The Rotten Tomatoes Rule: Why Movie Critics Matter & Why I Won’t Be Seeing “In The Heart Of The Sea”

I often hear people complain about movie critics.

“They’re too pretentious!”

“They hate the really good movies!”

“Don’t listen to them, they’re just snobby!”

These comments are a pet peeve of mine, for a couple of different reasons. In this special post, I’d like to outline why I think movie critics are actually an important part of the entertainment industry-and why you should listen to them (if you don’t already). Why now? Well, there was a movie that came out this weekend that was one of my most anticipated films of the year, In The Heart Of The Sea. I was hoping that it would be a fantastic viewing to kickstart the powerhouse month of December, which consists of: The Force Awakens, The Hateful Eight, The Revenant, Concussion, Joy, and a plethora of other high profile films. With Chris Hemsworth as the leading man, director Ron Howard behind the camera, and the epic true story behind Moby Dick, it had potential to be a rare combination of blockbuster and Oscar bait.

You can imagine my disappointment, then, when initial reviews started coming out and the opinion was widely mixed. It initially hovered around 65% on Rotten Tomatoes, my go-to site for movie criticism (as it takes many critics’ reviews and combines them into an average score, or percentage). This was a similar score to what is so far my most disappointing film of the year, Spectre. However, it had not yet broken my Rotten Tomatoes rule, so I was still cautiously planning to go see it out of anticipation. By Friday, though, the film’s score had dropped a whopping 20% to leave it now sitting at 43% on Rotten Tomatoes. At this point, the film broke my Rotten Tomatoes rule and I don’t plan on seeing it in theaters any time soon as I had before.

What is my Rotten Tomatoes rule? Simple: if a movie has a 60% or above, I go see it. There’s a chance I won’t like it, but the opinion is mostly positive and so there’s an equal if not greater chance that I will like it. Therefore, I can justify spending the cost of a movie ticket to go and spend two hours of my life in a theatre watching this film. If it has below a 60%, I either wait and see the film if I have some down time and/or a group of friends want to go see it, or I simply don’t go see it in theaters. The risk is just too high at that point that I won’t like it.

It is at this point that I would expect most people to be arguing, “Well aren’t you letting the critics decide what can only be judged by your personal opinion?” Well yes, and no; I’m undeniably making a judgement on the film itself, however I’m also being smart with my money. Do I really want to risk spending anywhere from $7.00-$10.oo on a movie ticket if a bunch of people who have a passion & adoration for film say it’s not that great, or not even good? Don’t be mistaken, movie critics are not looking to hate on movies. These are people who have devoted their lives to studying films, and developed their opinions from watching every movie that comes out each year. Imagine that for a minute-they watch every movie that comes out. How many times do you go to the theatre to watch a movie? The average person probably goes anywhere from 3-7 times a year, and the average family probably goes less than that. I love film, so much so that I started this blog as a way to express my passion, and even I don’t come anywhere close to watching every single movie that comes out each year. In today’s market, that means watching around 3 new films every week. That’s insane, and anyone who didn’t love movies wouldn’t do it. So not only can we be safe in assuming that critics don’t look for movies to hate, but we can also be safe in assuming that they have a pretty good perspective as people who watch every film that is theatrically released. I don’t, and I’ve given some reviews on this blog that I would like to go back and revisit simply because some movies were better than I actually thought they were initially. What changed my mind? Seeing more and more movies and getting a broader and broader perspective.

“Well I don’t listen to critics; if I like the trailer, I go see the movie!”

Really? While that might sound good at face value, let’s think about what one is saying in that statement. They are saying that they are letting the sole influence on how they spend their money be people who work for a movie studio that are trying to sell you a movie; people who need you to go see their movie so they can make money. Furthermore, studios are not above creating misleading trailers. Exhibit A: Drive (2011). This Ryan Gosling film was marketed as a high octane action thriller, but turned out to be a slow art house film. While it did receive good reviews, critics were still the ones warning people that this was not a Fast & The Furious movie; it was a heavy drama. And did most people listen? Nope. And guess what happened? You guessed it-a lot of people got mad.

