Sunday Night Rant: Critics, Scores, and Blockbusters

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Sunday Night Rant:  Are Big Budget Movies Critic Proof?

Exactly.
Exactly.

Almost sight unseen, many critics had decided the new Batman V Superman movie was going to suck.  I certainly thought so.  Man of Steel was garbage, the trailers for BvS were a hot mess that gave away all of the major plot points, and a review embargo leading up to the film screamed “abandon all hope.”  That’s being said, I ended up liking a large part of the movie, and the movie itself has gone on to make more than half a billion dollars…in two weeks.  It also went on to garner some of the absolute worst ratings from critics.  It is the only movie to score below 60% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and still break 150 million dollars.  Its score there is an abysmal 29% ( it was 27% when I saw it, so hey, positive movement!)  This just goes to show that there is a real divide between a movie’s score and its popularity.  Should this be raising some red flags about how little people think of criticism?

The Measure of a Movie?

You know...these guys.
You know…these guys.

There are three main ways a movie gets ranked.  The first is by single source reviews.  Think Siskel and Ebert or your local newspaper’s review.  The second way is by review aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, which assign a score based on the averaging of many critics (though each uses different calculus to get a numerical score.)  Finally, there is viewers’ ratings.  Cinemascore conducts surveys at representative theaters and collects feedback from movie goers, coming up with a letter grade for a film.  In a good percentage of films, these scores are mostly consistent.  Rotten Tomatoes does tend to be harsher on films due to their yes/no weighting system, and Cinemascore tends to be more positive (its not a surprise that fans who have already paid to see a film are more inclined to view it positively, and several psychological studies have corroborated this effect called post-purchase rationalization.)  What none of these ratings manage to do is predict a film’s earnings.  The negative correlation between a film’s score and its earnings are so egregious,  its almost laughable.  Want to see some figures?  Sure you do!

Movie Rotten Tomatoes Metacritic Cinemascore Opening Weekend Earnings (Millions)
Batman 72 69 A 40
Batman Returns 80 68 B 45
Batman Forever 41 58 A- 52
Batman & Robin 11 28 C+ 42
Batman Begins 85 70 A 48
Fantastic Four 27 40 B 56
FF: Rise Silver Surfer 37 45 B 58
Fan4stic 9 27 C- 25
Green Lantern 26 39 B 53
Man of Steel 56 55 A- 116
Superman Returns 73 72 C 52
Transformers 57 61 A 70
“2 35 42 A 97
“3 19 35 A 108
“4 18 32 B+ 100
Watchmen 65 56 B 55

So, how did the critics do?  Almost completely irrelevant to the movie’s first week.  With the exception of the Fantastic Four reboot, the numbers had no bearings on the opening weekend.  The score for Transformers continued to tumble, but the money continued to rise. The only take away from this list is that fans of Transformer movies are certifiably insane.  An “A” for the Shia trilogy?  Holy crap, get me some of what those guys are drinking, stat!

Those movies were so bad they literally broke his mind!
Those movies were so bad they literally broke his mind!

Are Superhero Films Critic Proof?

Something stinks here...
Something stinks here…

No matter how much the critics hate a stupid action movie starring a guy in a domino mask, they continue to make crazy money.  Which is not to say that they’re wrong:  Green Lantern, Superman Returns, and Batman & Robin are all complete trash, with no redeeming merits.  Unfortunately, they also made a solid amount of money at launch.  It seems that critics have no impact on a films opening take…but what about their lifetime take?

Movie Rotten Tomatoes Metacritic Cinemascore Opening Weekend Earnings (Millions) Lifetime Gross (Millions)
Batman 72 69 A 40 251
Batman Returns 80 68 B 45 162
Batman Forever 41 58 A- 52 184
Batman & Robin 11 28 C+ 42 107
Batman Begins 85 70 A 48 206
Fantastic Four 27 40 B 56 131
FF: Rise Silver Surfer 37 45 B 58 154
Fan4stic 9 27 C- 25 56
Green Lantern 26 39 B 53 116
Man of Steel 56 55 A- 116 291
Superman Returns 73 72 C 52 200
Transformers 57 61 A 70 319
“2 35 42 A 97 352
“3 19 35 A 108 402
“4 18 32 B+ 100 245
Watchmen 65 56 B 55 107

Oh…that changes things…

Not Wrong…

Now you know how WE feel!
Now you know how WE feel!

Big movies can be mostly critic-proof right out of the gate, but they don’t tend to hold up.  Bad reviews and ratings, from pros or audiences, are a slow acting poison, and they eventually catch up to even the biggest films.  Despite a strong opening, reviled films like Transformers 4, Green Lantern, and Batman & Robin (hell, even films with iffy scores like Watchmen!) all did worse than similar films with even a few extra points on their score.  Whether that means critics are ahead of the curve and audiences just catch up on their own, or that negative scores sour the well and cause people who may have given it a shot to sit it out is up for debate, but at least for now, it seems that movie reviews do have an impact on a films longevity.  We’ll see with tomorrow’s actuals on Batman V Superman if that trend bears out.

 

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