Over the last century, cinema has carved out an indelible niche in human culture and filmmaking has come to be regarded as an art-form its own right. The film industry of the United States in particular, has had a major influence on the evolution of cinema over the course of its history and is currently the third largest producer of films in the world, with a global audience and a gross turnover averaging 29.5 billion US dollars over the last five years reported1. Despite the fact that trends associated with films, the dissection of their respective successes and failures and their individual artistic merit are all subjects of avid debate and discussion in the public realm and although the economics of film has been extensively researched2, no studies, to our knowledge, have quantitatively analyzed the large scale features of novelty in film plots and the patterns associated with their evolution. With the advent of culturomics as an emerging science3, it is natural to attempt to bridge this gap with the aid of comprehensive sources of film data such as the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).

The Internet Movie Database ( is a comprehensive online database containing information on films, television programs and videogames which, according to the site, has “more than 100 million data items including more than 2 million movies”. This in large part is made possible by allowing registered users of the site to add new database items or edit the information associated with existing ones. One such category of user-generated information at the center of this study, is that of plot-keywords consisting of single words, or word-strings associated with each item. If a keyword proposed by a user is semantically close to a keyword that already exists (i.e., has already been created for association with one or more films), then the user is prompted to use the existing keyword, thus suppressing the creation of synonymous keywords. In the context of films, keywords describe any of a number of aspects of film including but not limited to thematic plot-elements (father-son-relationship, power, fame), specific story elements (tied-to-a-chair, held-at-gunpoint, breaking-and-entering), location references (manhattan-new-york-city, coffee-shop, Chevron-gas-station) specific visual or object references (life-magazine, characters-point-of-view-camera-shot, coin-flipping-in-the-air) or high-level features of the film (independent-film, female-nudity, cult-film). Plot-keywords are thus qualitative descriptors spanning several scales of detail and specificity and they potentially constitute a rich information set capable of yielding valuable insights into the evolution of films over time.

The dynamics of tagging - the process of users contributing keywords to associate with specific items - as well as folksonomy - the classification of items based on these collective tags - have been widely studied in the context of blogs, photo-sharing and social bookmarking4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13. A general consensus derived from these studies is that despite a lack of central control, shared vocabularies with stable probability distributions over words emerge as a result of collaborative tagging. For example, Halpin et al.4 showed that the relationship between the frequency of a tag's usage and its rank (based on how frequently it is used) is a power-law and further proposed a model for tagging dynamics based on preferential attachment that could yield such a relationship. Almost concurrently, Cattuto et al.5 showed that the frequency-rank plot for tags obtained from Del. icio. us and Connotea indicated a power-law relationship and demonstrated that a Yule-Simon model with long-term memory for tagging dynamics could yield this relationship. In the context of information retrieval, Levy and Sandler9 showed how social tags associated with musical tracks (on a Last. fm dataset) defined a semantic space that could enable efficient mood-based clustering and retrieval. Similarly, there have been several studies10,11,12,13 that have focussed on exploring the use of tags for personalized recommendation and query based retrieval. As a representative example, Szomnsor et al.11, investigated the extent to which combining tags obtained from IMDb and ratings data obtained from Netflix could generate better taste profiles for users and thus yield a predictor of their ratings for an unseen film. Finally, although unrelated to social tagging but still within the larger domain of collaborative editing, Mestyán et al.14 showed how user activity data on Wikipedia pertaining to a particular film's entry could yield an early predictor for the box-office success of the film.

In contrast to the above studies, the motivation of this work is to utilize the IMDb plot-keywords dataset as a window into the evolution of films and their content over the course of the last century and in the process investigate certain aspects of novelty generation in the arts. The characterization of novelty and the processes that lead to it, have been subjects of thorough investigation in psychology and social science15,16,17. Several of these studies emphasize the role of the combinational process - one that combines existing ideas in a manner not encountered earlier - in novelty generation, in contrast to the process of introducing fundamentally new concepts from scratch. Another aspect of sustained research interest18,19,20,21 is the relationship between the novelty of an item and the hedonic value (or pleasure) derived by an individual upon its consumption. The standard paradigm here, resulting from the pioneering work of Wundt22 and Berlyne23, is captured by the Wundt-Berlyne curve, which posits that increasing novelty initially results in increasing hedonic value until it reaches a maximum. Further increasing novelty beyond this intermediate level results in a rapid decline in hedonic value. In summary, the inverted-U shaped Wundt-Berlyne curve posits that individuals seek a balance between familiarity and novelty, shying away from the banal and more strongly from the radically unfamiliar.

