Disney animated features are undoubtedly some of the most beloved in the world, and they’re consistently box office juggernauts. The company is known for releasing world-conquering animated films that dominate the cultural conversation, spawning mucho merchandise, memes, think pieces, theme park rides, Broadway adaptations, and least a couple of characters per season on ABC’s fantasy soap, Once Upon a Time. The Mouse doesn’t mess around.
So what’s the secret formula behind all that Disney magic? What makes the most beloved Disney animated features so beloved? Ranker Insights data has an answer, pulled not from some Mickey-shaped vault in Burbank, but from the real experts: the fans. Legions of Disney-loving Ranker users have weighed in across dozens of lists, providing us with enough data to begin reverse engineering what that magic formula is — and it all comes down to two distinct emotional factors: Sadness and Humor. If a Disney film can make you laugh and cry, then Mickey and the company have you hooked.
Disney fans know Disney animated features are tearjerkers, at least to some extent. They’re usually based on classic fairy or folk tales, full of romance, high-stakes action, and a lot of dead, absent, or solo parents. It’s no wonder we can barely keep our eyes dry. But is there a relationship between the sadness of these films and the esteem in which we hold them?
Let’s compare two relevant user-driven lists: The Best Disney Animated Movies of All Time and Animated Movies That Make You Cry the Most. The top five films on Ranker’s The Best Disney Animated Movies Of All Time list are all on the Animated Movies That Make You Cry the Most list, and the top seven films on the latter list are all Disney animated features. There’s a clear connection — Disney does sad, and Disney does sad well. But when you really dig in and start exploring the data, it becomes clear that there actually is such a thing as too sad when it comes to Disney.
Let’s first look at two of the most notoriously sad Disney features: Up and Toy Story 3. The opening montages in both films could make Maleficent blink back tears. Naturally, they both rank high on the animated tearjerkers list, at #1 and #3, respectively, and they are considered by critics to be two of the finest animated films of all time. So why don’t they land in the upper echelon of Disney animated classics?
Early-’90s-era, pre-Pixar Disney classics The Lion King, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast were smashes, and thus they justifiably top the Best list. They’re all musicals released within a few years of each other and are remembered fondly by Millennials. However, they aren’t necessarily all major tearjerkers — The Lion King being the obvious exception. The Lion King is the rare Disney classic that’s considered both a major tearjerker — #2 on Animated Movies That Make You Cry the Most — and in the upper echelon of Animated Disney movies. At surface value, Simba stands alone in the pack — but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
If we factor in all tearjerkers and not just animated films, The Lion King doesn’t rank nearly as high, especially with men. Up (#4), a movie centered around a dead spouse, and Toy Story 3 (#7), which, spoiler alert, is about toys almost expiring in a furnace, make the room a whole lot dustier for men than Simba singing “Hakuna Matata” with Timon and Pumbaa (#12). That’s consistent with contemporary gender norms, as well. On the overall tearjerkers list, too, The Lion King sits at #14, well-below Toy Story 3 (#5) and just a notch below Up (#13). A sad flick? Sure. But, it’s not quite Pixar-at-its-saddest sad.
So the level of sadness a Disney animated film makes us feel has a clear correlation to our perception of its quality, but there’s a limit to the amount of melancholy we’re willing to endure. Surely, there’s another emotion that exhibits a clearer relationship…
Unsurprisingly, the Disney animated features ranked as the funniest are also the ones most often considered better. These are films, after all, featuring a menagerie of goofball fauna, wisecracking toys, genies, monsters, cars, and at least one anthropomorphized doorknob, courtesy of Alice in Wonderland. Even the bleakest, most mature of these films, such as Wall-E and Up, still have it out for your funny bone.
Interestingly, Disney’s post-1995 run of Pixar classics, including Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Monsters, Inc., all rank high as tearjerkers, comedy classics, and some of the best Disney has to offer. It’s no surprise these films kicked off a renaissance for the studio, largely eclipsing their non-Pixar offerings until the massive success of Frozen in 2013.
Overall, the emotion these films provoke relates to whether or not they’re considered great, with the perfect combination of sadness and humor being the “secret sauce.”
