‘Twas the Season to Pirate New Christmas Movies

When it came to satisfying their craving for Christmas movies, many people took to the internet in 2013 to pirate their favorite seasonal films. The rate by which these movies were downloaded provides one measure of the relative popularity of various Christmas titles. According to recently reported data, which records download counts of 33 pre-selected Christmas “classics,” the following five movies were the most popular among those willing and able to download illegally via a file-sharing network called BitTorrent:

  1. Home Alone
  2. Arthur Christmas
  3. A Christmas Carol (2009 version)
  4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000 version)
  5. Love Actually

Four of the top five movies were released in the last decade, and even the one exception, Home Alone, isn’t more than 23 years old. In contrast, the bottom five movies (among the 33 films analyzed) are much older:

  1. Santa Claus: The Movie – 28 years old
  2. The Bishop’s Wife – 66 years
  3. Scrooge – 62 years
  4. A Christmas Carol – 62 years
  5. Christmas in Connecticut – 68 years

The average age of the top five films is 10.4 years, while the average of the bottom five is 57.2 years. The age difference noted here raises the question of whether holiday movies’ popularity decays over time. The chart below plots the 33 movies’ age against the number of downloads recorded during this holiday season:


The decay in the number of downloads is represented by the trend line shown above. Almost half (44%) of total variation in download counts is explained by the film’s age alone. The data suggests a non-linear relationship between age and popularity, with the first few years of age reducing popularity at a faster rate than the equivalent length of time during latter years.

Two movies in particular deserve our attention based on the graphic above: Home Alone and It’s a Wonderful Life. Both titles are far above the trend line, suggesting that they were more popular than is typical for their age. Home Alone and It’s a Wonderful Life were downloaded 3.6 times and 6.4 times more than expected based on their ages.

The analysis above and related reports by other sources (e.g. here) are not necessarily representative of overall Chistmas movie popularity. People who chose to pirate films represent only a small subset of the Christmas-movie-watching population. In particular, these tech-savvy pirates are most likely much younger than the population at large, which might explain why newer movies are more popular than their older counterparts.

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