Are Best Sellers the Best, Full Stop?

Let’s be optimistic and say that one out of a hundred manuscript novels submitted to agents and publishers is accepted for publication. Are these published few the cream of the crop, the top one percent in quality? What about best-sellers, the top 1% of the top 1%: are they the crème de la crème?

This morning I did a quick analysis by proxy, using movies instead of books — a different medium for publishing fictions. Here’s a list of the top-grossing films released in the US during 2017 so far, along with each film’s metascore, a zero-to-ten metric computed by Metacritic as “a single number that captures the essence of critical opinion.” The top box-office hit so far this year is Beauty and the Beast, which earned a metascore of 7.3. That’s a pretty good score — 6.1 to 8.0 indicates “generally favorable reviews” — though not high enough to merit “universal acclaim” (8.1 and above). The number two grossing film is Wonder Woman, at 7.6 — again, pretty good.

Here are the 100 top-grossing movies of the year to date, presented in tiers of ten:

Box Office Ranking     Average Metascore

1-10                                            7.5
11-20                                          7.3
21-30                                          5.9
31-40                                          5.8
41-50                                          6.3
51-60                                          5.6
61-70                                          6.5
71-80                                          6.5
81-90                                          6.6
91-100                                        5.5

There’s a drop-off from the top twenty, but after that the average metascores hover between 5.5 and 6.5 — slightly above average reviews.

According to the source table nearly 14 thousand movies have been released this year. That means that the top 100 grossing movies are all in the top 1 percent — all best-sellers. Do they get better reviews than movies further down the hit parade? Here are the 2017 movies ranked 1001 to 1100 in box office receipts:

Box Office Ranking     Average Metascore

1001-1010                                 5.5
1011-1020                                 6.8
1021-1030                                 6.7
1031-1040                                 5.9
1041-1050                                 6.1
1051-1060                                 6.1
1061-1070                                 5.5
1071-1080                                 6.8
1081-1090                                 6.7
1091-1100                                 6.6

Results look pretty comparable between the two lists. The average metascore for movies ranked 1-100 in box office receipts is 6.35; for movies 1001-1100, it’s 6.27. I’d call that a tossup.



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