Sunday Night Rant: Are Big Budget Movies Critic Proof?
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?
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 & Robin||11||28||C+||42|
|FF: Rise Silver Surfer||37||45||B||58|
|Man of Steel||56||55||A-||116|
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!
Are Superhero Films Critic Proof?
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 & Robin||11||28||C+||42||107|
|FF: Rise Silver Surfer||37||45||B||58||154|
|Man of Steel||56||55||A-||116||291|
Oh…that changes things…
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.