Do Movie Reviews Matter Anymore? A Pop-Culture Experiment
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Do Movie Reviews Matter Anymore? A Pop-Culture Experiment

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | December 19, 2013 | Comments ()


There was a time when movie reviews mattered a great deal to people making decisions about what movie they should see, but I suspect with most studio films nowadays that is no longer the case. Most people make up their minds about whether to see a film based on the trailer or the talent involved (and their track record), and only if a large sampling of reviews contradicts that initial first impression will a moviegoer change his or her mind.

This may sound self-defeating coming from a site that is periodically sought out for its movie reviews, but I don’t think so. For one, I like to believe that our film reviews stand up fairly well on their own, as engaging, thoughtful, or amusing pieces of writing. For most films (particularly the good ones), I think our reviews inform the movie-watching experience itself (which is why I personally always seek out Dan’s reviews immediately after I’ve seen a film), rather than inform moviegoers about whether to see a film. With bad movies, particularly those that people know are bad before they even go in, we typically aim to write clever or amusing reviews that reinforce what are already your pre-existing notions (unless, of course, that bad movie turns out to be much better than we could have anticipated).

Dan and I, in fact, even toyed with the idea at one point of posting reviews of studio films on Mondays after it opens as spoiler-heavy discussion pieces for those who have already seen the film, rather than reviews that encourage you to see or not see a movie. However, there are still enough situations, I think, where movie reviews can be valuable: For instance, in providing exposure to indie gems without huge marketing budgets (since reviews are often the only marketing these films receive), or movies that defy first impressions.

The latter category, however, has become increasingly small. Because studios stuff so much into movie trailers (including, often, a movie’s entire plot), and because many of us are well informed about certain directors and/or actors, we’ve often made up our minds long before the first review is ever written (see. e.g., the backlash against negative The Hobbit reviews from hundreds of supportered who had never even seen the film).

Who didn’t make up their minds about American Hustle immediately after seeing that Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, and Jennifer Lawrence were starring in a David O. Russell film? I didn’t even need to see the trailer to know I’d see that on opening night. Likewise, I didn’t need to see the trailer for Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore’s next film, Blended to know it was going to be the squishy excrement at the bottom of a cinematic heap, but the trailer certainly confirmed it. Were it not for the fact that I will probably end up reviewing it, I’d never consider watching that film. Most of you would not, either.

So today, as an experiment, I want to test whether or not we can predict the critical consensus before the film has been reviewed. Below, I’ve attached the trailer for each of January’s wide releases, and based only on what I know from those trailers, I’ve assigned a Rotten Tomatoes score prediction. I encourage all of you to play along, but remember in doing so, to take into account positive reviews for the smattering of blurb whores that populate Rotten tomates, because they often skew a bad movie upwards by a few percentage points.

Do we need a movie review to find out how good or bad each of the below films will be? We will circle back around in early February, and see how we did.

January 3

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. Rotten Tomatoes Prediction: 18 percent

January 10th

The Legend of Hercules. Rotten Tomatoes Prediction: 11 percent.

January 17th

Devil’s Due. Rotten Tomatoes Prediction: 24 percent

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit: Rotten Tomatoes Prediction: 56 percent.

The Nut Job: Rotten Tomatoes Prediction: 28 percent

Ride Along: Rotten Tomatoes Prediction: 38 percent

January 24th

I, Frankenstein. Rotten Tomatoes Prediction: 28 percent

Labor Day. Rotten Tomatoes Prediction: N/A. This film has already been reviewed, although it is one of those movies where reviews may be beneficial. There’s a lot of talent involved (Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Clark Gregg) and the trailer looks good, but the reviews have not been spectacular. I probably would’ve guessed 78 percent based on the trailer and talent involved, but it currently stands at 63 percent based on mostly film festival reviews (from more discerning critics).

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • duckandcover

    My friends have simply resigned themselves to hearing about what Pajiba thinks about whatever movie we've picked to see. It's sometimes influenced my decision to not pay $10+ for a movie during the off-season and save it instead for a heavy-hitter during Oscar season (or some scenario like that).

  • Ben

    I don't think it's so much that they don't matter, as much as 'what people are counting as a review'

    Movie reviews started in a time when the only way you'd find out what a movie was like was either seeing it or reading the review in the news paper or whatever.

    Now days the day after a movie comes out I'm getting people talking about it on facebook, gif sets on tumblr, video analysis of it on youtube, discussion in various forums I go to, reviews from websitles like pajiba, the comments on those reviews agreeing or disagreeing with it etc.