The issues of novelty creation and novelty optimization are undoubtedly relevant to the business of cinema. A significant portion of film criticism, commentary and discussion is devoted to analyzing the novelty in the writing and execution of film plots. In addition, one among the various factors responsible in successfully securing the financing and distribution of a film, is its conformity to current trends and past conventions. However, little is known in a quantitative sense regarding the degree to which the competing objectives of novelty and conformity are balanced in the process of new content creation. The plot-keywords dataset has the potential to serve as a starting point in addressing these issues. In addition, it allows us to ascribe novelty scores to films on the basis of their content, including not just elements of the underlying story, but also elements that encapsulate the tone and style of the final finished product. With this goal in mind, we analyze the plot-keywords associated with films produced in the United States over the period between and including the years 1890 and 2011, define two novelty scores based on them and study the aggregate patterns in novelty evolution over a 70 year period. In addition, we also provide a number of quantitative insights into the probability distribution of plot-keywords over the entire dataset spanning 100 years and the statistics of their use over time.


We begin by presenting some basic characteristics of the dataset under consideration. Henceforth for brevity, we will refer to plot-keywords simply as “keywords”.

Statistics of films and tagging

Figure 1(a) shows the total number of English-language films originating in the US (see Methods for details) each year starting from the earliest recorded entry in the year 1890 through 2011. The number of films produced increases sharply starting around 1907 and corresponds to the “Nickelodeon boom” i.e., the sudden increase in the production of films as a result of the success of the Nickelodeon theater in 1905, which led to the proliferation of theaters devoted to film projection for a mass audience. The majority of the films produced in this period had runtimes of 10–15 minutes24 and are classified as “Short” under the IMDb-Genre field. To obtain the dataset that forms the core of this study, we considered only feature length films and additionally only those which were non-adult and non-documentary theatrical releases. As expected the peak around 1910 disappears in the filtered set. Analogous to the Nickelodeon boom, there is a sharp rise in the number of films around the mid-1990s. This is a manifestation of the dramatic increase in independent-film production that occurred in the 1990s and that, by the end of the decade, led to over half the feature length films being produced coming from independent studios and producers25.

Figure 1
figure 1

(a) The total number of English language films produced in the United States (in blue) and the number of films remaining after filtering out short films, documentaries and adult films (in red), per year. (b) Number of films in the filtered set (red) and number of films in the filtered set with keywords (green), per year. The shaded gray region bounds the values which lie within 25% of the total number of films released. In the period between and including the years 1929 and 1998 the green curve lies within the shaded region showing that greater than 75% of films released each year in this period have keywords associated with them.

Figure 1(b) shows the statistics for the tagging of films released in the period between 1890 and 2011. Clearly, the association of keywords to films is not consistent over the different release years, with a clear paucity in tagging towards the early (the first film associated with a keyword was released in 1910) and late years in the period under consideration. However, for years in the period including and between the years 1929 and 1998, more than 75% of the films released each year have keywords associated with them. For our studies on the novelty of films, we therefore focus on the films released within this period. In total, there are 21, 583 films possessing at least one keyword in this period.

We refer to the collection of all keywords associated with a film as the film's keyword set. The length of keyword sets appears to be exponentially distributed (see Fig. 2 (a)), with the median length being 14 keywords. For the restricted set between 1929 and 1998, the median length increases slightly to 19, but the distribution remains qualitatively similar (not shown). As expected, films in the tail mostly comprise of popular mainstream films, as shown in Fig. 2(b) for each decade from the 1930s to the 2000s.

