Does anyone listen to movie critics any more?

Dan O’Neill | Jul 30, 2014

The most recent Transformers movie did something that surprised no-one but seemingly upset everyone. It defied endless critical reviews to make a huge amount of money at the box office. So what does a movie have to do to flop? And does anyone listen to movie critics any more?

That last question intrigued me, enough to do a tiny bit of research and put this quick piece together. Just note that I am in no way a statistician, I barely passed my statistics module in college. Take all of this with a pinch of salt as its almost all anecdotal!

So do people listen to film critics? Actual paid to review movies critics? The answer seems to be “Yes”, but with a large dose of “No” thrown in for good measure.

I thought the easiest place to find out how much influence movie critics have, was to check out how many of the critically acclaimed movies from 2013 ended up making a tonne of money.

Rotten Tomatoes put together a top 100 movies list of 2013. Its ranked by aggregated critics reviews. So if you look at the top 20 movies of 2013 from the Rotten Tomatoes aggregated critic score, you’ll see this is the list:

1 97% 81% Gravity (2013)
2 97% 90% 12 Years a Slave (2013)
3 98% 82% Before Midnight (2013)
4 99% 92% Short Term 12 (2013)
5 98% 80% Mud (2013)
6 94% 74% Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
7 99% 82% 20 Feet From Stardom (2013)
8 93% 80% Zero Dark Thirty (2013)
9 94% 83% Her (2013)
10 99% 89% Wadjda (2013)
11 93% 75% American Hustle (2013)
12 98% 90% Blackfish (2013)
13 96% 76% Enough Said (2013)
14 93% 90% Captain Phillips (2013)
15 100% 89% The Square (2013)
16 93% 91% Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
17 93% 63% All Is Lost (2013)
18 100% 89% Sound City (2013)
19 92% 83% Nebraska (2013)
20 98% 74% 56 Up (2013)

(I also added in the User score as the third column - I would love to see if I can get the list ranked using that column)

I’m not going to lie - I didn’t recognise a few of these either. But there are some decent movies in that list. Though that’s probably an unfair list to use against critics as not all of these movies were on wide release. Turns out metacritic has an excellent roundup from 2013 where it lists the critics top 20 movies that got a wide release:

1 97 8 12 Years a Slave
2 96 8.2 Gravity
3 94 8 Before Midnight
4 91 8.6 Her *
5 90 8 American Hustle
6 85 7.7 Fruitvale Station
7 84 7.9 Dallas Buyers Club
8 83 8.2 Captain Phillips
9 82 8.1 The Spectacular Now
10 81 7.7 The World’s End
11 79 8 Enough Said
12 78 7.8 Blue Jasmine
13 76 7.8 Philomena
14 76 7.8 Mud
15 75 8.4 Rush
16 75 8.2 The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
17 75 7.6 The Wolf of Wall Street
18 75 7.1 Side Effects
19 74 8.2 Frozen
20 74 8.2 Prisoners

(Third column is average user score)

This is a little more like it - though interestingly movies are getting into the top 20 with averaged scores of 75, whereas on the RT list nothing drops below 92!

Here are 2013’s big money makers at the box office from Box Office Mojo’s Top 2013 movies:

1 Iron Man 3 $396,811,900 4,253
2 The Hunger Games: Catching Fire $385,105,600 4,163
3 Despicable Me 2 $381,397,900 4,003
4 Man of Steel $282,362,800 4,207
5 Monsters University $260,482,800 4,004
6 Frozen $256,160,900 3,742
7 Gravity $248,146,300 3,820
8 Oz The Great and Powerful $240,533,100 3,912
9 Fast & Furious 6 $231,559,300 3,771
10 Star Trek Into Darkness $221,953,500 3,907
11 Thor: The Dark World $197,312,400 3,841
12 World War Z $196,322,700 3,607
13 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug $196,232,000 3,928
14 The Croods $191,647,300 4,065
15 We’re the Millers $155,957,200 3,445
16 The Heat $154,821,400 3,184
17 The Conjuring $142,482,500 3,115
18 The Great Gatsby (2013) $140,519,400 3,550
19 Grown Ups 2 $138,612,900 3,491
20 Identity Thief $137,725,600 3,230

(The last column is how many theatres in America the movies were shown in)

Interestingly, Gravity is the only movie to be in both the Rotten Tomatoes list and the money list from Box Office Mojo. The wide release list from Metacritic isn’t much better with only three movies making it into both it and the money list.


So it would appear that what critics thought of a movie had very little impact in how well big movies did at the box office. As long as a movie didn’t get absolutely slated, movie goers tended to go to the big releases without fail.

Except in the case of comedies where even if they did get slated everyone just went along anyway. Number 19 and 20 in the money list, Grown Ups 2 and Identity Thief, each taking in a whopping 135 million plus, have some of the lowest critic scores I’ve ever seen on Rotten Tomatoes. Though it is worth noting that the user score in both cases is significantly higher.

Identity Thief

So where does that leave us? Do critics have any impact on how well a movie does in the cinema? Well… no. The critics favourites (from either list) didn’t seem to make a huge impact at the box office. Even when they don’t particularly like certain movies, those movies can still do ridiculously well.

Critics and average users didn’t agree much on their top 20’s either. That’s not to say that critics and users didn’t align well - they tended to like movies about the same which weirdly surprised me.

So I started this article thinking I was going to see that most movies - especially “mainstream” movies were universally hated by critics and loved by normal users. But if the most recent Transformers movie has shown us anything, it’s that just isn’t the case. I’ve also learned that although critics are told what movies to review or review a huge number of movies, we as movie goers only go to films that we want to see or that interest us. So our reviews tend to be skewed towards movies we like. I think that explains the marked difference between really bad average critic reviews and user reviews.

So are critics still relevant? Yeah, I have to think they are - especially for smaller, less prominent films that need a route to market. So find a critic you like, that has recommended a few movies you like and just ignore them on the bigger blockbusters and enjoy them for what they are.

Got something to add, or something to complain about? Contact me on Twitter: @dan_oneill or email me

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