When Film Scripts Get Ranked By Reading Level, Some Prize-Winners Tank

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glengarryembedPhoto: Courtesy of New Line Cinema.
An intelligent film is more than just the sum of its words. To illustrate this point, data-geek Dan Kozikowski ran the 950 scripts available on IMDB through an application called Lingua to determine their readability level. He used the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scale, which essentially determines the difficulty of a given piece of text by calculating the sentence complexity, including their length and number of syllables. A higher score is supposed to indicate a more difficult read.

The results are a little surprising. The most pitiful score went to David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize-winning Glengarry Glen Ross. From a purely analytic point of view, this makes sense: The play's dialogue is primarily short declarative sentences composed of disyllabic and four-letter words. Take, for example, one of Blake's famous rants:

"Fuck you. That's my name. You know why, mister? You drove a Hyundai to get here. I drove an $80,000 BMW. That's my name. And your name is you're wanting. You can't play in the man's game, you can't close them — go home and tell your wife your troubles. Because only one thing counts in this life: Get them to sign on the line which is dotted."
Compare that with the textured action written into the script for the Chevy Chase cop comedy Fletch, which ranked the highest in Kozikowski's test:
"Seagulls squawk, and the waves pound, but we’re not talking about Malibu Colony, here. This is a fairly rundown beach area, catering to lower-echelon surfers, vagrants, and strung-out druggies of all ages, several of whom stand or sit on their haunches by a dilapidated old hamburger stand. Over the stand is a faded sign: 'FAT SAM’S HAMBURGERS.'"
Award-winners Boogie Nights and Sling Blade scored low, too, while American Psycho, L’Avventura, and Mulan ranked among the highest. Check out the rest of the results here. (Data Diversions)