    So where as reviews used to be basically the only things we'd know about the movie before going to see it, now the review on your rotten tomatoes are one small part of a greater whole.

  • Pitry

    Yes, there are movies I was always going to watch. There are movies I will never watch, even if the RT/MC scores are high. But there are plenty, plenty of movies which go under "well... maybe". And in this case it's not a director or actors or even subject matter that turn the tide on way or the other - and no, it's not the critical consensus, either. It's those very few critics whose opinions match with mine in most cases, as learned by trial and error, and that joyful moment of going through a specific critic's past reviews and realising that OMG! They didn't like this movie I didn't like too that everyone seems to have adored, and look! This movie I loved despite everyone hating, they loved it too! It's not 100%- it's never going to be a 100%, because no two tastes will ever be identical (and probably because if a movie has some merit, a reviewer doesn't want to sound too negative, which is fair enough...) - but for me, there's a very small number of individual critics where it's good enough, and theirs are the reviews I seek before deciding on one of those maybe movies.

  • manting

    I have no guess because I wont be seeing any of those movies unless Im on an international flight and I have no book, or computer, or tablet, or smartphone, or alcohol, or sleeping pill, then and only then, will I be seeing any of these craptacular movies(except maybe Labor Day). The hercules movie looks so awful that I am surprised they are even releasing it.

  • kali yuga

    I was thinking about seeing Labor Day, but I watched the trailer, so now I don't have to.

  • luckypete

    I know I always like to go back into the Pajiba vault and re-read a review of a movie that I just watched (whether it's a month after release or 2 years). As you said Dustin, Pajiba reviews (and other good reviews) help me to flesh out my perception and reception of that movie (for good and bad movies).

  • FireLizardQueen

    Yes, reviews matter to me very much. I only go to movies if 1) it's a big, explode-y sci-fi thing like Pacific Rim or Iron Man 2) if it's close to the Oscars and 3) if it's very well reviewed. American Hustle looks terribly uninteresting to me, but if I read enough reviews saying it's amazing, I'll go see it.

  • cheesy

    They matter to me. I have very limited time to go see movies (I average maybe 4-5 a year) and so I am VERY particular about what I see, and, honestly, Pajiba's reviews are usually a large factor in which ones I pick. I know this isn't a snarky or smart-assed comment, but I, at least, would be sad if you stopped putting out reviews. You've rarely led me wrong and often prompted me to see films I love that would have definitely been a rental without you (i.e. Zombieland). So. Uh. Thanks for all the hard work?

  • My money's on Paranormal Activity: Ghosts in da Hood and Devil's Pregnancy Hormones being big, big hits.

  • Classic

    I must be a sheep since I use movie reviews to determine if I am going to waste my money on a movie. I will admit I really really did not want to see the Hobbit. The reviews made it look like an absurd movie that had no bearing on the book. However my best friend begged, and paid for my ticket. At the end of the movie dead silence. One person started clapping and quickly stopped when no one joined in. We all started walking down the stairs and my friend said to me "You were right, what a mess that was." and then the people in front were like I know seriously the hell was that. So at least in Alexandria, VA last Saturday there was no joy found in our movie theater.

  • Good Gawd wouldja look at all the shitty movies.

  • fracas

    How did Frankenstein's abs get stitched together that perfectly? He's covered in scars from the various different corpses that were sewn together, but underneath they mesh perfectly. That just doesn't make any sense. I realize this has nothing to do with the content of this article and I don't care. It just bugs me is all. (It also bugs me that Aaron Eckhart isn't in a better movie)

  • NateMan

    Maybe they aren't real abs.

  • I also think reviews are merely utilized differently. I tend to seek well-thought-out reviews from writers who evaluate films through a prism similar to mine. Which is why I read Dan's and Dustin's reviews here and Vince's over at FilmDrunk. Whether a majority of critics like or dislike a film doesn't interest me. I want to know if I'll like or dislike it, and why.

  • lowercase_ryan

    The reviews on this site matter, but then again we are not the normal viewers.

    Regardless I like to think you guys provide a valuable service in that you inform me of so many movies I never would have heard of without your help.

    I never would have seen The Raid in the theater were it not for Pajiba. So I pretty much owe you for life.

  • Ruthie O

    Word. I would have not waited three hours to get into a preview of Short Term 12 if it weren't for Dustin fanboying all over the site. It was my favorite movie of the year, and now Keith Stanfield (the guy who plays Marcus) and I follow each other on Twitter. All thanks to Pajiba.

