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Movie critics and movie audiences at war


Are movie critics out of touch with audiences? Or have audiences forgotten what a decent movie can be..?

The battleground...

The Artist; it has a 97% critic’s approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it got 5 Academy Awards including the Best Picture award, and according to the New York Times it’s “an irresistible reminder of nearly everything that makes the movies great”. It's also the second lowest-grossing Best Picture winner since the Oscars began.

Of the 10 highest-grossing films on Rotten Tomatoes, six are considered 'Rotten' by critics and two of those only managed to reach a 25% approval rating. And yet of those six, five got 70% and above-average audience approval ratings. Even the straggler, The Raven, got 67% when critics had only given it a paltry 25.

Crash (2004)To demonstrate the difference even further in the last 30 years, the four lowest-grossing Best Picture films came from the last decade and the third lowest-grossing film of all was that critics' darling, Crash. The film ranked number 460 in Empire magazine's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time, and was given four stars by Roger Ebert, who declared it the best film of 2005. It indeed went ahead to beat its close competitor, Brokeback Mountain, and won the Best Picture award for 2005. However, Crash only made $98 million at the Box Office, and when you consider that Brokeback Mountain made nearly double that with $178 million, it becomes questionable as to why the Academy chose Crash as the winner.

Admittedly, none of the lowest-grossing Oscar Best Pictures lost money. Even the lowest of all, The Hurt Locker, still made $34 million, and Crash itself made $90 million after costing less than $8 million to create. And both of those films did well with audiences. The Hurt Locker has an audience approval rating of 83% and Crash even got a 13% higher audience rating than its critic rating, with 89%. Although perhaps not as many people went to see these films, the ones who did enjoyed the experience and rated them accordingly. But what about the films which the critics pan and the audiences love? There’s been a growing disparity between the public and the pundits and this was made clear earlier this week when all of the top-10 grossing films on Rotten Tomatoes were rated as 'Rotten' by the critics, and yet 8 of them had at least a 60% audience rating. Even without the audience approval rating, the fact that those 10 films were the ones making the most money tells us that those are the ones audiences want to see.

The seventh highest-grossing film on Rotten Tomatoes is Project X. It has been described by the site as an “Unoriginal, unfunny, and all-around unattractive…87 minutes of predictably mean-spirited debauchery”; and by the Los Angeles Times as having a “cravenly, piggish attitude”. But at 73%, the audience approval rating marks it the public’s favourite of the 10 highest-grossing movies. It’s even been revealed that the writer, Michael Bacall, has already started work on a sequel to the film, so it seems obvious that Warner Bros. expect to make money from it.

"The divide between what people want to see and what critics think we should be seeing is evident even in the summer blockbusters"

Project X (2012)To be fair and open here, I’m not saying that I’m going to go see Project X.  But when the average critic rating is 4 out of 10, but the average audience rating is 3.8 out of 5, that’s a pretty big discrepancy. And although I don’t always agree with what the rest of the general public is saying about a film, I’m still far more likely to look at the overall audience opinion than I am to read a critics review. I simply don’t trust them to speak for the mass audience anymore.

Take Disney's John Carter for example. It’s currently the highest-grossing film, has a 71% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (the joint second highest audience rating of the 10 highest-grossing) and the average rating is 3.7 out of 5. Yet the Mail Online described it as “2012’s first mega-disaster”.

Now look at This Means War: it’s the fourth highest-grossing movie, and has a 70% audience approval rating. But the critics have given it only 26% and a reviewer from the Daily Telegraph said, “A film during which very bad things happen very often, and none of them are noticeably funnier than genital trauma brought on by an air rifle”. The divide between what people want to see and what critics think we should be seeing is evident even in the summer blockbusters. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was a massive box-office success, pulling in $836 million. It was the second-most successful film of 2009 after Avatar and was the 28th highest-grossing film of all time, (Avatar being the first).

"Is it that the critics are just so much better at watching movies than the general public? Is it that their opinions are just that bit more valid than that of the vast majority’?"

Avatar (2009)However unlike Avatar, which the critics gave 83%, it was panned by reviewers. It got 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, was awarded the Worst Picture by the Golden Raspberries and Rolling Stone said it “carves out its own category of godawfulness”. But the audience gave it 76%, and to make that amount of money a lot of people have to have at least seen it, if not liked it. How can there be such a difference between what the critics and the average person thinks?

I’m sure most people would agree that at least some of the films the reviewers pan, they themselves also detest. When it comes to any of the Twilight films, I’m definitely on the side of the critics. But there are also films that I love, the kind that I consider classics of their genre, which will be shot down by those people who consider themselves our arbiters of taste.

When there is such a difference between what film-goers actually watch and the people who write about those films think, surely we have to ask ourselves, what are we seeing that they aren’t? Is it that they’re just so much better at watching movies than the general public? Is it that their opinions are just that bit more valid than that of the vast majority’? Or is it that really, they’re just good writers who’ve been doing it for so long that they’ve deluded themselves into thinking that their views are a bit more high-brow than those of the rest of us?


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#1 Excellent! Caleb Leland 2012-03-19 08:40
Well put, Alice! All too often I find myself at odds with film reviewers and what they consider "good" cinema. Brillaint article!

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