One of the most exciting aspects of Ranker Insights is the ability to cross-reference this kind of data. You may have suspected, for example, that there was something inherent to movies such as Toy Story and Finding Nemo that has made them the newest of Disney’s vaunted animated classics. Knowing just why people like these movies helps us to discover what, exactly, appeals to them. Other data sources — IMDB ratings, Fresh vs. Rotten fan scores on Rotten Tomatoes, the number of Facebook likes on a fan page — can’t disentangle these emotional reactions the way Ranker can, which is a happy ending for anyone trying to decipher what makes a piece of entertainment beloved.
The 2016 NFL season is now in the rearview mirror, ending with a Super Bowl that will be talked about for years to come. Most of the records in the Big Game were set by winning Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, leaving Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan with plenty to despair. The day before the Super Bowl, however, Ryan had something to celebrate: he was named the league’s MVP.
Ranker has a popular list for Players Most Likely to Be the 2016-17 MVP. The list was published in November 2016, and over 20 players received a total of more than 30,000 thumbs-up and thumbs-down votes. We were interested in whether this list predicted Ryan’s win, and how the patterns of opinions expressed by the voters changed over time.
The figure above summarizes the raw voting data for Matt Ryan. The black cross markers show the empirical proportion of up-votes to total votes on each individual day that votes were cast. The size of the crosses corresponds to how many votes were cast on that day. There is an increase in the proportion of up-votes, beginning around January 15. The two Sundays, marked on the x-axis, which includes the NFC Divisional Round and NFC Championship, on January 15 and 22. Ryan and his teammates played their best games of the year as the franchise made its second Super Bowl appearance.
The blue line in the figure above shows the cumulative proportion of up-votes to total votes over each day voting was active. This cumulative proportion increases after January 15, but not to a large degree, because of the accumulated earlier votes continuing to affect the overall proportion. The problem with this analysis is that it assumes voting always reflects the same opinion, so that all votes are lumped together, and the thumbs-up or thumbs-down votes last November count equally with votes registering an opinion right before the MVP was announced.
So, we developed a new model to analyze these data, as an alternative to cumulative opinion. Our new model tries to measure current opinion, rather than cumulative opinion. It does this by allowing for swings in opinion. For something as hotly contested like NFL MVP, it’s easy to imagine opinions changing based on a good or bad game, or even an injury. Between change points, our model assumes the crowd has a stable opinion, but each time a change point is encountered, the opinion can shift. Our algorithm for applying the current opinion model is able to identify how many changes are evident in a sequence of voting data, where those change points are, and what the stable opinion in each stage are.
The results of applying the current opinion model to Matt Ryan’s data are shown in the figure above by the red line. Two change points are inferred, around November 22, 2016 and January 22, 2017. Opinion starts just below 60%, drops to about 30%, and then rises again to a final value just above 60% in time leading into the award’s announcement.
The two panels in the figure above shows the cumulative opinion (left-hand panel) and current opinion (right-hand panel) measures for eight leading candidates for the MVP award, including Ryan. These players were all heavily voted on, and include the leading candidates discussed in the media. For both opinion measures, the natural way to make a prediction is to order the players according the opinion right before the February 4 announcement. Cumulative opinion ranks Ryan in fifth place, behind Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers. Rookie stars Elliott and Prescott had dominant seasons for the Dallas Cowboys, but the early MVP excitement faded to a more realistic assessment that rookie winners are less likely, nevertheless teammates. Their prospects of winning were faded once the Cowboys lost in their playoff game. Brady and Rodgers, contrarily, are well-established and high-profile perennial favorites for the MVP award.
The current opinion measure shows that Ranker voters had it right, correctly predicting Matt Ryan as the winner. It is interesting to see that Brady ranked second according to current opinion, since he was widely tipped as the only other serious possible winner in the days before the award was announced. Both Elliott and Prescott show plausible and interpretable downward changes in opinion over the period of voting. Rodgers shows an interesting large, but short-lived drop in opinion immediately after Green Bay was eliminated on January 22. Generally, many of the inferred change points occur immediately following a significant game result, although there is no constraint in our analysis that requires this. In effect, the change points reveal that game-day performance is the most likely thing to sway opinion.