Figure 2
figure 2

(a) The distribution of keyword set lengths over all films with keywords. The linear decay on the linear-log plot indicates a roughly exponentially declining probability as the keyword set length increases. (b) Length of the keyword set for the chronologically ordered set of films with keywords. The gray bars indicate the lengths of the sets for the different films. For each decade, the film with the longest keyword set over all releases in that decade is highlighted in red.

Studies on the Google n-gram corpus have demonstrated that trajectories of word-occurrence-frequency over time can reflect surges of cultural interest in specific events, literary works, persons etc.3,26. We can expect to glean similar insights from observing the usage of plot-keywords. We begin by defining occurrence frequency per year for a given keyword as the number of films released that year that are tagged with the keyword, divided by the total number of films released that year. Figure 3(a) shows trajectories of occurrence frequency for four example keywords. Similarly as observed for words in literature3,26, films too display temporally local bursts in the usage of a plot-element as can be seen in the example of “world-war-two”. A surge in the occurrence of “class-difference” around 1985 is suggestively coincident with the conjectured rise in materialistic attitudes during the 1980s27,28.

Figure 3
figure 3

(a) The yearly occurrence frequency of specific keywords as a function of time. (see text for details)(b) Distribution (relative frequencies) of the Hurst exponent α for keywords that occur in at least 70 years between the period 1910 and 2011. The mean value of the exponent is 0.8966, indicating the presence of positive long-range correlations. The inset shows the distribution after shuffling each of the time series. The correlations largely disappear upon shuffling as indicated by the mean value of 0.5590 obtained for α.

Beyond the temporally local trends seen in the association of keywords with films, there could also be long-range correlations present. To probe this further, we use the method of detrended fluctuation analysis (DFA)29 that is widely employed for investigating the presence of long-range correlations in general time-series and has also been specifically used in the context of word usage26. We analyzed using DFA (see Methods), the time series of keyword occurrence frequency for all keywords that appeared in at least 75 of the years between the period 1910 - the earliest year with a tagged film - and 2011. In total, there are 461 such keywords. The Hurst exponent α which signals the presence or absence of long range correlations is obtained for each of these time series using DFA. A value of α = 0.5 indicates no temporal correlations, α < 0.5 indicates negative correlations while α > 0.5 indicates positive correlations. A distribution of the Hurst exponents obtained for the 461 time series considered is shown in Figure 3(b), indicating the presence of long-range positive correlations in the keyword occurrence frequency. These correlations disappear (see Fig. 3(b) inset) for the set of time series obtained after shuffling the temporal order of data within each individual time series.

Evolution of film novelty

Next, we devise a method to assign a novelty score to each film on the basis of the keywords associated with it and the keywords appearing in all films that were released prior to it. The assignment of novelty scores is done for films in the continuous period between and including 1929 and 1998, more than 75% of which per year are associated with keywords. In addition to the fact that keyword data is abundantly present for films released in or after 1929, the choice of this year as the beginning of our time window is also motivated by the fact that by then, film-going was no longer an esoteric form of entertainment24 with film-ticket sales in the 1930s constituting as much as 4/5ths of all entertainment expenditure30. Incidentally, the year 1929 marks the time around which sound in films became ubiquitous24, the beginning of the period which came to be known as the golden age of Hollywood31 and the year in which the first ever academy awards were presented. We formally present the definition of the novelty score below.

For a film i, denote by Mi the set of all films that appear prior to the release of film i. We use m to index an arbitrary film and Km to be the set of keywords associated with m. We begin by computing the probability P(w) of observing a keyword w over the set of films Mi {i} for all keywords appearing in the set.

where denotes the indicator function for set A:

Then, for any keyword w, the quantity −log P(w) is a standard measure of the “surprise” in observing keyword w32. With this in mind, we can quantify the novelty of film i, as the average surprise over all keywords associated with the film. Although, ideally, P(w) should designate the prior probability distribution i.e., the probability distribution for keywords computed over films in Mi, we include film i in its computation in order to circumvent the ill-defined logarithm arising when P(w) = 0 i.e., when w appears for the first time in Ki. The first measure of novelty we define, aims to score the film on the basis of how rarely, on average, the elements associated with it have appeared in films in the past. For a given film i, the average surprise associated with its keyword set can be written as:

While formally appropriate as a measure of novelty, the above quantity suffers from the disadvantage that its maximum attainable value, log(|Mi| + 1), is dependent on how many films have been released prior to the film under consideration. To yield a fair comparison between films irrespective of their position in the temporal order, we normalize the surprise associated with each keyword by the maximal attainable surprise (log(|Mi| + 1) for film i) and define the elemental novelty associated with film i as:

Thus, represents how close the average surprise for film i, as defined by Eq. 3, is to its maximum attainable value.

