age: Continental Drift $160,592,434


A quick look at this and I notice some obvious categories:

  • sequels
  • animated movies
  • movies based on existing materials

This sets up a great conflict: which type of movie performs best?

Let your students develop their own categories. They might go in directions you hadn’t imagined: movie studio, MPAA rating, number of effects shots, score composer, or budget.

I’ve done some of the heavy-lifting for you with this spreadsheet.

Expert Perspective

Our expert might be a studio executive looking to maximize profits by analyzing trends. What is the most profitable type of movie to make for next year?

Naturally, this exec’s math skills are flexible:

Young students who have mastered adding can simply:

  1. group films into categories
  2. add up the totals of each category
  3. rank categories by total

Older students can calculate percents or fractions of the total gross.

More advanced students should investigate more sophisticated questions: which type of movie performs best on average? Are there differences between means and medians? Why?

For instance: there’s a difference of $75 million between the mean and median of sequels!


Will students generate an in-person pitch, a filmed commercial, a brochure to hand out?

This data lends itself wonderfully to all kinds of graphs, and I’m sure your kids will come up with some great extensions.

Some of them might even want to film the ideal, profit-maximizing film!