Research profile | Seeking solace in film when times are tough


Do people really turn to movies during tough times? Professor Charles Weinberg and his colleagues at Sauder are the first to empirically establish a link between movie attendance and a poor economy.

And their research could have an impact on how movie companies and exhibitors schedule major motion pictures, helping them to increase theatre attendance and ultimately profits.

With Vancouver having earned the nickname Hollywood North thanks to its popularity with movie producers, Sauder School of Business is a fitting place for Weinberg to conduct his research into the motion picture industry, including studies of demand estimation and movie scheduling.

Charles Weinberg

One of his current research studies involves an examination of movie attendance during periods of growth and recession. Working with Professor Tirtha Dhar, Weinberg has demonstrated what many of us already suspect; theatre visits go up during economic downturns.

By accessing data from sources such as the Internet Movie Data Base(IMDB),, and the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment, he has been able to amass a significant amount of historical information on theatre coverage, box office sales, critics’ reviews, movie characteristics and consumer perception of economic cycles.

The data collected from these sources resulted in the creation of a detailed database of information on movie attendance over a 26-year span and his analysis showed that people really do view more movies in a recession.

It also showed that critics’ ratings have a greater impact during recessionary times; a finding that dispels the popular notion that, during an economic boom, people pay more attention to movie reviews than they do in down times. This notion was based on the belief that in times of economic hardship people want light movies, which are generally not known for their positive ratings.

Weinberg’s data revealed that during recessionary times people are more likely to be influenced by critics’ ratings thus they tend to choose films that have been highly ranked.

“Perhaps people place a higher value on their money in a recession,” notes Weinberg. “They may seek to enhance the perceived value of their purchase or reduce the insecurity they feel about their own decision-making abilities in hard times.”

Learn more about Professor Weinberg and his research.