Why Do Critics Care If Audiences Hate The Movies They Like?

Published 4 years ago by , Updated August 20th, 2010 at 9:37 am,

anton critic Why Do Critics Care If Audiences Hate The Movies They Like?

You might remember that about a week or so ago we ran a piece asking the average movie goer why they care if critics hate the movies they like. It was a wonderful op-ed from our own Paul Young, who had grown frustrated with a seemingly increasing trend of movie fans slamming movie critics, simply because the critic had a bad opinion about a movie the fans loved.

Well, flash-forward a week and now it seems we’re having the opposite problem: critics are up in arms that movie fans didn’t turn out in droves to support a film critics felt deserved the box office profits to match their high acclaim.

The movie in question here is Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which was part of a three-way box office showdown this past weekend, facing off against the macho-man action throwback The Expendables and the chick-lit sensation turned Julia Roberts vehicle, Eat, Pray, Love. When the box office receipts were tallied, Expendables and Eat, Pray took the top two spots, while Scott Pilgrim came in at number five, despite being a film that was lauded by most critics for being unique, original and genuinely fun and enjoyable to watch.

In fact, if you check out Rotten Tomatoes, you’ll see that Scott Pilgrim was way ahead of its competition in terms of critical praise, sporting an 81% rating compared to The Expendables‘ 42% and Eat, Pray, Love‘s 38%.  At the current time, some of the very movie critics from around the blogosphere who helped establish that high Pilgrim rating are none too happy that the larger movie going audience seemingly ignored their collective praise of the film. And they haven’t been shy about voicing their displeasure.

02 scott pilgrim Why Do Critics Care If Audiences Hate The Movies They Like?

Since the weekend box office numbers have come in, you can practically feel the backlash coursing through the movie news community. Here are some of the more notable examples:

  • The Hollywood Reporter points out that Geeks are having a hard time proving their box office clout, lately.
  • Harry Knowles of AICN is not happy with THR‘s assessment, and wishes people would “wake up to Scott Pilgrim.”
  • Hitfix is tossing out the idea that Scott Pilgrim‘s underperformance could signal the doom of “inventive” comic book films.
  • Devin Faraci of C.H.U.D. warns fans to see Scott Pilgrim now, before they “regret ‘discovering’ it on DVD.”
  • Geeks of Doom is taking a more level-headed approach, reminding fans that one comic book movie failure isn’t the end of the genre.
  • While James Gunn is simply relishing the fact that director Edgar Wright made a movie that he (Gunn) thoroughly enjoyed.
  • Just search Scott Pilgrim on Twitter, and you’ll find any number of online movie personalities ready to blame everyone from Universal Studios to the Canadian Prime Minister for “marketing the film wrong.”

In my opinion, this is the point where the blurred line between movie blogger and movie critic becomes problematic: when you see this sort of (overly?) impassioned reaction to how a movie performs, from some of the same people who are looked to for an evaluation (and grading) of its quality.

On the one hand, for a movie blogger, it’s totally OK to let your voice be heard about…well, basically anything you want to discuss and think your audience will be interested to read. That’s basically what this gig is all about. Generally speaking, movie bloggers are also deeply passionate film fans, therefore  it’s easy to understand why they would want to proclaim it loud and proud when they find a movie they feel is unique and original and fun. People impassioned about movies want to see movies they can be impassioned about, and movie bloggers have a viable platform upon which to make that very demand of the movie industry: It’s one of the great perks of this job that I personally enjoy icon smile Why Do Critics Care If Audiences Hate The Movies They Like? .

However, movie critics have traditionally been something else entirely: a circle of people we trust to watch cinema and assess what they see, according to a set of criteria we expect them to be knowledgeable about – in this case the mechanics, history and medium of film.

