Good movies are now more likely to top the box-office than bad ones. I know that sounds like common sense, but it’s not always been that way.
Here’s an interesting note in 2014: The three highest grossing movies of the year, so far (Guardians of the Galaxy, The LEGO Movies, and Captain America: Winter Soldier) all have Rotten Tomatoes scores of 89 percent, or higher. I mention this because, in past years, sh*tty, empty spectacles were often synonymous with huge box-office returns, and to an extent, that still happens (Michael Bay movies, for instance). But it doesn’t happen as often anymore, because either studios are getting better at making franchise films, remakes, and sequels (thanks Marvel?), or audiences have become more demanding (or, possibly, critics have gotten softer).
Indeed, with so many options from which to choose, and television becoming a more compelling (and cheaper alternative) to film, the big studios have had to step up their game. While it’s still possible to top the box-office with a shitty or mediocre film, for the most part softer reviews lead to softer, more disappointing returns (see, e.g., The Amazing Spider-man 2 and Divergent, movies that could’ve added another $40 or $50 million or more to their box-office totals if those movies had actually been “good”).
In fact, 70 percent of this year’s ten highest grossing films also fall under the category of “good” movie (those with 70 percent or higher on the Tomatometer), while weaker-reviewed films have not performed as well as their predecessors (even Transformers: Age of Extinction made $150 million less than its Revenge of the Fallen).
The Fast and Furious movies represent a good case study: It’s a franchise that was developed 13 years ago when Baysian, small-penis spectacles could get by on thin reviews, but as that franchise began to add installments, the box-office grosses began to shrink right along with their Rotten Tomatoes scores. Then something magical happened! They made Fast Five (77%), and a good movie and positive reviews completely turned the franchise around.
Huge marketing blitzes these days can build awareness, and it can even launch big weekend, but bad reviews and negative word of mouth will kill those films before they gain much momentum. That’s something we’re really beginning to see more of: Social media is equalizing marketing pushes. Your shitty movie can still do well because there’s a certain segment of the audience that just doesn’t give a damn (see, e.g., Dumb and Dumber To, or better yet, don’t), but there’s an increasingly larger segment of the audience that’s only willing to shell out $12 for a good blockbuster movie.
Here’s the proof. Of the 31 different movies that have topped the box-office this year, 15 were “good,” 8 were mediocre, and only 8 were “bad” films. I don’t have the math skills to do it, but it’s a safe bet to also assume that the “good” movies also performed better, as a percentage of their budgets.
Good Movies (15)
The LEGO Movie: 96%
X-Men: Days of Future Past: 92%
Guardians of the Galaxy: 90%
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: 91%
Captain America: The Winter Soldier: 89%
Big Hero 6: 88%
Gone Girl: 88%
22 Jump Street: 84%
Fault in Our Stars: 80%
Mr. Peabody and Sherman: 79%
Lone Survivor: 75%
Mediocre Movies (8)
The Maze Runner: 63%
The Equalizer: 61%
The Amazing Spider-Man 2: 53%
300: Rise of An Empire: 42%
Bad Movies (8)
Dumb and Dumber To: 27%
The Other Woman: 24%
Think Like a Man Too: 23%
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: 22%
Transformers: Age of Extinction: 18%
Ride Along: 17%
No Good Deed: 11%