The overall message is that voting data on Ranker expresses valuable crowd opinions, especially when analyzed in the right way, by allowing for opinion to change. When making predictions about an upcoming event, more recent opinion will often be better. More information is available, and less time must pass before the answer is known, reducing uncertainty. Whether or not it makes Matt Ryan feel better, our analysis shows that Ranker voters are on board with him being the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.
– Michael Lee and Lucy Wu
The self-proclaimed “geek community” hates it. Critics are lukewarm about it. It’s fairly undecorated awards-wise, considering its stamina and ubiquity. But CBS’s multi-camera, laugh-track laden The Big Bang Theory has consistently been one of the most-watched shows on television throughout its 10-season run, meaning millions and millions of people are watching it on a regular basis — but who, exactly? If it’s not geeks, critics, tastemakers, or industry insiders, who’s left? Regular people? What does that even mean? Isn’t this the “nerd show?”
Before we dig into what Ranker Insights data reveals about the show’s audience, let’s first explore just how successful The Big Bang Theory really is. It rivals Seinfeld and Friends during their heydays in its eyeball-attracting dominance, pulling in a steady stream of 19-to-20 million viewers at its peak between seasons 6-9. Season 10 has also been a ratings winner, never dipping below 14 million viewers per episode. That makes it the number one comedy on television this season among adults aged 18-49. It’s also a huge hit in syndication, with reruns on TBS frequently topping the weekly ratings.
But unlike Seinfeld, Friends, or even recent ratings juggernauts such as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, The Big Bang Theory has never really risen to the level of genuine pop-culture phenomenon, which is surprising for a show watched — and presumably adored — by so many. It has never been the kind of show you can safely assume your friends and co-workers are watching week-to-week or binge-watching as soon as a new season hits Netflix.
The watercooler talk about The Big Bang Theory, such as it is, has generally been a conversation about why it’s an insult to “real nerds” or how it can possibly be such an insanely popular show. After all, the argument goes, no one really knows anyone who even watches it, including professional TV critics such as Joe Reid from The Atlantic and Rob Hoerburger from the New York Times Magazine. How is such a massively popular show also so off-radar? Back in 2013, during the show’s ratings peak, Hoerburger admitted he had to cajole his sneering friends and elitist peers into giving it a shot, not even meeting a fellow fan until he wore his “Bazinga” t-shirt while on summer vacation and finally caught a fellow fan’s eye. “Twenty million nerds can’t be wrong,” he concluded, counting himself proudly among the pack.
But aren’t “real” nerds and/or geeks famously up-in-arms about the show? A widely-held grievance is that the show “makes nerd culture the butt of, not the subject of, the jokes.” If that’s true, then our data would reveal a fanbase largely devoid of self-proclaimed nerds, or full of folks okay with some light nerd-roasting, or maybe something in between. However, it probably wouldn’t reveal that “twenty million nerds” are what make this show so wildly popular.
The Internet, characteristically, has a lot of opinions about who watches the show or for whom the show is intended. Dan Seitz waves the “Real Nerd” banner over at Uproxx, arguing that the show’s most loathsome quality is that it’s not even aimed at nerds, despite making a whole lot of noise to that effect, but instead at “that mythical creature, The Average Television Viewer.” Tom Nicholson, in a sassy takedown over at WhatCulture, thinks The Big Bang Theory fans must be “united by a complete lack of imagination and cultural adventurousness,” a common sentiment from the show’s harshest critics. So which is it? Did the show become a 10-season-strong monster on the back of an army of culturally adventurous nerds or a bunch of hard-to-pin-down “Average Television Viewers?” What binds the show’s diehard audience together?
The mind-boggling amount of data Ranker Insights has about The Big Bang Theory fans contains the answer, and — Bazinga! — it looks like Team “Real Nerd” is onto something.
