“Critics are men who watch a battle from a high place then come down and shoot the survivors.”
Ernest Hemingway, never one to mince words, had no hesitation in letting the world know what he thought of his critics – but critics aren’t always the harshest audience.
Many moviegoers – and movie makers – complain about the harshness of critics, and viewer scores can often be a lot more forgiving than the critical evaluation (as we recently covered in our list of 19 Hugely Divisive Movies that Pit Fans vs. Critics). But critics aren’t always the negative ones. Sometimes critics love a movie that audiences hate.
Pulling review data from Rotten Tomatoes, we crunched the numbers to see what movies had the largest critic/audience gulf on the Tomatometer. Here are 23 Movies Critics and Audiences Can’t Agree On.
23. School of Rock (2003)
Dewey Finn (Jack Black) is washed up, unemployed, and out of the band. Needing to land a respectable job to avoid getting kicked out of his apartment, too, Dewey poses as his roommate, Ned (Mike White), to snag a position as a substitute teacher for an elite stuffy prep-school. When it comes time to actually impart knowledge to his young students, Dewey resorts to teaching the only thing he’s ever known: rock and roll.
School of Rock was met with exuberant praise from critics, with many citing it as one of the best comedies to have come along in years. The combination of Jack Black’s energetic performance and classic rock and roll soundtrack gave the movie an up-beat cross-generational appeal reviewers couldn’t get enough of.
The positive sentiment is not reciprocated by all viewers, though. Many of the lowest scoring reviews found the movie overrated, redundant, and cliche. Black’s energy is a major contention as well, with many of the most negative reviews specifically citing his “dancing monkey” act as the main problem for the movie.
When it comes down to it, the break between audience and critics seems to occur over whether or not School of Rock is actually a funny movie. Since much of the comedy rests on the shoulders of Jack Black and his zainy antics – which are much more appreciated by critics – it looks like the split comes down to viewers holding little love for Tenacious D’s front man.
22. Yella (2008)
When Yella Fichte (Nina Hoss) flees her abusive husband and her hometown in East Germany for a better opportunity in in the West, she finds herself wrapped up in a new job working in the world of big business for a slick executive, Phillip (Devid Striesow). Although the change of scenery and new employment got her away from her old life, Yella begins to learn she can’t outrun her past.
Critics praised Yella for its efficient directing, which they referred to as “crisp” and “perfectly balanced.” Writer/Director Christian Petzold deftly assembled a cogent, yet emotive thriller, supplemented by a highly praised performance from Nina Hoss.
Audiences weren’t nearly so impressed with Yella, with the more negative reviews knocking the film for being too ”predictable,” “messy,” “weird,” and “confusing.” Most of all, the open ended ending that was praised by many critics seems to have struck viewers as a “cop-out,” denying audiences the more definitive resolution they craved.
The difference in score may be heavily influenced by the fact that most Rotten Tomatoes reviews are from American audiences, and some reviewers even warned that Yella “might bore American audiences.” Citing cultural differences as the sole reason for poor audience reception might be dismissive of potentially fundamental issues with Yella, but it wouldn’t be the first time that a movie lacked appeal to cultures outside of its target audience.
21. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)
When Werner Herzog takes his high-art movie making style to traditional B-movie fare, the result is Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. The story follows thoroughly corrupted New Orleans Police Lieutenant Terence McDonagh (Nicholas Cage) as he rubs shoulders with the seediest criminals of post-Katrina New Orleans and sinks further and further into depravity as he tries to dig himself out of his gambling debts.
Critics found Herzog and Cage to be the perfect match in Herzog’s art-house meets Hollywood mashup picture. While the content may have been a failure in other hands, the actor-director pairing provided a fearless commitment to pushing the production to its extreme for what most reviewers considered a brilliant effect.
Such an extreme style lost many audiences members, though. A subset of Herzog’s fanbase was upset, considering the movie to be too mainstream, but much of the general moviegoing population was just disoriented and confused. Many reviews say it was too difficult to watch, and they didn’t make it all the way through, while others say the style often resulted in unintended comedy.
Bad Lieutenant’s audience/critic divide ultimately comes down to the fact that Bad Lieutenant is packaged as a mainstream movie, but is not mainstream. Herzog doesn’t make movies with the intent to provide mass appeal, and Cage’s willingness to give 200% to any role easily divided casual viewers, while many critics fall more in line with Herzog’s intended target audience.
