All Thumbs Down

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

Forbes
celebrates
the decentralized aggregate mind of Web sites like Rotten
Tomatoes
over traditional top-down major film critics when it
comes to deciding what movies to watch. The piece is hooked to the
fact that this year 11 major studio films have been released without
any critic pre-screening (vs. only two at this point last year)
– and three of them premiered at number one at the box office:
Underworld
– Evolution
, When
a Stranger Calls
, and Tyler
Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion
, all representatives of
beloved genres not traditionally beloved by critics.

As someone
whose movie watching is completely dominated by Netflix
anyway these days, and can thus rely on both personal word of mouth
and a lifetime of dimly-remembered desires to steer my film viewing,
my interest in this is mostly academic (especially since the last
movie I did see in a theater, Woody Allen’s Match Point,
was not appreciably better than most of his last 10 movies, despite
widespread critical reaction based on that weird tropism that sweeps
the Critical Mind writ large regarding formerly beloved media characters
every once in a while – see the “comeback
of Prince
” over the past couple of years for another example
of this, with albums no better and in most respects worst than all
the ones everyone ignored in the 1990s). But in general, the New
World that has dawned in the past decade in which cultural
gatekeepers
of whatever strength lose influence and power –
even if only perceived influence and power – is always a more
fun one to live in.

The “whatever
strength” and “perceived influence” point is interesting in this
regard – none of the press I’ve found regarding this recent
increase in no-critic-screenings has addressed or drawn upon any
long-term data about the relation between box office and critical
praise or blame. As the biggest film gatekeeper of them all, Roger
Ebert, has noted, studios would tell him that horror flicks in general
were as invulnerable as Freddie Kreuger to the natterings of him
and his ilk – which is as it should be.

Some smarty-pants
marketing professors have
found
that
both
positive and negative reviews are correlated with weekly box office
revenue over an eight-week period, suggesting that critics play
a dual role: They can influence and predict box office revenue.
However, the authors find the impact of negative reviews (but not
positive reviews) to diminish over time, a pattern that is more
consistent with critics’ role as influencers. The authors then compare
the positive impact of good reviews with the negative impact of
bad reviews to find that film reviews evidence a negativity bias;
that is, negative reviews hurt performance more than positive reviews
help performance, but only during the first week of a film’s run.
Hollywood
is famously
the “no one knows anything” industry, but the aggregate mind of the
audience, talking to itself through many
and varied
forums of special or general
interest, does tend to know what it likes.

April
22, 2006

Brian
Doherty [send him mail]
is a senior editor of Reason Magazine and the author of This
Is Burning Man
. His forthcoming book Radicals
for Capitalism: A History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement

is due out in the autumn of 2006.

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare