03

May

Movie Scripts Ranked by Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level

Remember the Flesch Kincaid Grade Level? If you ever ran Microsoft Word’s spell check in in the 90’s, you probably do:

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The Flesch and Flesch-Kincaid tests are “readability tests designed to indicate comprehension difficulty when reading a passage of contemporary academic English.” The scores incorporate two primary factors: the average number of words per sentence, and the average number of syllables per word. A higher Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level is supposed to reflect more difficult text, with longer sentences and more multi-syllabic words.

The Ruby gem Lingua makes it quite easy to perform readability analysis against text. And with more than 950 scripts available on the Internet Movie Script Database, I had the raw ingredients necessary to run a fun and entirely inane analysis of the Flesch-Kincaid scores of movies. Here are the results.

Movies with the lowest Flesch-Kincaid grade level (simpler):

  1. Glengarry Glen Gross: 0.11
  2. Win Win: 0.13
  3. Last Tango in Paris: 0.25
  4. Silver Linings Playbook: 0.45 [Oscar winner, Best Adapted Screenplay]
  5. Gran Torino: 0.54
  6. Next Friday: 0.60
  7. Hannibal: 0.64
  8. Sling Blade: 0.65
  9. Frozen: 0.66
  10. Boogie Nights: 0.68 [Oscar nominee, Best Original Screenplay]

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Movies with the highest Flesch-Kincaid grade level (more complex):

  1. Fletch: 5.94
  2. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension: 5.48
  3. The Ninth Gate: 5.07
  4. L’Avventura (The Adventure):  4.74
  5. Mulan: 4.31
  6. Omega Man: 4.18
  7. The Last Samurai: 4.17
  8. Gattaca: 3.99
  9. The Saint: 3.76
  10. American Psycho: 3.76

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If you’re interested in seeing the full list, click here. This list includes two additional scores: the Flesch Reading Ease score, which uses slightly different weights (with a lower score indicating more readable text), and the Gunning fog index, which incorporates average sentence length and the density of words with three or more syllables.

A few caveats: first, this list is far from complete. In fact, there were ~100 scripts on the IMSDb that have been taken down (e.g., most of the Batman and all of the Harry Potter movies).

Second, the analysis is unfairly favorable to scripts with detailed stage directions, which tend to be more complex than dialogue. Here is the first passage from the “most sophisticated” movie, Fletch:

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”.

In any case, enjoy. In the immortal words of John McClane:

Yippe-ki-yea

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    Fletch and Buckaroo Bonsai *are*two of my favorite 80s flicks, soo…
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