A critic is meant to watch, to assess, and traditionally that’s where it is supposed to end. A movie critic – as I’ve always understood the job title – is not  supposed to then criticize the audience for not responding to a movie in the manner the critic(s) felt appropriate. A critic should not step in to point fingers or assign blame to those within the studio system they think failed to sell the movie properly.  In my opinion, critics should not be wrapped up in the marketing or box office processes at all; a critic should only be concerned with his/her primary task: assessing the work of art and conveying that assessment to the listening audience. This has always been the relationship between a critic and his/her audience – and frankly, it’s a relationship that has worked well.

critics ebert smithey white Why Do Critics Care If Audiences Hate The Movies They Like?

The problem today, as I’ve stated, is that the line between what constitutes a movie critic and what constitutes a movie blogger is too blurred – or perhaps the old role of the critic is simply evolving into something new. I don’t think anybody really knows for sure where the line is drawn anymore…

Head over to a site like Rotten Tomatoes and you’d get the impression that the movie critic community has quadrupled in the last five years. Why? Because today more people are able to “publish” their opinion about a movie online, and if they do that at least fifty times a year, it qualifies them for a state critics association, which therefore qualifies them as critics,  according to Rotten Tomatoes‘ standards. Many of these same “new critics” also run movie blogs, which extends their opinion well beyond the vacuum of criticism, to a point where they are continuously engaging with and reacting to the same movies they must eventually criticize. It’s a fine line to walk, as we at Screen Rant know: we too have maintain the critic/blogger balance every day.

Head over to Metacritic and you’ll find the standards for movie criticism to be vastly different:  only the boys and girls writing for the big trade publications (traditional homes of the  “professional critics”) are to be found. You won’t see many of those “professional critics” letting their passions flare all over the Web, or writing piece after piece dissecting the performance of a movie they reviewed. Even Armond White, who wrote scathing reviews of popular movies like Toy Story 3 and Inception (and received much flack for doing so), isn’t on his blog page throwing a fit becaus those movie were ultimately box office successes that many people enjoyed. It would seem Metacritic has a very different definition of what a professional movie critic is, and those perceived as “bloggers” don’t yet fit the bill – perhaps because of the very same issues I’m addressing here.

Why do I care about any of this? I care because despite the obvious point that I am part of  this sphere of professional movie bloggers, I do still have a certain respect for the old-school pedigree of professional critics. I’ll probably read Roger Ebert‘s work until the man has no more to offer (won’t always agree with him, but I’ll read); I also happen to value traditional professional criticism for what it is: an educated, experienced and insightful opinion which should be engaged. Not necessarily agreed with, simply engaged, as has been the tradition up until now. If blogger-critics (“blitics?” “croggers?”) continue a trend of taking swipes at the moviegoers they claim to serve it’s the business of criticism which will ultimately suffer, as people are driven away from what they perceive to be “bullies” rather than “critics.” I’m pretty sure nobody really wants that.

professional movie bloggers Why Do Critics Care If Audiences Hate The Movies They Like?

Some of the big names in the movie blogosphere (plus Edgar Wright, director of 'Scott Pilgrim vs the World').

If the sort of passions we’ve seen flare over this Scott Pilgrim issue are left to rage unchecked, the image that is created for the blogger-critic community  is  that of a pointy-eared geek stuck on his laptop, “geekgasming” over everything he thinks is great to an almost fetishistic degree. And, personally speaking, I’d rather not have people know that I’m like that in real life icon wink Why Do Critics Care If Audiences Hate The Movies They Like? .  As one of the people trying to find his way on the path that runs between movie blogger and professional critic, I want people to trust in my opinion – to trust that I am person worthy of carrying on the next generation of movie criticism. I’m sure that most movie bloggers who do this for a living would agree with that sentiment – the trick is, actually earning that trust while staying true to the very thing that got us doing this in the first place: great movies and memorable experiences inspired by cinema.

It’s great to have passion about something and it’s great to want something you love to be the best that it can be – but a good critic always keeps sight of where their opinion should end. Something that us bloggers might want to consider.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is in theaters now. Check out our official Scott Pilgrim review to see what we thought of it.

