Planning for the Curve: Preparing to Discuss the Box Office

“Business Planning” graphic by mohamed mahmoud hassan

In the next few weeks, I will be creating a data driven story about the effects of COVID-19 on the box office. Throughout the United States, many film fans have been impacted by their local movie theaters closing. Many of us have wondered if we will ever be able to see the newest Marvel movie on the big screen or smell the enticing aroma of hot, buttery freshly popped popcorn. But how has the closure of so many theaters effected the film industry and the economy as a whole? Through my data narrative, I will be able to supply a compelling overview of the current state of the box office and film distribution across the United States and forecast where the industry will be headed in the future. Will we ever get back to the dark, relaxing theaters we grew up in or will we be facing a new straight to digital format? Hopefully we will find those answers soon.

Planning The Story

Now that I have my idea, the next step is to create a well organized story. For this I will be remembering the 3 E’s: Explain, Enlighten and Engage (Marchese 2020). Remembering those important concept I will put the the 3 E’s in my plan.

Explain: I will give a broad scope of the data surrounding the box office before and during the pandemic.

Enlighten: Supply my audience with bar graphs related to Top 10 highest grossing films in February 2019, March 2019 and April 2019 as compared to February 2020, March 2020, and April 2020. I will also provide visuals describing the increase in digital distribution.

Engage: I want to explain to my audience why this is so important to the film industry today and how they may be effected in the future.

Just like that, I developed my three E’s, so the next step was to create a storyboard to help plan my creative process. My storyboard involved specific background about the box office and the contribution to the economy, how it has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the scope of the digital format that has been prevalent during the last few months. I added some visuals of charts that I may like to focus on when presenting my data.


I’ve chosen my topic, created the storyboard with the visuals I want to incorporate to tell the best story. Now- my mission is to make the visuals pop. Color is one of the most important ways to visually distinguish contrast or similarity (Marchese 2020).Therefore, when I am comparing the box office now to the way it was before the pandemic, I want to make sure I am using a diverging color scale to represent the trends.

Of course, I need to make sure that my data is accurate and that I am not trying to alter the data or the representation. This isn’t as easy as one may think. In fact, in a study conducted by Thomas Chalmers and his colleges, Chalmers examined 53 published reports describing a esophageal surgical procedure. Of those 53 reports, Chalmers found only 6 reports were well designed with clear findings (Tufte 2006). Therefore, I will make sure I have a clear representation of data that can be easily read. I will also be using many reliable box office resources to cross-reference my data.

Additionally, I will be welcoming contrary data and not just the data that supports my theory of the box office office collapse. Author, Edward Tufte, puts it best when describing how we need to embrace the imperfect nature of data to display the most accurate data visualization reports.

“The point is to get it right, not win the case, not to sweep under the rug all the assorted puzzled and inconsistencies that frequently occur in collections of data.”

(Tufte 1997)

While I imagine that many people across the United States may have started going out to movie theaters less at the beginning of the pandemic, my theory may be incorrect and I have the duty to explore all data the may support or contradict my personal thoughts.

Wrapping it Up

To conclude my data driven story, I want to make sure that I told a story that is creative, yet easy to understand. I am hopefully that once my audience reads my data driven story, they will have a clear understanding of how COVID-19 has impacted the american box office, movie theaters across the country and contributed to the rise of digital film distribution.


Marchese, C. (2020, August 1). Module 5: Notes on storytelling and visual cues [Lecture slides]. Quinnipiac University.

Tufte, E. (2006). Beautiful evidence. Graphics Press.

Tufte, E. (1997). Visual explanations: Images and quantities, evidence and narrative. Graphics Press.

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