Simba Production

To See or Not To See

By Mark Ehrenkranz

Today’s studio execs and the theater-going public are on a similar playing field when it comes to influential access. Like everything else, this has its advantages and disadvantages. Here are the blessings and the curses of democratizing the measurement of a movie’s worth.


Numerous factors come into play when deciding to engage one’s time, effort and money in making, distributing, marketing or even seeing a movie. When choosing a movie, industry insiders and the public share a similar process of considering star power, the director, the story, and the popularity of prior work. Just prior to, or once the movie is available to see, the critical reaction often determines the fate of a film.


As with the many tools and resources we all have at our fingertips these days, which ones are credible, reputable and should we trust? Well here’s the deal.


One may not want to read reviews or see a trailer to avoid hearing or seeing too much about the story or the best parts. If you are a regular moviegoer, you may want to cover your eyes and ears during the trailers. Plus loglines or reviewer pull quotes like, “This is a finely crafted bromance dramedy,” might be misleading. Once these thoughts are imprinted on your brain, it’s almost impossible to get rid of them. Since most experiences are based on expectation, to avoid the hype, go see what you want to on opening weekend without reading or listening to anyone else. 


If you must pre-qualify your time, because let’s face it, it is more valuable than money, a suggestion would be to read or skim a review from a national critic you like or tend to agree with. Try and stand clear of thumbs or 0 out of 5 rating systems as that is certain to taint your palate. Critics often come away from a movie with mixed reactions. Some critics use grades or a 4 or 5-stars, sometimes with half-stars as not to be negative or mostly positive. The other major influencers are Rotten Tomatoes/ Fandango, Metacritic, IMDB (Amazon), and CinemaScore.


Rotten Tomatoes has approximately 26 million followers and is the site that gathers movie and TV critics’ opinions and tabulates a score that’s Fresh or Rotten. It’s simple to understand, has great branding, and outside of IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes is the most popular movie site out there with great recognition. Rotten Tomatoes (along with its parent company Flixster) was acquired by Fandango, the company that sells tickets for many major cinema chains. Before being acquired by Comcast (NBC Universal) and Warner Brothers in April 2007, Fandango was privately owned, with the major stakeholder being the largest movie-theater chain in the U.S., Regal Entertainment Group.


Rotten Tomatoe’s Tomatometer reflects the percentage of people who liked a given movie. These people include print journalists, broadcast outlets, and online publications, all who must maintain a certain level of popularity, quality, and consistency to be included. For popular films, Rotten Tomatoes counts over 200 different reviewers with a mix of legitimate publication affiliations and some amateur bloggers. Rotten Tomatoes categorizes every movie as either Fresh or Rotten, based on whether the percentage is above or below 60%. Additional scores like Top Critics (includes 40 top reviewers) are hidden at the bottom of the page. The service is good though for seeing a movie on a whim and to know how popular a film is, rather than how good it is


On the other hand, Metacritic’s branding is a fraction of the others and most people have never heard of it. They use a weighted average of scores from an elite group of 30-50 writers from major US publications which translate to a scale of 0 to 100.  4-stars ratings and letter grades are converted to binary scores.  Metacritic numbers attempt to tell you just how good each movie is. A 95% on Rotten Tomatoes means almost everyone liked it, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you how or why many people loved it. Metacritic is better for knowing exactly how good a film is especially for those who prefer old school media. The popular films are sprinkled in with the more discerning films, so it is exceptional for indie-art house fans. It is also a one-stop shop for great for critical analysis of music, video games, DVD, and TV.


IMDB, the Internet Movie Database is owned by Amazon and has the largest following of 83 million registered users. It makes use of numerical ratings based off of votes from users on a 1-10 scale. Anyone can rate any film on a scale of 1 to 10, the totals become weighted mean-ratings and then featured next to each title. The service uses online filtering devices to prevent rigging ballot boxes. Registration is needed to post on the site and one’s profile page lists all of their activity. Unlike Rotten Tomatoes, one can see the whole cast and crew, the budget, locations, overall box office results and much more on IMDB. The industry uses IMDB-Pro and other professional resource sites from Variety, Comscore/Rentrak and others for common database sharing of information about the biz. IMDB is the Granddaddy and gold standard for the public.


CinemaScore is very different and is the leader in exit poll measurement. They provide audience reactions by polling movie audiences on opening night for their reaction to the latest major new releases. On opening night, audience members fill out ballot cards at the theatre which grade a movie and forecasts box office receipts based on the data.  Typically they poll 400–500 moviegoers. They have a team of 45 in 25 large cities across North America. Reps in 5 randomly chosen locations ask for age, gender, a grade between A+ and F, whether they would rent or buy the film on DVD or Blu-ray, and why they chose the film. They receive about 400 cards per film. Results are released opening nights at 11 pm PST so that movie executives and theater chain subscribers can decide the fate of the picture.


Another cool resource is CineLife, which is a mobile app service that quenches the thirst of independent film and art house devotees. Most of the other services target mostly the gargantuan releases for the theaters they sell tickets with. The content featured on CineLife is created by and for lovers of film. Luxury, boutique and dine-in venues are a few of the types of theaters that are keeping the joy of going to the movies relevant and vital. CineLife promotes the excitement of the entire independent theatre community and is dedicated to supporting the preservation, restoration, documentation, and exhibition of motion pictures.


Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert created the thumbs up or down popularity. Way back when the world had time and longer attention spans, audiences would listen to or read their in-depth conversation as to why the projects were worth seeing and why. Yet their reductive device has prevailed in our nanosecond culture. Popularity or just because a lot of people like something doesn’t necessarily mean that it will speak well to everyone. Unfortunately, a quick glance at a number, grade or percentage may render an extraordinary, relatively unknown gem, powerless in finding an audience. Top 10 lists, award shows, and best-of-year summaries from credible sources can provide a better indication of a quality movies. If the same films keep ending up included in good company, chances are they’re worth your time.