Long Tails and Fat Butts

Like Sepoy, I am enraptured with this interactive graphic called The Ebb and Flow of Movies, showing box office receipts from 1986 to 2008. It’s a beautiful example of data visualization that is both pretty and provides a useful illustration of something. (This is not a case of proving that War and Peace is about Russia.) See how spiky the most modern blockbusters are (especially but not exclusively the stinkers), compared with mid-80s fare like Top Gun or Crocodile Dundee. That’s a real shift in the way movies are marketed and profits made. Or look at the very different shape of event movies (aka movies middle-aged people eventually go to see) like Schindler’s List or sleeper hits like My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Also like Sepoy, this gets me thinking about nifty ways to present historical information in visual or interactive formats. I’m putting together two new courses this summer and trying to decide if some kind of graphic syllabus is in order. And couldn’t you do something like this with Web of Science citation indexes to show the changing influence of different historians over time?

Somewhat similar: the highly addictive (for new or expecting parents, anyway) Baby Name Wizard.

Edited to add: This one’s in the “War and Peace is about Russia” category, but still worth the 26 seconds it takes to watch it: the spread of Wal-Mart.


  1. The first time I put together a chart like this for myself, it was for tracking the fictional ebb and flow of the population of a colony world, for game/writing background purposes.

  2. I’d heavily recommend a spider map/concept map/ mind map over some other traditional graphical representations . I’ve discovered that putting things in a flow chart tends to cause the natural flow of human interaction to break down and avoid them for my trainings and other stuff, which granted are usually less than a semester.

  3. not only is it neat to look at, but I had no idea ‘Ruthless People’ made so much money, let alone more than ‘Lethal Weapon’. Go Judge Reinhold!

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