We’ll start with TV habits. You would think fans of a show that purports to celebrate nerd culture would love stereotypically nerdy TV shows such as Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Game of Thrones, and all things Marvel and DC, right? And they do, somewhat, with affinity scores between 100% and 200% for all of those shows, meaning they’re at least twice as likely to be a fan of those shows than the average person. But the shows in the 250%-400% and above range — the shows The Big Bang Theory fans are far and away the most passionate about — reveal they really prefer far less fantastical fare.
The Big Bang Theory fans, more than anything else, love sitcoms and comedy-dramas that were made in the 1990s or feel like they could have been made in the 1990s. The kind of shows that were made back when “Average Television Viewer” was much easier to pin down, before DVR and streaming splintered the monoculture.
These throwback shows get the fanbase excited far more than anything The Big Bang Theory’s characters would actually geek out about, suggesting the show’s biggest fans don’t seek out the fantasy worlds the show constantly name-drops, but instead prefer entertainment that harkens back to a bygone era of watching TV as a nation — the “lockstep world of three networks,” to quote Scott Timberg of Salon. The Big Bang Theory fans appear to yearn for an era of TV programming that arguably provided, as Timberg puts it, “a communal sense of belonging together, sharing concerns and values at a time when politics, ethnicity and religion often divide us.” We’re talking a lot of Venus vs. Mars domestic comedies — lots of couches facing the camera. Shows starring stand-ups and industry legends, full of hugging and learning. Shows known more for consistency and crowd-pleasing, frankly, than for quality. Shows, in other words, like The Big Bang Theory.
Let’s look at the data. Even if you discount The Big Bang Theory creator Chuck Lorre’s other big hits Two and a Half Men, Mom, Grace Under Fire, Mike & Molly, and Dharma & Greg — all 250%+, by the way — you’re still left with Friends, 2 Broke Girls, How I Met Your Mother, Reba, Rules of Engagement, 8 Simple Rules, and My Wife and Kids dominating the upper echelon, with affinity scores of 225% or more. All of these shows are studio-based, multi-camera, laugh-track-heavy sitcoms. Seinfeld, which famously rejected hugging and learning, is notably absent from this tier, sitting at 71%. A mix of comfortable TV staples including popular police procedurals (NCIS, CSI: NY) and light dramedies (Hart of Dixie, with a whopping 473%, as well as 7th Heaven) round things out.
So no, The Big Bang Theory fans do not appear to share the tastes of the show’s main characters. Anything related to superheroes, for example, is walloped in the the rankings by the likes of mainstream favorites iCarly, House, Dateline, and even ‘90s cartoons such as Bobby’s World and The Wild Thornberrys. Perhaps the most damning revelation? There’s not a single iteration of Star Trek on TV with an affinity score even half as high as Ben and Kate, a 2012 sitcom FOX canceled before finishing a season. That’s pretty shocking, considering the constant stream of Trek references on The Big Bang Theory, and that multiple former Trek cast members have made cameos. Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Wesley Crusher) even has a recurring role as a fictionalized version of himself.
It’s also telling to look at the shows The Big Bang Theory fans have the least affinity with. Unsurprisingly, single-camera, laugh-track-free critical and cult favorites such as Louie, Party Down, Broad City, Veep, Peep Show, and Master of None all have negative affinity scores, along with hip sketch comedy classics such as Mr. Show with Bob and David and The State. The Big Bang Theory fans, it appears, don’t like shows that try to break — or even stretch — the mold, preferring instead the cozy world of the American sitcom. That’s not exactly shocking, but it is out of line with the tastes of the show’s comic book-obsessed cadre of characters, who revel in their knowledge of obscure pop culture.
Based on TV affinities, The Big Bang Theory fans appear to be nostalgic, proudly uncomplicated people who appreciate consistency. They’re fairly conservative, avoiding racy, obscene, or controversial content in favor of content that likely confirms their core beliefs. They are not, in other words, your standard nerds. But that’s just TV. What else?
A look at film affinities paints a similar picture. A few nerd classics make the cut with 100%+ affinity scores, but the films The Big Bang Theory fans are the most passionate about are exactly the kinds of movies the characters would proudly mock. Michael Bay’s Transformers, for example, tops the list at an alarming 382% affinity, while two Star Wars prequels and the universally-panned Fantastic Four are all in the top ten. Meanwhile, anime classics such as Akira and Spirited Away, as well as comedy-nerd classics such as This is Spinal Tap and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, all have negative affinity scores.
