A table or a chart? Why not both? Hollywood film production costs and the use of a combined table chart

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Data reporting in a clear, appropriate, and attractive manner requires some tough choices. When choosing between the two basic forms of quantitative data presentation - tables and charts - the analyst often treads a thin line between a nice-looking and an informative report.Well-built tables with data in rows and columns are highly informative, beyond any doubt. The popularity of tables does not stem from old-school analyst habits, but is derived from their functionality.

On the other hand, a chart presentation, which takes advantage of imagery (bars, points, etc.) may be more attractive. It is also often easier to interpret for an audience that is not familiar with the subject matter and row-and-column data analysis.

As Stephen Few wrote in his book “Show Me the Numbers” a tabulated presentation of data makes it easier to verify individual values and juxtapose pairs due to the row-and-column structure of tables. The precision of presenting individual values, which is hard to achieve on a chart, is an additional advantage. Therefore, tables seem to be a perfect way of reporting simple relationships and specific values. A chart, in a way by definition, shows the general shape of the data. Hence, they are used to present relationships between multiple quantitative values by showing their distribution thereby giving them a shape.[1]

Is there a happy medium? Yes, there is. You can literally combine the two types of data presentation. In this example we present the table chart (or, in technical speak, the “PS GRAPHTABLE” command syntax).

The dataset for the example will be film production cost and revenue data. Have you ever wondered how much it costs to make a Hollywood film and at what point it breaks even?

Let's have a look at the well-known “Die Hard” film series with the unforgettable Bruce Willis. Have a look at the table chart below.

The rows show the titles of consecutive films in the Die Hard series. The three columns contain:  box office takings globally (Box office); production costs (Budget) ; the profit made (Difference). The fourth column shows a graphic presentation: layered bar charts with the grey bar representing the budget and the navy blue bar representing box office takings.

What can we learn from the visualisation? The first installment of officer John McClane's adventures generated the least profit, a little over $ 110 million, but it had the lowest budget (maybe at the beginning no-one expected the film to become a blockbuster). Then, with the next two Die Hard instalments, both the budget and the profit grew. Then, starting with part 4, which cost the most to make, box office takings and profit started to decline.

Now we have to wait for the announced part 6 to update the chart and results!

[1] Few Stephen, Show Me the Numbers, Analytics Press 2004: Oakland, pp. 41–46."

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