20. Berberian Sound Studio (2013)
Berberian Sound Studio presents the story of Gilderoy (Toby Jones) a British sound engineer that travels to Italy to produce sound effects for a grisly horror film. While the actual horror takes place mostly in his earphones, the job slowly wears him down, and begins to haunt him. Berberian Sound Studio has been described as an anti-horror movie, as the tension all comes from the audience experiencing Gilderoy’s fear as he designs audio, instead of relying on horror imagery and jump scares.
Critics lauded Berberian Sound Studio director Peter Strickland for his demonstration of restraint in creating a frightening movie that doesn’t resort to all the normal conventions of the horror genre, instead leaning on the Hitchcockian principles of implied horror and a standout performance from Toby Jones.
Audiences didn’t find the same resonance, with most reviews citing confusion over the references to classic Italian horror movies, and the the plot’s reliance on viewer knowledge of moviemaking. Too much inside baseball resulted in a lost audience that didn’t know what it was seeing (or hearing).
Berberian Sound Studio is clearly a movie made for filmmakers and film buffs. As such, many audience members looking for a typical horror thrill weren’t likely to gain any satisfaction from Peter Strickland’s picture.
19. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
In 1994, three film students travelled into the backwoods of Maryland to produce a documentary about the legendary Blair Witch, never to be seen again, only leaving a camcorder recording of their efforts. The Blair Witch Project was a new type of horror movie that made a big splash, and nearly single handedly spawned the found-footage genre.
The Blair Witch Project was well received at the Sundance Film Festival, and drew high praise from critics. Although it didn’t invent the found footage format, it was one of the first movies to prove its true effectiveness as a style. Some critics even went as far as compare the style to that of Hitchcock, since the exposition-lite story leaves the viewer to fill in the blanks.
Audiences wouldn’t heap nearly such high praises on Blair Witch. Many low scoring reviews state the film isn’t remotely scary, and considered the lack of a clear story to be a major detractor. Many also deride on the found footage genre as a whole, a genre largely kickstarted by The Blair Witch Project.
The massive rift between the critic and audience scores could be largely attributed to Blair Witch just not aging as well with audiences. Since reviews aren’t locked on Rotten Tomatoes, the years of inferior copy-cats and other found footage films have eroded the significance the movie had when it was released in 1999. In other words: you had to be there when it happened.
18. Killing Them Softly (2012)
Killing Them Softly is a crime drama from writer/director Andrew Dominik that tells the story of three not-so-wise guys who knock over a mob-protected card game. When the robbery results in the collapse of the local criminal economy, enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is brought in to re-establish order. The story is an overt parallel to the United States financial collapse of 2008, and serves as a commentary on US economic policy.
Critics thought Andrew Dominik struck a successful balance between the crime movies of Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. Killing Them Softly also drew praise for it’s beautiful cinematography and political themes, all bolstered by great performances from a brilliant cast.
The predominant viewer complaint for Killing Them Softly was that it was too slow. The slow burn build just didn’t hold audience attention, and the political message was criticized for being too heavy-handed. Like critics, audiences appreciated the great performances, but it wasn’t enough to save a movie they just found too boring.
Killing Them Softly’s main problem likely comes down to audience perception. It was marketed as a quippy crowd pleasing crime story, but ended up being a far more subtle and nuanced. Maybe more accurate marketing wouldn’t have filled as many seats, but it definitely could have established better audience expectations.
17. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is director Tim Burton’s take on the classic book about the reclusive candy maker, Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp), who randomly gives out five golden tickets for free tours of his mysterious chocolate factory.
Tim Burton brings a popping visual aesthetic to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Johnny Depp’s quirky performance had critics raving about the fresh (and accurate) adaptation of the Roald Dahl book.
Unfortunately, most audiences had trouble getting past the 1971 adaptation, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Even Gene Wilder (who previously played the role of Willy Wonka) accused Charlie of being a mere cash grab. The darker themes in Burton’s version also rubbed audiences the wrong way, despite the fact that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has one of the most nightmare inducing scenes in any movie ever.
And the end of the day, critics were ready to judge Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on its own merits, and found a lot to love with the Burton/Depp pairing, while audiences had a firmly seated nostalgia for the Willie Wonka they grew up with.
16. Hulk (2003)
Director Ang Lee took a swipe at the budding super-hero genre with the live-action adaptation of Marvel’s Incredible Hulk comics. Hulk is a superhero origins story about Dr. Bruce Banner (Eric Bana), who is exposed to excess gamma radiation during an experiment, causing him to turn into a green rage monster when he gets angry.
