Do the opinions of movie critics matter?

I think there was a similar thread recently about movie critics, but I can’t locate it, so here goes - My question’s a simple one inspired by these facts - 1. the new Pirates movie has made serious megabucks. 2. the critics have pretty thoroughly trashed it. Is this an isolated case, or are the teeming masses ignoring the critics? What say you?

Do they matter? Well, that depends on what you think their function is.

It’s always seemed to me that any form of artistic criticism has less to do with affecting financial or popular success and more to do with opening an informed and intelligent dialogue about the given work.

If that dialogue influences you one way or another, so much the better.

The function of movie critics has lessened dramatically [sorry] in recent years.

It used to be that movies opened in New York and Los Angeles, and slowly rolled out across the country. Critics who saw these movies first had a real purpose in letting people know what the movie was like before it came to their cities. Even so many people made a regular ritual out of seeing movies. Critics could temper the audience but not control it.

Today, movies open on thousands of screens simultaneously. And the vast majority of them are made to skew to the audiences who make a ritual of seeing a movie the very first night it appears. A quarter or a third of total theater grosses can come in by the end of the first weekend. Word of mouth then plays a role in how large the drop in grosses are the second weekend. (Anything over 50% signals a bust.) The function of critics as a guide to good movies has nearly disappeared.

Nearly but not completely: older audiences tend not to see movies on the first weekend, and for them reviews can be a definite influence on what to see or not see.

In short, the world has obsoleted critics for the majority of audiences. They are important for the remaining minority and for a minority of movies. That’s about all they can do.


  1. They are called “critics”. It’s part of their job to be critical and analyse movies whereas the goal of the audience is to have fun and enjoy the experience they just paid for. So in some senses, you are getting what you are looking for.

  2. Critic ratings are kind of arbitrary. If they are doing their jobs the review should be more informative than just ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ or even 3 stars out of 5. But reports about the critics reviews are less likely to be as detailed. Rotten tomatoes gives POTC:DMC a just-over-the-mark good rating, with the user ratings being about ten percentage points higher. So the disparity has probably been exagerated.

  3. Time tends to idealize things in your memory such that, your memory of the first film may be much better than the actual experience was and thus the sequel’s has a harder benchmark to live up to. Not to mention the whole novelty factor.

In general, movies that appeal to the mass audience aren’t going to be as well liked by critics. And movies that appeal to the art of filmmaking aren’t giong to be as well liked by audiences as by critics.

Are critics useful? Unless you keep track of how movies rated by a particular critic and how that matched up to your experience, a simple star or thumb rating probably isn’t that useful.

If the review is written well with an eye for balance and analysis (the famed neutral point of view that wikipedia strives for) over nit picking and axe grinding and criticism and snobbery, then it’s useful even when the reader’s personal enjoyment of the movie might differ from the critic’s. (i.e. if you’re looking for this in a movie, you’ll like it, if you’re looking for that, you’ll hate it).

Personally, I get an idea of whether I want to see a movie from the trailer and the general ‘buzz’. Then I’ll look at some reviews to see if my idea of the film is very different from what critics are saying, or if there is a choice of two movies that look good and I need help picking.

According to Michael Cimino, the negative review from Vincent Camby in the NY Times (I think) not only ruined Heaven’s Gate, but the rest of his career…

Yeah, I think critics are useful. I always check out a handful of critics before seeing a movie. It has saved me from paying full price for movies that had “buzz”, but were awful like Nacho Libre. Probably the best function of critics is too bring movies to our attention that had little publicity and we would have otherwise missed.

Financially? Probably not. The DaVinci Code was almost universally panned by the critics, yet it was a veritable blockbuster in the box office. Pirates of the Caribbean and Superman Returns got tepid reviews at best, yet both have had excellent runs, with the former setting some records, I believe. Sufficient hype and eye candy virtually guarantees a profit. The paying audiences appear to be impervious to the critics’ recommendations, and comparing the Tomatometer to box office grosses only reinforces the widely-held notion that the critics are completely out of touch with common tastes.

Opinions of critics notwithstanding, its Word-of-mouth that I find sinks a movie. Generally, I will only take a critics word so far… I’ll go see a movie that got at least one 4/5 review. I’ll give it the benifit of the doubt. If a movie universally gets 3/5 or lower, not happening. Maybe on DVD. It used to be a case that I’d even go see the most universally, abhorred movies, under the car-crash mentality that I gotta see what is SO bad about this. That got old, real fast.

But word of mouth, I find, is poisonous. Take The Hulk… it got a great opening weekend, then lost 60% of its audience the following weekend. Thats some bad word of mouth right there. Pirates 2 opened to huge numbers, and I was expecting a big drop-off the following weekend… I didnt thinki much of Pirates2, and neither did anyone I talked to… universally, I think a lot of people were very disapointed, and people talk… so I did expect poor second week BO for the movie… until it turned out, it made more in its second weekend than Superman made on opening weekend!! This, I cannot understand!!

Quality and popularity are completely different measures.

The canonical example has been McDonalds. Do they really serve the best food in the world?

Make up your mind. Do you want to see good movies or do you want to see easily available movies that everyone else will see?

Somewhat. I think the decision to see a movie or not hinges on a number of things, including but not limited to…[ul]
[li]Your favorite or most-agreed-with critic[/li][li]Critical Consensus[/li][li]Advertising blitz[/li][li]Your friends[/li][li]Personal movie preferences[/li][li]Whether that (awful/awesome) actor is in it[/li][li]Is it an foreign (and/or) art film?[/li][li]EPM (Explosions per minute)[/li][/ul]

I’m sure you can think of plenty more. But to answer the question. They’re not the final arbitrator of a film’s value, but they do have their place in the final analysis.

I find the compiled reviews found on Rotten Tomatoes to be the most useful. I don’t rely on any individual reviewer to be “correct” but the combined data gives you a real sense of how good a film is. Especially with blockbuster movies, you’ll have a wide variety of people reviewing, so a high fresh rating really means something. That tells you the movie is pleasing to a wide audience, and to people who are thoughtful and critical in their assessment.

Here’s a couple relevant links…

American Marketing Association: The Box Office Effects of Film Critics, Star Power and Budgets
MSNBC: Studios trying to keep critics from bad movies - In some cases, no reviews are better than bad ones.

I agree that quality and popularity are most definitely different factors. Just think of the teenagers. They’ll go see all their chick flicks with their favorite actors/actresses and their Scary Movie 7 regardless of how bad the critics think they are.

Critics have seen them all, so they know when a movie is really special of it its just another one of the same. People who have seen very few movies can easily be persuaded to thinking that certain movies are extremely great, when in fact they are only among the many.

As though Canby was the only negative review. As though going millions of dollars over budget wasn’t a factor. :rolleyes:

If he wants to blame anyone, can blame Stephen Bach, whose book documenting the fiasco ruined him (evidently, he does). Bach had an axe to grind, but it’s quite clear from the facts that Cimino spent a fortune to release a stinker of a film. He might have survived (Rennie Harlan did), but Cimino was so sure he was a major artist (with no evidence – his one success, The Deer Hunter – is just plain awful and only won an Oscar because the Academy was desperate to give an award to a film about Vietnam) that he refused to see what he had put on the screen.

You forgot boobies!

:smack: I was clearly not in my right mind…

I don’t think the star rating is worth anything. I’ve enjoyed plenty of movies Ebert has given gave two stars to, and hated plenty that he gave four stars. The primary function of a critic is to let you know if a movie is any damn good, not to let you know if you’ll like it.

Some critics can do both. Ebert does the best job of letting me know if I’ll enjoy a movie. A lot of times we agree, but even when we don’t after reading his review I can usually tell if I’ll like it, even if he didn’t, or vice-versa.

I think critics matter a lot more to smaller films that have little or no advertising and marekting compared to the studio monsters. That’s why the better critics are always pimping quality indie and foreign films along with the studio products. I don’t often want to see such films, but I respect them for trying.

Is this as good a place as any to comment on the bizarre statement that was made in The San Francisco Chronicle’s review of Monster House?

Sorry, Walt- your achievements in the animation industry amount to nothing. Even the most expressive expression on a cartoon character’s face pales to the expression of a motion-captured character. :rolleyes:

Mick LaSalle may be the single stupidest man in film criticism today. He’s actually an anti-critic. I read his reviews with the assumption that anything he says I’ll disagree with. I see movies he pans, and avoid movies he loves. This has generally worked out pretty well for me.