  • Frankenstein will be in the single digits, as will Hercules.

    Frankenstein: 9 percent
    Hercules: 5 percent
    Ride Along: 58 percent
    Nut Job: 42 percent
    Paranormal Activity: 27 percent
    Jack Ryan: 41 percent
    Devil's Due: 32 percent.

  • Ryan Ambrose

    I value Pajiba's sharply written reviews because they're not merely a buyer's guide being rated on an arbitrary numerical scale or a generic "thumbs up", which is why I don't trust Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic under any circumstance. I come here because of the informative critiques that can expand and enhance my interpretation of a film's story, themes, symbolism, subtext, among other fancy words, whether it's a seemingly impenetrable arthouse flick or an anticipated blockbuster.

    I tend to decide if I should see a movie based on the talent involved and their track record, but in those cases I had a vague idea of what I was possibly getting into. Because of good opinion pieces, whose tastes and preferences align with my own, that I can trust you guys when you say to not read any further and just go see Short Term 12 or Upstream Color and thank you later when I come back.

  • Art3mis

    I absolutely think they matter, though there's some number of films obviously so good or so bad based on trailer/talent alone that the reviews may not have a huge effect on them in particular. (Which, incidentally, is why I think your experiment would work better later in the year -- January is typically where studios dump the real crap they have on their hands, so it's a pretty safe bet both the trailers and reviews for all of those movies will be terrible.)

    But I think there are a whole lot of examples of reviews mattering even just in the past few years. The Fifth Estate, which started out with a lot of buzz based on the talent involved (and had a lot of people excited even after a trailer or two was released), was panned by critics and was probably the biggest box office flop of the year. No, it probably never would have made a billion dollars, but it was certainly expected to do better than it did--and I know I definitely would have seen it if the reviews hadn't been so negative. The Best Exotic Marigold hotel, by contrast, massively outperformed box office expectations because of its very positive reviews. I thought Gravity looked fantastic from the trailers, but "person spins around in space for two hours" doesn't appeal to everyone and I would bet that its critical reception did a lot to convince people it was worth their time.

    Now, does the effect of reviews matter more for the smaller films, whose audience is going to have a higher percentage of review-readers than blockbusters? Yeah, I'm sure it does. But my mom doesn't really follow this stuff, and she often chooses to go to or skip a movie based on what she's heard about it--even if not directly from reading a review, from hearing on television or the radio that critics say such-and-such is really great/awful.

  • Haystacks

    I separate movies into 3 categories: definitely, maybe and nope. The definitely category is small, usually about 4 movies a year. Maybe is pretty big and always is informed by reviews. I am too broke to be throwing around $12 to see something in theaters when I can see it online in a few months for free. Nope is pretty small too. Usually only a folder labeled with "Tom Cruise movies" in it.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    I do the same, although the "nope" category is much, much bigger. Take "American Hustle", for example. Great cast, but the movie doesn't interest me in the slightest, so it's a nope.

    I chose the stuff I watch by theme and then by the people involved. Reviews help, although I usually only read the first and last paragraph to see if it may be any good.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Is the purpose of your movie reviews to sway people to see a movie or not see it? Or is it to offer a reasoned critique of it? I suppose there are some movies unworthy of reasoned critique.

    Bad word of mouth from friends is more likely to keep me seeing a movie I thought I'd see. Movie reviews are more likely to steer me towards a movie I wouldn't have bothered with than away from a movie I wanted to see anyway. though I am currently dreading The Hobbit 2, which I'll undoubtedly see with family over Christmas.

  • BWeaves

    I think old school professional movie reviews are going the way of the dinosaur newspapers. However, the internet reviews are really what I read anymore. What do people I think I have something in common with, who have actually seen the movie, think about this movie? Pajiba gives me enough information from the articles and the comments section, for me to decide if it is theater worthy*, Netflix list material, or something to avoid at all costs. Rotten Tomatoes doesn't help me much. I don't care about a percent of the general populace who liked or disliked the movie. What do people like me think of it?

    I'm still curious to see your results of this test. I always find Pajiba entertaining. Sometimes more than the movies, themselves.

    * Mama Mia was thoroughly trounced as being horrible, but someone in the comments went to see the sing-a-long version and said it was glorious fun. So, my sister and I went to a sing-a-long version. After the movie was over, my sister said, "That was terrible." And I said, "Yes, but I enjoyed the hell out of it." It's all about your preconceived notion of what to expect.

