The critical failure and subsequent financial success of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has led to a discussion about the relevance of film critics. Is there any? Does the “I’m creating this for the critics, not the fans!” argument create a false dichotomy? Critics are movie fans ramped up to 11, after all, and there’s no harsher critic than someone who’s a hardcore fan of the source material. (“OMG they changed the color of Hermione’s dress. BURN IT DOWN.”) Is everyone who hates Batman v Superman on Disney’s payroll? Follow-up: When is TK going to buy Dustin that bedazzled statue of Ryan Reynolds’ abs that he promised him, like, five Christmases ago?
The answer is that, while critics are an important part of fostering discussion around movies, particularly independent movies that don’t have millions of dollars to spend on marketing, they don’t have much direct impact on a movie’s bottom line. They never have. There are tons of critically beloved movies that flopped at the box office (The Shawshank Redemption, Hugo, Citizen damn Kane), just as there are abundant examples of the opposite: Movies (or series) that critics hate, yet audiences turn out to see in droves. Be prepared to feel bad about humanity:
The Pirates of the Caribbean sequels
Rotten Tomatoes approval rating: 54% (Dead Man’s Chest), 45% (At World’s End), 32% (On Stranger Tides)
Worldwide gross: $3.07 billion total
Ever wonder why the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, which has been subject to diminishing returns ever since 2006’s Dead Man’s Chest, is getting a fifth installment? That would be because the fourth movie in the franchise, 2011’s On Stranger Tides, made—and I’m trying to be precise here—a metric fucktillion dollars internationally. Despite not even making back its $250 million budget stateside, it’s one of only 24 films to hit the billion dollar mark. All this from the movie that nobody really remembers anything about, except for the fact that it made them miss Orlando Bloom. (Turns out, Captain Jack Sparrow can’t really carry his own movie, and that’s why we needed Orly around this whole time. Huh. Who knew?) And there were mermaids, maybe? All three Pirates sequels are among the 30-highest grossing movies ever made, not adjusted for inflation, while the one that kicked the whole franchise off (and has a 79% Rotten Tomatoes approval rating) is chilling its heels at spot number 92.
The Entire Twilight Franchise
Rotten Tomatoes approval rating: 45% (Twilight), 28% (New Moon), 49% (Eclipse), Breaking Dawn: Part 1 (24%), Breaking Dawn - Part 2 (49%)
Worldwide gross: $3.34 billion total
“B-b-but! Girl movies don’t make money!”
The Entire Transformers Franchise
Rotten Tomatoes approval rating: 57% (Transformers), 19% (Revenge of the Fallen), 35% (Dark of the Moon), 18% (Age of Extinction)
Worldwide gross: $3.77 billion total
I could do this list with nothing but Michael Bay movies. Every single Transformers movie is on the list of the hundred highest-grossing movies of all time; they’re such consistently high earners that Paramount has announced plans to create a Marvel-style Transformers shared universe. I don’t know how companies that make U.S. flags are going to ramp up their production enough.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Rotten Tomatoes approval rating: 21%
Worldwide gross: $493.3 million
I didn’t think a movie where a woman is told by her childhood pet that she gives him a turtle boner would have that much earning potential, but hey, what the hell do I know?
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
Rotten Tomatoes approval rating: 66%
Worldwide gross: $1 billion
The anticipation for Episode One was so high that there was no way it wasn’t going to make a shit-ton of money, even if it was (to paraphrase modern classic Airheads) just George Lucas farting on a snare drum for two hours. As it turned out, it wasn’t much better.
(Something I discovered in writing this list: Attack of the Clones and
Revenge of the Sith—plus Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Spider-Man 3—are rated fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. LIFE IS A LIE.)
Alice in Wonderland
Rotten Tomatoes approval rating: 52%
Worldwide gross: $1 billion
While fancy-schmancy film nerds (I SEE YOU) were busy contemplating Tim Burton’s inexorable career decline, he was off at Disney making the highest-grossing movie of his career to date.
The Ice Age sequels
Rotten Tomatoes approval rating: 57% (The Meltdown), 45% Dawn of the Dinosaurs, 37% (Continental Drift)
Worldwide gross: $2.4 billion total
For all that we as a culture like to go on and on about how Pixar is the alpha and omega of children’s filmmaking, OMG they’re for kids but they’re also for adults, MY MIND IS BLOWN, only one Pixar film (Finding Nemo) made more money than Ice Age: Dawn of Dinosaurs and Ice Age: Continental Drift. You see what you’re doing bringing your kids to these, parents? These little assholes are going to be tomorrow’s audience for Transformers 9.
Rotten Tomatoes approval rating: 55%
Worldwide gross: $1.15 billion
These banana loving fucks your boozy aunt on Facebook loves so much headlined the eleventh-highest grossing movie ever. IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.
Shrek the Third
Rotten Tomatoes approval rating: 40%
Worldwide gross: $799 million
Hey, guess what the ninth highest-grossing animated film of all time is, ahead of Up, Monsters, Inc., The Incredibles and The LEGO Movie. Wrong. It’s Shrek the Third. (The highest-grossing animated film of all time is Shrek 2, but critics liked that one. I’d offer my own opinion if I could remember a damn thing about it.)
Rotten Tomatoes approval rating: 49%
Worldwide gross: $758.5 million
Angelina Jolie’s Cheekbones: The Movie. It exists. I did not see it. A lot (a LOT a lot) of people did.
Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2
Rotten Tomatoes approval rating: 10%, 7%
Worldwide gross: $518.3 million total
The $518 million shared by Grown Ups and its ill-begotten sequel isn’t much compared with some of the other movies on this list, because comedy, unlike action, is very culturally specific and doesn’t tend to cross over international boundaries all that well. But I can’t do this list without including an Adam Sandler movie or two, because Adam Sandler is this list.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Rotten Tomatoes approval rating: 53%
Worldwide gross: $708.9 million
It wasn’t enough to keep Andrew Garfield in the Spidey suit, but The Amazing Spider-Man 2 still made a ton of money, despite the fact that you don’t know anyone willing to offer up anything more enthusiastic than an ambivalent shrug for their review.
Rotten Tomatoes approval rating: 34%
Domestic gross: $67.7 million (not released internationally)
Last summer, the faith-based indie drama War Room had Hollywood scratching its head when it came out of nowhere to debut at number two at the box office, beating out higher profile (but similarly poorly reviewed) new releases No Escape and We Are Your Friends. A week later, War Room climbed to number one, where it would hold court for two weeks. The faith-based genre is notoriously difficult to predict, box office-wise, in part because they all suck. Seriously. The critical reception of a faith-based film, moreso than with other genres, has absolutely no bearing on its financial success or failure, because its target audience is mostly church groups and other preaching-to-the-choir types who could not give a single holy damn what some heathen liberal rando from CineScreenMovieBlogHollywood.com has to say. Of the crop of faith-based indies that have hit it big over the last five years or so (Heaven is for Real, God’s Not Dead, Soul Surfer, Miracles from Heaven) none of them have gotten over 52% approval. Unless you count The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe—which, OK, Liam Neeson, Jesus Lion, but I don’t know if I’d call the film “faith-based,” per se—there’s not a faith-based film that critics have come close to liking.
The Passion of the Christ
Rotten Tomatoes approval rating: 49%
Worldwide gross: $611.8 million
12 years down the line and it’s still the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time. God bless Deadpool and his pegging jokes. He tried.
Edit: Just after I wrote this, Deadpool passed Passion to become the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time! Go Deadpool! I could have altered the above paragraph instead of just adding an amendment, but I wanted to keep the pegging reference. Don’t judge me.
Tyler Perry’s Madea movies
Rotten Tomatoes approval rating: 18% (Tyler Perry’s A Medea Christmas), 25% (Madea’s Family Reunion), 29% (Madea Goes to Jail), 38% (Madea’s Big Happy Family), 21% (Madea’s Witness Protection)
Worldwide gross: $328.2 million total
Like faith-based films, movies geared towards black audiences tend to be either disliked or straight-up ignored by critics. There are some high-profile exceptions—movies with predominantly POC casts including Straight Outta Compton, Beyond the Lights, Top Five, and Friday found critical success—but for the most part quote-unquote “urban” movies tend to fly under the critical mainstream radar. Think Like a Man: 53%. Ride Along: 18%. No Good Deed: 10%. Why Did I Get Married?: 48%. Fifty Shades of Black: 7%. And, of course, Tyler Perry’s Medea movies, which have a sizable, loyal fanbase of people who could not give a shit what critics think of them. The financial success of the Madea movies doesn’t approach the scale of some of the other movies on this list, but muumuus and wigs ain’t expensive, and Tyler Perry makes more than enough money on his Madea movies to continue making them.