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Are old movies more creative than new ones? A new study weighs in

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We could debate the question of “are old movies more creative than new ones?” for hours. Everyone has their preference in terms of a time period when movie-making was tops. But thanks to a new study by physicist Sameet Sreenivasan of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York (originally published in Nature Scientific Reports), we now have some data to add to the mix.

Surprisingly, what many consider to be their favorite time in film wasn’t necessarily the most creative. “You always hear about how the period from 1929 to 1950 was known as the Golden Age of Hollywood,” Sreenivasan told Wired. “There were big movies with big movie stars. But if you look at novelty at that time, you see a downward trend.”

The study discusses how this was the time when The Big Five ran the studio circuit in its entirety, which certainly could have limited opportunities for creativity. However, the 1960s are another story entirely, considering the studio system’s downfall years earlier. After the studio system fell, creativity ran wild. The 1960s saw well-received independent films (think Bonnie and Clyde in 1967), the French New Wave (Breathless in 1960), spaghetti westerns (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in 1966), and more. Novelty was on its way up.

“Presumably, this corresponds to the widely held thesis that the break-up of the studio system, the advent of competition from television, and the rise of several socio-political movements, all contributed in varying measures to the 1960s becoming a defining decade in the history of American cinema,” the study reads.

So how did the Sreenivasan come to this conclusion? He looked at keywords used on IMDB to observe aggregate trends. Based on the number of times any given keyword was used to describe another film — anything from genre to location, etc. — it was given a novelty score. The more often a keyword was used to describe a variety of films, the lower its novelty score. If a word was rarely used to describe films, it was given a higher novelty score.

The novelty scores ranged from zero to one, with the “least novel” being zero. Sreenivasan then lined up the scores chronologically to depict the evolution of film culture over time.

Other interesting takeaways from the study include James Bond films changing the action genre in the 1960s, and science-fiction’s decline in novelty since first appearing on the big screen.

What are your thoughts, PopWatchers? What time period do you think was the most creative?