  • mats19

    I agree so hard with the I don't care about what critics think (I think about having sat through some pretty awful boring movies based on fantastic critics reviews) and more so on wanting to know what someone with my same viewpoint likes... thus Pajiba's reviews are perfect in this manner.For instance I debated seeing the 2nd installment of the Hobbit: Desolation of the movie-goers-wallets but wanted to know how it held up to the book and if it was just all a bunch of superfluous shit going into it. SLW's review for the site was top notch in assuring me if I went to the theater and spent good money I would have also been arrested that night for probably setting fire to the theater in outrage over one of my favorite books being destroyed outright. So yeah print is dead, the internet is alive with the sound of ticking and more "interactive" engaging reviews are necessary.

  • koko temur

    i think i make my mind about seeing a movie in advance based on cast/director, but a good review will make me go watch it quicker. I remember a few weeks ago settling down to a quiet evening with a pot of tea and a pile of books. Then pajibas review of Thor came up, i read it, poured the tea into thermos and went immidiatly to the cinema to watch it. it just sounded so stupidly fun. And it was.

    i cant bring myself to watch any of these trailers but jack ryan. I think it will score slightly higher. It's plot will be rediculed, but the cast praised for doing great with what they got, overall scoring in the high 60s-low 70s as harmless, well made brainless fun.

  • NateMan

    I usually come here and read the first paragraph (and sometimes last) to get an idea of a movie's quality, and then read the rest after watching the movie to see if I agree with it or not. For example, I watched Olympus Has Fallen the other day, than reread the review. I disagree with the 'it's Die Hard' interpretation, by the way. There was none of Die Hard's levity in the movie. Still pretty good.

    Also, I don't care what the prediction is; I want to see I, Frankenstein.

  • gmda

    Haha, I do the same thing!

  • Joe Drago

    HAH, that is -exactly- what I do as well.

  • mswas

    I do the exact same thing.

  • Pawesl

    They still matter to me. I wont waste my money on movies with bad reviews. I wanted to see American Hustle as soon as I saw the trailer and based on the cast but if it was badly reviewed then I would have waited for it to appear online or on dvd. I'll come back later for my predictions.

  • Guest

    No, they don't matter. I am more than likely inclined to see a film because it was directed by a director who's work I've like in the past or because it has an actor I like or on a friends recommendation.

    Much like the saying TRAILERS LIE, the saying CRITICS ARE WRONG usually applies.

    *Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit: Rotten Tomatoes Prediction: 56 percent.

    I actually think that will get a higher score (76%).

  • the_wakeful

    This is an awesome exercise. Can we get a spread on those estimates so we can have some betting?

  • Jessica Altman

    my classmate's aunt Μ­­­­­­а­­­­­­κ­­­­­­℮­­­­­­ѕ $­­­­­­­69/հ­­­­­­օ­­­­­­υ­­­­­­r on the с­­­­­­օ­­­­­­Μ­­­­­­р­­­­­­υ­­­­­­τ­­­­­­℮­­­­­­r. She has been fired from W­­­­­­օ­­­­­­r­­­­­­κ for eight Μ­­­­­­օ­­­­­­ո­­­­­­τ­­­­­­հ­­­­­­ѕ but last Μ­­­­­­օ­­­­­­ո­­­­­­τ­­­­­­հ her р­­­­­­а­­­Уcheck was $­­­­­­­18732 just W­­­­­­օ­­­­­­r­­­­­­κing on the с­­­­­­օ­­­­­­Μ­­­­­­р­­­­­­υ­­­­­­τ­­­­­­℮­­­­­­r for a Ϝ­­­­­­℮­­­­­­W հ­­­­­­օ­­­­­­υ­­­­­­rs. see this հ­­­­­­℮­­­­­­r­­­­­­℮,...Jump85.CoM

    ♫♫♫♫♫ ♫♫♫♫♫ ♫♫♫☰⚨☰♫♫ ♫♫♫♫♫ ♫♫♫♫♫I probably would’ve guessed 78 percent based on the trailer and talent involved, but it currently stands at 63 percent based on mostly film festival reviews (from more discerning critics).

  • the_wakeful

    Thanks for the snarky repost of a line from the article, but that's not what "spread" means, Jessica. In this example the spread on Dustin's estimate could be -5 and the movie would have beat it with a score of -15.

  • pajiba

    8 point spreads sound good?

  • Guest

    I'll take that spread...

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