While Eq. 4 scores films based on the rarity or abundance of their individual plot-elements, it is agnostic to how rare or abundant the combinations of their plot-elements are. To capture the novelty associated with the combinations of keywords, we can define similarly to Eq. 4, the novelty resulting from the occurrence of specific keyword-pairs, triples and so on. Here we restrict our study of higher-order terms to keyword-pairs and formally write the combinatorial novelty for film i as:

where P(u, v) is the probability of keywords u and v occurring together in a film in the set Mi {i} (defined similarly as for individual keywords in Eq. 1). Both and have values in the range [0, 1], but capture distinct aspects of novelty generation. Thus observing trends in their evolution over time, not only gives us insights pertinent to specific events in the history of cinema, but also helps elucidate the degree to which elemental and combinatorial novelty contribute to the creation of new content.

Figure 4(a) shows the chronological evolution of elemental novelty over the period 1929–1998. To eliminate situations where a film with a small keyword set registers a very high (very low) novelty due to the rarity (abundance) of its few keywords, we only consider films with keyword sets of length greater than 10 (see SI Section 1.1). Films are chronologically ordered by the time of release and the abscissa is simply the index i of the films, with the vertical dashed lines corresponding to the indices demarcating the beginning of a new decade. As stated earlier, novelty is bounded above by 1 and the median value of elemental novelty (shown in red) is well below this bound over the entire period. Some features in the evolution also bear pointing out. For example, an upward trend can be seen around the mid-1960s in both the yearly median, as well as the lower envelope of the time series, which agrees well with the documented birth of the American New Wave which brought with it a marked shift in themes, style and modes of production24. Interestingly, the period between 1929 and 1945, commonly referred to as the golden age of Hollywood, is not marked by an increase in or a stable value of median novelty, but rather by a subtle decline. This decline is likely a consequence of the practice of block booking prevalent in that period, which by virtually guaranteeing exhibition for any film as long as it came from a major studio, did little to de-incentivize the production of films with low novelty2,24.

Figure 4
figure 4

The evolution of (a) elemental novelty and (b) combinatorial novelty for films between 1920 and 1998. The solid red curve shows the median yearly novelty and the gray envelope curves show the novelty of the 5th and 95th percentile of films each year. Distributions of (c) elemental novelty and (d) combinatorial novelty by decade. Distribution of (e) elemental and (f) combinatorial novelty for the aggregated set of films released between 1929 and 1998.

Figure 4(b) analogously shows the evolution of combinatorial novelty over the period, whose upper envelope in contrast to elemental novelty, consistently stays close to the maximum attainable value of 1. Gross features similar to those seen for elemental novelty can also be seen here; the median rises in the 1960s and its variance decreases, while in contrast, the variance shows an increasing trend during the “golden age” between 1929 and 1945.

Figure 4(c) and (d) respectively show the probability density functions (pdf) of elemental-novelty and combinatorial-novelty for films in each of the 7 decades in the period considered. All the distributions are unimodal, differing slightly in their variances, but with their respective modes confined to the range between 0.53 and 0.63 for and between 0.87 and 0.93 for . For each type of novelty, the similarity between individual decade-wise pdfs and the overall pdfs, Figs. 4(e), (f) respectively, hint at the possibility of some underlying novelty preferences governing which scripts are chosen for development into a feature film.

