Hollywood producers fretting over this year’s box office downturn should take heart.

scientist in the United States says he has come up with a computer
program that helps predict whether a film will be a hit or a miss at
the box office long before it is even made.

"Our goal is to try to find oil in a way," said Professor Ramesh Sharda of the Oklahoma State University on Wednesday.

are trying to forecast the success of a movie based on things that are
decided before a movie has been made," he told Reuters by telephone.

an expert in information systems, has been working on the model for
seven years and analyzed more than 800 films before publishing a paper
which appears in "Expert Systems With Applications" journal early next

Sharda applied seven criteria to each movie: its rating by
censors, competition from other films at the time of release, strength
of the cast, genre, special effects, whether it is a sequel and the
number of theatres it opens in.

Using a neural network to process
the results, the films are placed in one of nine categories, ranging
from "flop", meaning less than $1 million at the box office, to
"blockbuster", meaning more than $200 million.

The results of the
study showed that 37 percent of the time the network accurately
predicted which category the film fell into, and 75 percent of the time
was within one category of the correct answer.

Sharda said he was
in discussions with a "major" Hollywood studio about further developing
the system to make it more accurate. He did not name the studio.

Sharda may have picked the ideal moment to publish his findings.

of mid-November, North American ticket receipts for the year so far
stood at $7.6 billion, around 7 percent down on the same stage in 2004,
although that was before the release of three big films: "Harry Potter
& the Goblet of Fire", "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the
Witch and the Wardrobe", and "King Kong".

More here.