The critics have spoken: The Revenant is gripping, gorgeous, and at times grotesque. Now we have the data to prove it.
Before the Leonardo DiCaprio epic hit wide release, Fox Studios partnered with a small bioanalytics software company called Lightwave to measure how audiences were reacting to the film. It was a marriage of Hollywood and technology that could potentially change the way movies are made.
Last fall, Lightwave monitored approximately 100 moviegoers in four cities — Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. All were there to see a pre-release version of this brutal tale of survival and revenge set in 1820.
Lightwave strapped a medical-grade fitness tracker on each volunteer’s wrist. It then measured their heart rate ten times each second, as well as their body temperature, movements, and how conductive their skin became as their autonomic nervous systems took over, indicating a fight-or-flight response.
(Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you might want to skip this next paragraph.)
The first big surge in the audience’s fight or flight happens roughly 26 minutes into the film, when Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) has a near-fatal encounter with a grizzly bear. It then happens 14 more times during the movie, as characters are shot, knifed, impaled with arrows, buried alive, hanged, chased through a series of majestic winter landscapes, and drowned in icy cold rivers.
When the audiences’ hearts weren’t pounding, they were transfixed – spending more than 76 minutes of the film’s 156-minute runtime motionless, according to Lightwave’s sensors, which communicated wirelessly in real time with the company’s software.
By the time the credits were rolling, Lightwave had collected “hundreds of millions of rows of data,” says Rana June, Lightwave’s founder and CEO.
Of course, Hollywood has been pre-screening films to gauge audience reaction since before there were talkies. Stories of famous films that were heavily revised after a negative screening are legion. But previous methods of audience measurement were crude and inaccurate, says June.