This means The Big Bang Theory fans are less likely than the average person to enjoy these films — more evidence that fan tastes do not match those of the main characters. They appear to be less discerning, leaning heavily toward the popular and populist in their entertainment, but perhaps in their politics, as well. (The Big Bang Theory fans skew, ever-so-slightly, to the Midwest, South, and Southwest, aligning nicely with Trump’s America, but that’s a topic for another day.) Proudly touting such widely-reviled films and having negative affinity for more experimental, difficult work suggests they’re not the kind of people who care about critical consensus or canon-building. Again: not nerds.
Peering across Ranker’s vast library of lists lends more credence to the idea that “nerds” are not the core fanbase of The Big Bang Theory. Fans who think the show is the “Best Show Currently On the Air” also think forgotten ‘90s late-night staple Paula Poundstone is the funniest stand-up comic of all time, with Tim Allen — a ‘90s sitcom star still plugging away on ABC’s multi-camera Last Man Standing — close behind. Users who think the show is “The Greatest TV Show of All Time” also think Julia Roberts should top the list of “Greatest Actors or Actresses of All Time.” Roberts is many things, but she’s not exactly a geek icon.
This brings us to an ugly-but-useful-for-our-purposes word: basic. If you’re unfamiliar with this mild pejorative, here’s Urban Dictionary to the rescue: “Used to describe someone devoid of defining characteristics that might make a person interesting, extraordinary, or just simply worth devoting time or attention to.” There’s also this: “An adjective used to describe any person, place, activity involving obscenely obvious behavior, dress, action.”
Julia Roberts, while undoubtedly one of the most charming and talented actresses of all time, is just about as basic an actress as you can get, at least to the hordes of fans, meme-makers, and critics that glob together, Flubber-like, to elevate a piece of entertainment to “pop culture phenomenon” status. The Big Bang Theory fans, according to Ranker Insights data, love things that cultural tastemakers — and that definitely includes nerds — consider safe, obvious, unchallenging, and above all, basic.
Everywhere you look as you pore over the data, things typically derided as “basic” keep popping up. For fast food, The Big Bang Theory fans turn to Arby’s, Taco Bell, Subway, and Papa John’s, all “basic” choices compared to, for example, the woke-ness of Chipotle or the kitschy cult cool of In-N-Out Burger. The show’s fans clearly want consistency, value, and an unchallenging, thoroughly basic menu. Musical affinities also point in this direction: fans favor safe, middle-of-the road wedding and digital jukebox staples from artists such as Shania Twain, Bryan Adams, Sting, Steve Winwood, and the Foo Fighters, while the genre-bending experimentation of Radiohead, Kanye West, Prince, or Bjork, all have negative affinity scores. (The thoroughly unbasic rapper Wiz Khalifa ranks high, but that’s likely because of his 2015 appearance with The Big Bang Theory actor Jim Parsons playing Catchphrase on The Tonight Show.)
This all lends credibility to the theory that nerd culture is ultimately the target of, not the subject of, The Big Bang Theory’s rapid-fire jokes. After all, if the show’s fans aren’t fond of the hallmarks of nerd culture — A -25% affinity with Mystery Science Theater 3000? Seriously? No affinity at all with Doctor Who? — what are they laughing at, really? Are the show’s most passionate defenders so devoted because, as Variety’s Katherine Brodsky theorizes, the culture has shifted and become more geek-friendly, and the show “lets audiences identify with and be part of that geek world?” Or are the show’s fans, happily in thrall to all things basic, just laughing at the geeks?
Ranker Insights reveals that if these fans are, in fact, geeking out vicariously through Sheldon, Leonard, Penny & Co., they aren’t exploring geek culture outside the show like you would expect. It appears they enjoy laughing at, as the show’s most vocal critics claim, what they perceive to be a caricature of nerd culture, but aren’t card-carrying members of that culture themselves.