We also investigate the evolution of elemental and combinatorial novelty for films within specific genres and these reveal trends unique to each of them. For example, Fig. 5(a), (b) show the evolution of novelties for films containing “Action” as one of their IMDb genre classes while Fig. 5(c) and (d) show the case for films under the “Sci-fi” genre. The median and the envelope curves of both and for the case of action films, show a sudden disruptive jump to higher values in the decade 1960–70. This is compatible with the thesis, based on studies by film historians, that elements comprising the modern action film genre originated with the James Bond franchise in the 1960s33. Similar plots for selected other genres are shown in Supplementary Figure 2.

Figure 5
figure 5

(a) Elemental novelty and (b) combinatorial novelty for films containing ‘Action’ within their ‘genre’ field on IMDb. (c) Elemental novelty and (d) combinatorial novelty for films containing ‘Sci-Fi’ within their ‘genre’ field on IMDb. The solid red curve shows the median yearly novelty and the gray envelope curves show the novelty of the 5th and 95th percentile of films each year.

Relationship between film novelty and revenue

Next, motivated by the Wundt-Berlyne curve, we investigate whether there is any relationship between the novelty of a film and the hedonic value derived from its consumption at an aggregate population level. We utilize the (inflation-adjusted) revenue generated by the film as a measure of its mass appeal (see Supplementary Text, Section 1.2) and measure a film's novelty only taking into account the films released in a 6 month window prior to its release (see Methods for details).

In Figure 6(a) we plot the mean revenue of films conditioned on elemental novelty (black circles). The overall shape of the resulting curve shows a resemblance to the Wundt curve (inset), with the mean revenue increasing systematically with novelty until a value of around 0.8 and declining thereafter. To get a better sense of the significance of this curve, we generate 50000 randomized versions of data where the values of revenues are shuffled. For every shuffled data set we obtain the mean revenue corresponding to each novelty bin and then plot the 10th and 90th percentile of all mean revenues values obtained for each novelty bin (gray curves). A significant fraction of the true data points either straddle these curves, lie below the 10th percentile curve, or lie above the 90th percentile curve, indicating that their respective probabilities of occurring purely due to chance is ≤10%. The declining portion of the curve is harder to conclusively argue for, due to a paucity of data points for the associated range of novelty, as evidenced by the probability density of novelty, Fig. 6(b). Irrespective of the precise nature of the relationship between novelty and hedonic value, we can investigate whether these two quantities exhibit a significant statistical dependance on one another. We do this by evaluating the Mutual Information (MI) (see Methods) between the two quantities and comparing it to the values obtained from a permutation test. Specifically, we generate 50000 datasets where the revenue values are shuffled and compute the MI between novelty and revenue for each shuffled dataset. Figure 6(c) shows that the MI for the true data (red arrow) is far from the tail of the distribution of MI values obtained using the shuffled datasets. More precisely, none of the shuffled datasets achieved a value equal to or greater than the true MI of 0.0177, indicating a p-value less than 2 × 10−5.

Figure 6
figure 6

(a) Mean inflation-adjusted revenue versus elemental novelty is shown by the black circles, with vertical segments indicating standard-errors in the computed mean values. Also shown are the 10th (gray triangles) and 90th percentile (gray squares) of mean revenues obtained for 50000 randomized versions of the data. (b) The probability density function of for the data used in (a). (c) The relative frequencies of mutual information values between and mean revenue obtained for the randomized datasets, compared to the mutual information for the true dataset. (d) Mean inflation-adjusted revenue versus combinatorial novelty (black curve) and the 10th and 90th percentile (gray triangles, gray squares respectively) of mean revenues obtained for 50000 randomized versions of the data. (e) The probability density function of for the data used in (d). (f) The relative frequencies of mutual information values between and mean revenue obtained for the randomized datasets, compared to the mutual information for the true dataset.

Figure 6(d) shows the mean revenue of films as a function of their combinatorial novelty. Here the range of novelty values is much narrower (Fig. 6(e)) and the only discernible feature is a systematic increase in mean revenue as novelty increases. The MI between novelty and , as in the case of , is statistically significant as indicated by a permutation test, with a p-value less than 2 × 10−5 (Fig. 6(f)).

