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Do Movie Reviews Matter Anymore? A Pop-Culture Experiment

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | December 19, 2013 |

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | December 19, 2013 |

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).

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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