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TAGS: eat pray love, scott pilgrim, the expendables

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  1. Paul to be fair and honest I’m not really a Robin Hood fan I’ve found some Robin hood stuff to be ok but none it struck me as good just never enjoyed the story. Personally I hate the concept of celebrating a worthless thief as a hero no matter the circumstances. He shoots arrows at people and takes their money from them. Yea they are terrible people but it doesn’t make it right and I always hated the exteame liberal agenda that the story pushes. I can’t say the other Robin hood things are bad I just don’t like them personally for the message it sends.

    As far as Brooks goes I live Men in Tights I honestly prefer it to Blazing Sadles. Blazing is very funny and I love it but that damn farting camp fire scene hurts the entire film from me. With out it the film might be my face Brooks film but that fart scene just ruins it for me. It’s tasteless crude humor that I not only find unfunny but a waste of film. I still love the film just not as much as I would with out that part.

    I think History of the world is my gave Brooks film.

    History OTW P1
    Men In Tights
    Young Frankenstein
    Blazing Sadels
    The Producers

    top 5

    • WHAATTTTTTT no Spaceballs for you daniel? shame shame sir!! :)

    • I think you miss the point of the Robin Hood legend but that is a discussion best left for another thread. Nah screw it; we can discuss it here.

      While I see what you’re saying about celebrating a thief as a hero I think you have to look at the story behind the films. To me, the story of Robin Hood is more about the concept of standing up to an oppressive form of government (who IMHO is the real thief) and standing up for what is right and for those who can not stand up for themselves when no one else will. I don’t want to get into politics but I’ve never thought of Robin Hood as having a liberal agenda – and I’m a conservative. Most Robin Hood films (until this last one) have been focused more on the swashbuckling aspect of the film than any social or political agenda from what I can see but to each his own I suppose.

      As for Brooks – I agree with ya! After the first couple its hard to rank the rest, although I’d would let Young Frankenstein and Space Balls tie for #2. Writers and filmmakers don’t know how to make a parody movie anymore the way Brooks made them and that is a sad thing indeed. The farting scene in Blazing Saddles would be considered high-brow humor by some of today’s standards. 

  2. Anthony I never said I hate spaceballs it’s just not my top 5 is all. I don’t hate any thing Mel Brooks and after you pick top two it’s hard to rank the rest every thing is so great. Though Space balls is one of my least fave Brooks films I still enjoy it. As a kid it was the best but as an adult it’s not so great. It’s far more kiddy and cartoony than his other work. I still liked though Brooks doesn’t make bad movies not ones I’ve seen at least.

    • I’d just like to say I hate Spaceballs, awful, awful stuff. Love Men In Tights though (the film, not dudes in suspenders).

  3. Come on Paul while we have some pretty low brow stuff these days even these films don’t resort to two and a half minutes of nothing but farting even Kevin Smith doesn’t do that. Also to be fair fart humor is like the bottom of the crude fir me i know it’s weird but I prefer actual poo humor over fart jokes ugh. Esoecialy reapeated farting over and over. It’s just the lowest of low fir me.

    I do like a fair amount of low briw I enjoy sex jokes and genetalis jokes but fart jokes and most poo jokes just piss me off I can’t stand them. What really got me was that it was so out of place it just wasn’t something I can see Mel Brooks doing and it didn’t fit in with the great humor in the rest of the film.

    As far as Robin hood goes like I said I understand the situation surrounding him and I get the standing up to bad leadership but I don’t see any thing great or heroic in Robins action it’s not the respectable way to handle it and I can’t respect the character.

    For me the robbing from the rich and giving to the poor is a very liberal push hell it’s basically the liberal tax plan. In Robin they try to defend it by making all the rich people super evil but it doesn’t really apply. I know most movies don’t focus on it to much but it’s still there and it was built in to the concept. There is just no way I can view Tobin as a good guy or a character I could care about. Like you said to each his own.

  4. lol, i know you never sais you hated it, just was surprised it wasnt on your list, its such a classic :)

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