Movie Studios Enlist Artificial Intelligence to Further Ruin Movies

It didn’t seem possible, but movies are about to get even worse.

This week, Hollywood Reporter reported that Warner Brothers plans to adopt an AI-driven project management system created by the tech company Cinelytic.

According to a 2019 Verge article, Cinelytic cross-references data from movie performances with information about films’ themes and key talent and using machine learning to tease out hidden patterns in the data. With its software, movie producers can see how changing the movie’s cast and approach influences its projected box office performance. They could see if a proposed horror movie starring Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams that’s predicted to make $80 million, might make $150 million if they replace Adams with Scarlett Johansen and make a science fiction movie instead.

Since Hollywood became a billion dollar industry with the advent of home video in the ‘80s, its guiding principle has been risk aversion. Original stories are gambles, studios instead adapt pre-existing intellectual property. Executives greenlight remakes, sequels and movies based on comic books, toys and cell phone games.

There’s no reason to believe that using AI to build a hit movie will work, however. Studios already attempt a form of predictive analytics with little luck. The Hollywood Reporter story about Warners’ Cinelytic deal offers three examples of Warner Brother’s recent flops that could have been avoided through the AI system: The Kitchen, Shaft and Godzilla: King of the Monsters. It’s hard to see how predictive analytics would have helped the studio avoid choosing these movies. Each one was a cautious, hedged bet and an attempt at precisely calculating risk.

All three movies adapted from existing properties (The Kitchen was a comic book published by the Warner-owned Vertigo comic line). They star famous people from hit movies and shows, like Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown, Samuel Jackson and Melissa McCarthy. And none are original. Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Shaft are sequels—in fact, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is part of a shared universe movie series modeled after Marvel. As reviewers of the female-led gangster film The Kitchen noted, the movie is a retread of the 2018 sleeper hit Widows.

The movies didn’t fail because they lacked marketing analysis. If anything, they were too driven by marketing analysis. And get used to it. There are just major movie studios now that Disney’s acquired Fox. With a limited number of prospective employers, executives are holding on to their jobs for dear life. If they believe an algorithm can tell whether midwestern audiences prefer Emma Stone or Jennifer Lawrence, they’re going to use it.