The Nabes

January 18, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

“Now playing at a theater near you,” say the movie ads. How do they know?*

The distinction between “downtown” movie houses and“the nabes” has gone the way of the double feature and the newsreel. Most movies open everywhere. Still, not all neighborhoods are alike, and theater owners have a good idea of which movies will play well in their neighborhood.

Neighborhood patterns show up even when the geography of film distribution is not a factor – when you’re renting or downloading from Netflix. The Times has a cool interactive map that shows a film’s Netflix rankings in various neighborhoods. Here are the graphs in the New York region for “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” and “Vicki Cristina Barcelona.”

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

Paul is the negative image of Vicki. Did you see both these films? Did anyone see both these films?

Some films have no discernible pattern. The map of “Benjamin Button,” for example, is solid orange throughout. Others, like “Mad Men” are mostly white but with a few predictable shaded areas, like Manhattan and Montclair – a similarity that shows up in the map of just about every film. Montclair is basically the West Side but with lawnmowers.



On the Times site, you can choose from a dozen different metro areas. Take a look at the movies in a city near you, a city whose demographics you’re familiar with, for in most cases, the movies are proxies for demographic variables. Not all films follow the same patterns. Here’s “Last Chance Harvey” in New York and Boston.


Notice the concentric circle pattern in both cities. Somewhere, Burgess, Shaw, and McKay look down and nod.

*I once heard a comedian use this line (can’t recall who it was).

1 comment:

Todd Krohn said...

Great post. If you really want to see Shaw & McKay at work, check out the metro Atlanta data. It forms almost perfect concentric circles regarding clever films v. mass consumption flicks.