A charitable reading of the data could lead one to conclude that the show, by inserting “geeks” into a time-tested sitcom formula, just tries to appeal to “everyone” — a sitcom-by-committee, superficially inclusive of outsiders, appealing to our most basic — and “basic” — impulses. But the hundred of thousands of The Big Bang Theory fans on Ranker suggest, instead, that the version of nerd culture the show depicts is most appealing to viewers unfamiliar with the real thing.
“Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are,” extremely French guy Jean Brillat-Savarin said. Everyone thought this was clever enough that JBS had an entire subset of cheese named after him. Doc cannot claim the same breadth of vision, but if you tell him what you want in your burrito, he has a good idea of what movies and TV you like.
When you’re craving a fistful of Tex-Mex fast food, do you find yourself thinking “barbacoa” or “XXL Grilled Stuft?” That answer is more revealing than you’d expect. One of the slickest features of Ranker Insights is its ability to cross-reference movie/TV/entertainment affinities with individual brands. When you compare something as simple as the tastes of Taco Bell customers versus those of Chipotle fans, you’re seeing two vastly different fan communities.
For instance, if you’re sitting down to a hearty tray of Crunchwrap Supremes and Beefy Nacho Grillers, Doc is gonna take a wild guess that you saw Rogue One. If there’s one thing we do know, Taco Bell fans love the Star Wars franchise. And Lord of the Rings. And Batman. Basically, they love Hollywood franchise blockbusters with monster special effects; the very top movie among this crowd is Independence Day. Thirty-one films are linked with an affinity score over 100 percent, meaning that a Taco Bell fan is at least twice as likely to be a fan of that film than the average person. Of those 31, all but 10 were part of a cinematic franchise. Of those 10, most boast established Hollywood A-listers like Will Ferrell, Steven Spielberg, and Bruce Willis.
What’s happening at Chipotle? For one, its fans aren’t as forthcoming. Taco Bell fans cluster around their favorites in greater volume and concentration. Collectively, Chipotle fans are more muted about their pop culture choices. Whereas Taco Bell had 31 films crossing the 100 percent threshold, for Chipotle, that number is 17. While 67 percent of the Taco Bell favorites are part of franchises, that number is 29 percent for their fast food rival. In fact, if Chipotle fans have a soft spot for anything, it’s for coming-of-age films. The Breakfast Club, Stand By Me, Dead Poets Society, Juno, and Superbad all sprint past the 100 percent threshold. When the person in line in front of you orders a taco bowl with a tender wistfulness suggestive of poignant life lessons from a simpler time, now you know why.
You’ll see a similar enthusiasm gap with comparison to their respective TV choices. Taco Bell fans are, if nothing else, more passionate about their TV than their movies, with 38 shows surpassing the 100 percent affinity mark Chipotle? A mere 22. Taco Bell fans are all about animated shows and sitcoms. Of those 38, 17 were animated and 18 can be defined as sitcoms. Some shows, like The Simpsons and King of the Hill (Taco Bell fans’ top show), counted on both lists. Within those genres, you can see a wide variety ranging from youth programing like Rugrats, Thundercats, Saved by the Bell, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch through the more risqué fare like South Park, Beavis & Butthead, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
Over in Chipotleland, things are the same, yet different. There’s a preference for animated content, but A) not nearly as strong and B) the favored shows are different. Chipotle animation fans have a more off-center sensibility—after South Park (the only common denominator), you’ll find more cerebral meta-cartoons like The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, Invader Zim and Rocko’s Modern Life. As for comedies, here’s a simple distinction: Taco Bell fans generally enjoy shows that feature a laugh track; Chipotle fans don’t. Chipotle fans have 12 sitcoms at or crossing the 100 percent mark. Only one of them (Roseanne) features a laugh track; the rest are single-camera series with no laugh track and off-center comic sensibilities like Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Louie. Among the Taco Bell shows, It’s Always Sunny is atypical in this respect; most of the favorites are ‘90s stage-based, laugh track-heavy classics like Seinfeld, Friends, and That ‘70s Show.