Let’s use this logic with a cell phone-what do you do when you start looking at purchasing a new cell phone? Do you go on the internet and look up all the commercials the phone company has put out about the latest and greatest device? Or do snoop around and look for what people are saying about that device? Do you just look at the high quality staged photos that are on the provider’s website, or do you also look at the starred review underneath? Anyone whose smart with their money would obviously look and see what other people are saying about the phone. It could look awesome in commercials, but a commercials isn’t the same as the experience you get using it. What if the phone is actually kind of slow? What if it cracks easily? What if the commercials are misleading?  These are the questions a smart purchaser would asks, and the reason it’s smart to always have a third party with no skin in the game. Critics have nothing to gain by writing a good review of a movie, and nothing to loose by writing a bad review. They are that third party that acts between you and those trying to sell you their product that they need you to buy.

Is that to say that trailers aren’t important? No; but to completely rely on trailers isn’t a smart way to judge what movies you go see. One should watch the trailer to get their first impressions, and then get the third party’s opinion before they actually put money on the table; because at that point, you have something to lose. Yes, it’s only a movie ticket and not a $200+ piece of hardware; but $7.00-$10.00 can buy a lot of other things, things that might be a better use of your money.

“But what if the critic and I don’t share similar tastes?”

Ah, you see, this is why I use Rotten Tomatoes. Just like you should never 100% rely on the trailer, you should never rely on one sole movie critic. I go to a variety of different sources before I see a movie. Rotten Tomatoes is by far the best resource, in my opinion, because it takes a bunch of critics’ reviews and averages them out into a common score. It’s quick and it’s easy. There are also some critics I watch/read just because I like watching them/reading their personal opinions.

Obviously, there’s never any guarantees. However it all goes back to that one simple question: how safe do you feel spending your money? If the majority of film experts out there say it’s not that great, is it still worth $7.00-$10.00? For me, it’s really not worth it most of the time-especially considering I’m on a teenager’s budget!

“But it seems like critics never like good movies!”

This is a common misconception. Most of time, critics actually agree with audiences when it comes to popular films. Let’s take a look at some examples, shall we?

Top Five Box Office Films Of 2015 (pre Star Wars):

  1. Jurassic World– %71 on RT
  2. Avengers: Age Of Ultron– %75 on RT
  3. Inside Out– 98% on RT
  4. Furious 7– 81% on RT
  5. Minions– 55% on RT

The only film on that list that probably doesn’t stack up to popular opinion is Minions, and that’s a film made to be two hours of dumb humor that appeals to smaller children. Other than that, though, all of the top box office films from this year pass the Rotten Tomatoes rule by a good bit. And who would’ve guessed it, but they’re ALL popular films?!

And that’s just the five most popular films of this year, if you start looking up the reviews for some of your favorites of all time, you’ll probably find that the critics at least liked it. Sure, they may not always have the same passionate love for it that you do; but that doesn’t mean they didn’t like it! My favorite film of all time is Forrest Gump; it’s a 10/10 for me. However, it has a 72% on Rotten Tomatoes. Is this a knock to Forrest Gump? Heck no! A 72% is a fantastic rating, higher than most films can hope to get. Another one of my favorites-and the film that I point too as the one that made me want to be a  filmmaker-The Dark Knight has a whopping 94% on Rotten Tomatoes! And on down my list of all time favorites, they all have positive critical reviews.

It’s almost as if they critics don’t hate good movies…wow!

In the end, film is entirely subjective, like all art. However, that doesn’t mean the opinions of critics don’t matter or are somehow irrelevant. There’s something special to be said for honest third parties that voice their opinions, looking out for you the consumer and which movie you cough up $7.00-$10.00 for! You won’t always agree with them; I don’t always agree with them. Even so, I’d recommend taking the critical rating of films into account if you don’t already. After all, you worked hard for your money, and you want the chances of wasting it on a bad movie to be as low as possible.

Siskel-and-Ebert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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