Overall occurrence probabilities of keywords and keyword-pairs

Next, we study the probability distribution of plot-keywords over the entire set of films in the period between 1890 and 2011. Unlike the case for other corpora3,26, the distribution does not follow Zipf's law as seen from the curvature present in the log-log plot of the cumulative probability distribution of usage frequency (Fig. 7(a)). Indeed, a stretched exponential fit obtained through maximum-likelihood-fitting34,35 agrees well with the data (parameters provided in caption).

Figure 7
figure 7

(a) The cumulative probability, P(occurrence frequency > f) for keywords. The red line shows a fit corresponding to the cumulative probability for a stretched exponential distribution, exp(−λ fβ) with parameters λ = 1.0119 and β = 0.2716. (b) The frequency of keyword-pair occurrence as a function of the rank of the pair (blue). For the keyword-pair corresponding to each rank, the probability of occurrence under the independence assumption is shown by a red dot. For the 10 highest ranked keyword-pairs, the probabilities of occurrence under the independence assumption are indicated by red crosses.

Any non-trivial process of plot generation would result in some keyword-pairs occurring more often than expected by chance and others less often. To probe whether this is indeed borne out by the data, we compare the occurrence frequency of keyword pairs to the frequency obtained under the assumption that the constituent keywords are chosen independently of each other, in proportion to their respective occurrence probabilities. The results shown in Fig. 7(b) show a substantial difference between the true keyword-pair frequencies and those obtained under the independence assumption.

Finally, we present a visual depiction (Fig. 8) of the rise and fall of keywords that are associated with movies over the entire period from 1910 to 2011. Unlike a traditional time series plot (as in Fig. 3(a)) streamgraphs introduced in36,37 provide a lucid graphical approach to simultaneously observing the growth and decline in the usage of different keywords (thickness of each “stream”), along with their relative usage in a given year (relative thickness of a stream in a cross section).

Figure 8
figure 8

Streamgraphs for most probable keywords occurring in (a) all films (b) action films and (c) science-fiction films.

See Methods for details.

A prominently visible feature in Fig. 8(a) is the growth in the use of the keyword independent-film beyond 1955, presumably resulting from the demise of the studio system and marking the period when studios began forming partnerships with independent producers. Furthermore, until that time, the monopoly of the studios on the exhibition venues, strongly suppressed the visibility of independently produced films24. A notable feature in the action streamgraph (Fig. 8(c)) is the early dominance of the keyword b-movie and its decline in the 1950s. Indeed, between 1930 and 1950, action films mostly comprised of low-budget westerns created to fit the double feature programming format38. However, by the 1950s, with film audience numbers in decline as a result of the predominance of television and with the end of the studio-system, the low-budget action film gradually declined in production and the genre as a whole underwent a redefinition in the 1960s33.


We have demonstrated that user-generated keywords coarsely characterizing a film, can provide a quantitative window into the evolution of novelty in films over a 70 year period. Specifically, the novelty scores defined here reveal both subtle trends in overall novelty evolution (Fig. 4) and disruptive changes in the evolution of specific genres (Fig. 5(a)). A notable feature of several evolution curves is an upward trend in novelty during the 1960s (Fig. 4(a), (b) and Fig. 5(a), (b)). Presumably, this corresponds to the widely held thesis24 that the break-up of the studio system, the advent of competition from television and the rise of several socio-political movements, all contributed in varying measures to the 1960s becoming a defining decade in the history of American cinema.

However, the fact that the overall distributions as well as the decade-wise distributions of and overlap significantly, suggests some strong constraints on the degree of novelty in films that eventually get made and released theatrically. This could be a manifestation of the inherent novelty preferences of the investors, or of risk-minimization based on some implicitly perceived inverted-U relationship between novelty and hedonic value. Indeed, the plot of versus mean-revenue, Fig. 6(a) does lend some credence to the idea that the relationship between novelty and hedonic value resembles the Wundt-Berlyne behavior.