Doc isn’t saying that there’s little these groups have in common, however. Among the over 100-plus affinity movies, there are a handful of joint favorites: Independence Day, Fight Club, The Bourne Identity, and The Empire Strikes Back. Not so much with TV. Only two shows, South Park and Parks & Recreation, overlap between the competing groups.
What about music? It’s a similar pattern, but even starker. Taco Bell fans’ music tastes are the dead center of the classic/alternative rock spectrum: Jimi Hendrix, Pearl Jam, Metallica, Queen, Guns N’ Roses, Stevie Nicks, Green Day. All that’s missing from that list is a commercial break from your Jack FM sponsors. Once you cross the mini-mall to Chipotle, you’ve entered an alternate universe of hipster musical tastes: KT Tunstall, Mos Def, M.I.A, Sia, Smashing Pumpkins, and Tegan & Sara.
So what does this tell us? The Taco Bell fans are taking up a big spot smack in the center of mainstream pop culture. Their preferences are things that are on everyone’s radar. Chipotle fans favor sleeper hits and cult classics, the stuff you have to find on your own. What else would you expect from customers of a restaurant that requires you to be an active participant in the creation of your meal? The whole point of Chipotle is to create an order to your particular tastes. Clearly, Chipotle customers are used to that challenge, rejecting the one-size-fits-all offerings of box office blockbusters and Nielsen champions in favor of an individually curated sensibility.
What else does this tell us? Chipotle fans are older than their Taco Bell counterparts. After all, curating one’s individual sensibility and taste preferences requires years of experience. The kids at Taco Bell only have enough time to absorb the biggest and the broadest items off the entertainment menu. As they get older—some of them, anyway—those tastes will mature and diversify. Someday, they may find themselves watching an old movie or an offbeat TV show, or maybe even embracing the cosmic uncertainty of the great black bean/pinto bean divide.
Of course, even Doc doesn’t want to make the effort to figure out what’s going in his burrito. Sometimes, Doc just wants a Supreme and a Mountain Dew and Will Ferrell. That’s when you’ll find him in line at the drive-thru.
Doc had a great idea; at least he thought so. Working from the same approach as his taxonomy of Batman fans, Doc decided to do another survey, this time on one of the great divides in pop culture: Marvel vs. DC films.
Until you’re confronted with the raw numbers, it’s hard to conceive of the staggering amount of data that Ranker Insights collects. There’s such an abundance of it compiled around these two companies that wrapping anyone’s head around it in one blog post is, well, scientifically speaking, crazy talk. That said, Doc found some evidence to suggest that when it comes to Marvel and DC film fans, we’re looking at two distinctly different animals.
First, consider Marvel fans. Doc looked at movie affinities for a number of films, and if anyone is at the epicenter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s none other than Robert Downey Jr. Not only do fans of his Iron Man films overlap with several other Marvel audiences (most notably The Avengers), but that fan enthusiasm spills over to his Sherlock Holmes franchise, as well as a few decidedly non-superhero titles, like Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and Due Date.
Even Marvel fanbases that don’t have a strong actor preference are tilted heavily towards the characters. However, directors don’t factor too heavily into the equation for Marvel fans. You don’t see the Thor fans seeking out Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V or Dead Again, and Marvel fans’ love for director Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man doesn’t extend to films like Yes Man or Down with Love. On the surface, it seems that Marvel Studios’ tendency to push their directors in the direction of the Marvel “house style” standardizes their differences and allows the actors and characters to take center stage.
Marvel fans are also on the younger side of the spectrum, as evidenced by some pretty startling passions. For instance, who’d have guessed the surprisingly strong correlation between fans of Iron Man and fans of Penguins of Madagascar? (Not Doc, that’s for sure.) Maybe it should be no surprise that fans of Spider-Man—who happens to be one of the youngest major superheroes—also have strong connections with other touchstones of teen pop culture, like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars.
But the common character trait across Marvel fans lists is their pronounced loyalty to the studio itself. Fans of Captain America are also fans of Spider-Man. Fans of the X-Men (whose films, it should be noted, are made by Fox, not Marvel) are also fans of Thor. Despite it not sharing any major characters (yet) with any of Marvel’s other franchises, people who like Marvel movies are big fans of Guardians of the Galaxy. (Left out of the Marvel love fest is The Fantastic Four, who have been ill-served by Fox’s adaptations.) But the sense of brand loyalty you find among Marvel fans couldn’t be stronger.