While this study has focussed on utilizing keywords to observe aggregate trends, there are several possible extensions that can be pursued in future work. The first is to attempt a refinement of novelty scores which takes into account the descriptive level of the keyword, an issue that is ignored in this study. For example, here we treat a keyword characterizing a high-level feature related to the production (for example independent-film) equivalently to a keyword which specifies a story-element (for example murder). A possible approach to alleviating this is by employing a probabilistic topic model like hierarchical latent Dirichlet allocation on the keyword set39 and then defining a more finely resolved measure of novelty based on the obtained hierarchy of topics.

A second potential research direction is to analyze the utility of the novelty score discussed here or refinements of it to search and recommendation. Yet another application of such scores is in the area of artificial or computer-aided story generation40 where ranking the novelty of plot-element combinations based on their prior probabilities could allow exploration in novel directions. Understanding aggregate novelty preferences may also provide insights into the viral spread and mass adoption (or lack thereof) of certain products and services and is a research direction with valuable applications to marketing campaigns and social network based behavior-change initiatives. Furthermore, any venue offering the combined availability of crowdsourced data, the network between users providing tags and their individual tagging behavior, provides the opportunity to segment the population on the basis of their novelty preferences and design products and services tailored specifically to each segment.


Data collection and analysis

Data was obtained from IMDb ( as plain text data files in May 2012. Data was processed with Python scripts using the IMDbPY package ( First, all data items corresponding to films (not including straight-to-video releases, or TV movies) were extracted. Next, those items which had “Country” listed as ‘USA’ and “Language” listed as ‘English’ were extracted. Finally, all films with ‘Adult’, ‘Short’ or ‘Documentary’ under “Genre” were removed to leave us with the set under consideration. For more details, see Supplementary Text, Section 1.1.

Detrended fluctuation analysis

Detrended fluctuation analysis for a time series involves the following steps:

  1. i

    Mean-center the original time series: where

  2. ii

    Generate a random walk z by summing up displacements corresponding to values in :

  3. iii

    Partition the total number of steps in the walk (i.e., total number of elements in the original time series) into boxes of size L.

  4. iv

    Within each box, compute the local trend using a linear fit to the data. Compute the variance in the detrended fluctuations within each box and then compute the square root of its average over all boxes: (where the corresponds to an average over boxes and the term within corresponds to the variance within a box.

  5. v

    Repeat the process for different values of L and estimate the exponent α in the scaling σ(L) ~ Lα.

Mutual information estimation

The mutual information between random variables x and y with marginal distributions P(x) and P(y) respectively and joint distribution P(x, y) is defined as:

In the absence of a knowledge of a specific form for the relationship between variables, mutual information is a useful signifier of the presence or absence of dependencies between variables x and y41. The estimation of mutual information between two continuous variables with a finite number of observations is a well-studied problem. We utilize a method proposed in42,43 and an implementation of the same provided by Zbynek Koldovsky.

Novelty and hedonic value

The following pertains to the data and methods used for Fig. 6. Budgets and revenues generated from theatrical exhibition are present for 1680 films in the period under consideration. We adjust for inflation all dollar amounts that have a reporting year associated with them based on the cumulative price index table for the year 2011. To strike a balance between having a sufficiently large number of films to analyze and minimizing the disparities in the exhibition capabilities of films considered, we restrict our analysis to films with a inflation adjusted budget of at least 1 million dollars (see SI, Section 1.2 for further details). Finally, to account for the fact that novelty as perceived by a general audience largely involves comparison to films released over a short period in the past (rather than the over the entire duration that cinema has been around), we compute and for a film i, only considering films which were released in the 6 months preceding the month of its release.


A “stream” for a keyword was generated using the number of occurrences of the keyword for each year in the period. The resulting signal was smoothed using spline interpolation. A stacked graph was generated and to guarantee symmetry about the Y axis, the baseline was displaced in proportion to the total width of the stack as described in36,37. For Fig. 8(a) we use the set of keywords obtained from the union of the most frequently used keyword for each year in the period. This set contains 9 unique keywords. For streamgraphs shown in Figs. 8(b) and (c) for films belonging to the action and science-fiction genres respectively, keyword sets were chosen using a similar procedure as for Fig. 8(a) but were additionally pruned to retain only the 10 keywords with the highest average usage-frequency over the period.