When you look at DC fans, however, it’s a different story. Within the DC film fan world, Batman is, by far, the hero with the largest following. For those fans, the post-Dark Knight trilogy output is having a tough time getting out from under the long shadow of director Christopher Nolan. For as much as Marvel fans don’t care about directors, DC fans—particularly The Dark Knight trilogy fans—care deeply about their directors. Nolan’s non-Batman films like Inception, The Prestige, and Memento dot the upper reaches of the DC fans’ movie affinities, while Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands rank highly for fans of the 1989 Tim Burton-directed Batman.
DC fans are also older than Marvel fans. While there’s some overlap in the non-superhero movies that fans like—Transformers and Lord of the Rings are popular across the board—once you drill down into the DC favorites lists, you start to see some decidedly grown-up titles you simply don’t see on the Marvel lists, like Platoon, American Psycho, and Full Metal Jacket. If you look at the TV affinities of Wonder Woman comics fans, the list seems to have been ripped wholesale from a stray copy of TV Guide from 1978: Baretta, The Love Boat, Quincy, M.E., Starsky & Hutch, The Bionic Woman. Doc ran the top dozen movies for several comic book fanbases, and the DC lists had more than twice as many titles from the 20th century as the Marvel lists.
Doc isn’t surprised by this. After all, the DC superhero movies aim for an older audience than the Marvel output. Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder like their movies dark and serious, a far cry from the pop and fizz of Marvel filmmakers like Joss Whedon and the Russo brothers. When Superman and Batman fight, it looks like it hurts. When Iron Man and the Hulk fight, it looks like a crazy good time. (Maybe this is a long, roundabout way of confirming something you already suspected might be true. If that’s the case, welcome to data analysis, buddy.)
Remember how a distinguishing feature of Marvel fans is the consistency with which Marvel movies showed up on their lists? Well, one of the distinguishing features of DC fans is also the consistency with which Marvel movies show up on their lists. DC fans have plenty of love for Marvel product, but that fondness isn’t exactly reciprocated. The Dark Knight is the only DC film that shows up frequently on the Marvel lists. Meanwhile, DC fans readily appreciate Marvel titles, particularly The Avengers and the movies of that group’s constituent characters.
Want an even starker example? The good folks at Warner Bros. will weep to hear it, but for fans of The Dark Knight, on their list of affinities, the recent offering Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice sits at number 922. 922! That’s the room number of your hotel, not the distance between your best movie and your most recent movie in the eyes of your biggest fans!
Doc is gonna put it as plainly as possible. The fanbase The Dark Knight shares with the fanbase of Dawn of Justice is roughly the same size as the fanbase it shares with:
Chicken Run (2000)
Do the Right Thing (1989)
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Grandma’s Boy (2006)
Die Another Day (2002)
Grandma’s Boy. That should be a wake-up call to somebody at DC. When Dark Knight fans are considering what movie to watch that night, and it’s a tossup between your most recent Batman movie and Grandma’s Boy? That’s a sign that your cinematic universe could be in trouble.
Interestingly enough, DC does have a crossover success… just not on the big screen. The DC title that’s actually made the most inroads with Marvel comics fans is The CW’s Arrow, which turned up more often than Marvel serials like Daredevil and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Perhaps DC’s film division could take a few notes from its TV team.
For all the distinctions Doc sees between these two fanbases, there is one truth that everybody agrees on: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is a damn good show. Look, it’s not like anyone needed massive amounts of data to tell us that lots of people really like a sitcom that’s openly acknowledged as a beloved classic, but it was striking. Across the affinities of movie and comics fans of both companies, no title, in any medium, showed up as consistently as Fresh Prince. (Who knows? Maybe Will Smith’s presence in Suicide Squad will turn out to be that movie’s ace in the hole.)
See? If Marvel and DC can find some common ground, there’s hope for us all.