Critics appreciated Ang Lee’s fresh approach to the comic-book genre. Most reviews weren’t completely sold on the film as a whole, but Lee’s attempts at visual innovation and dramatic depth were enough of a departure from a genre critics considered bland to earn a lot of brownie points for effort.
Audiences weren’t so forgiving. The style and character portrayals didn’t land, and viewers didn’t care what Ang Lee was trying to do, they just knew that the attempts fell flat.
Ultimately, critics were willing to prop up Hulk as an example of the direction they wanted comic book movies to head, not because it was a successful example, but because it tried. Meanwhile, audiences actually penalized it for departing from what some considered a proven formula from other enjoyable comic book movies at the time.
15. War of the Worlds (2005)
War of the Worlds is a modern adaptation of the classic H.G. Wells alien invasion story. Director Steven Spielberg brings the invasion to modern day New England, focusing the story on a father, Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), and his kids as they try to take refuge from the extra-terrestrial invasion force.
Reviews for War of the Worlds are the Steven Spielberg show. Critics enjoyed Spielberg’s modern day retelling and the quality of the special effects. Reviewers were excited by the high stakes tension maintained throughout the film, considering the whole thing an enjoyably wild ride.
The characters in War of the Worlds proved to be a major drag for most audiences. The family drama made Ray and his kids generally unlikable, which eroded any concern over their potential fate. A questionable conclusion didn’t help redeem the story, so most viewers considered War of the Worlds to be an incredibly boring film.
At the end of the day, reviews weren’t necessarily raving about the overall quality of the film, but the combined prestige of the names Spielberg, Wells, and Cruise were enough to give critics the benefit of the doubt, garnering more positive reviews.
14. The Bay (2012)
The Bay is a documentary style found footage movie about a catastrophic environmental disaster. The footage – compiled from smartphone recordings, video chats, and recorded 911 calls – features the massive death toll to both wildlife and humans, as well as a governmental cover up.
Critics praised director Barry Levinson’s use of the found footage, claiming his use of the style served to elevate the genre. Reviewer’s were also quick to reward Levinson for his construction of an eco-horror story, intended to serve as a cautionary environmental scare.
Audiences, having tired of the found footage genre, see it as an overdone gimmick, regardless of quality. Negative audience reviews of The Bay say it was bogged down by format, and the actual potentially scary elements were overshadowed by heavy handed eco-messaging.
The cause of the critic/audience split on this one is critics willingness to give Levinson the benefit of the doubt due to their appreciation of what he brings to the genre and his use of an environmental conscience. Meanwhile, audiences wanted the full package and were left wanting.
13. King Kong (2005)
After wrapping up his tenure on The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson took a swing at the cinematic classic King Kong. Jackson’s take on the story follows Carl Denham (Jack Black), a Depression-era filmmaker who sets out to follow an ancient map to Skull Island, where he would find Kong, King of the Apes.
King Kong was a visual masterpiece that critics praised as a great popcorn flick with a dash of every genre thrown in. Peter Jackson approaches King Kong as a nostalgic love affair with cinema and doesn’t hold back, producing a three hour spectacle most critical reviews found to be a thrilling retelling of the 1933 classic.
Unfortunately for King Kong, if there’s two things audiences hate, it’s long movies and Jack Black. Many negative reviews complain about how long the movie is, but even more complain about Jack Black. While his performance in King Kong is more dramatic than the wild roles that earned him his reputation as a clown, audiences were unable to take him seriously.
12. Coriolanus (2011)
Ralph Fiennes directorial debut is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, set in modern day, but maintaining the original Shakespearean text. Caius Martius ‘Coriolanus’ (Ralph Fiennes) is a Roman General who – upon his banishment from Rome – allies himself with Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), a former enemy, in an attempt to avenge his shame.
Foregoing any criticisms of what’s widely considered one of Shakespeare’s lesser productions, critics praise Fiennes for his adaptation to modern contexts, comparing the production (whose dialogue is unaltered from Shakespeare’s original writing) to poetry.
Like most non-English majors that have tried to read Shakespeare, audiences can’t get past the dialogue. The English made the plot difficult to follow, and unlike the critics, audiences weren’t about to forgive the screenplay just because it was written by a guy named Shakespeare.
Whether or not critics like to be pretentious and elitist (like some audience reviews for Coriolanus claim), or Shakespeare just lost any automatic credibility with audiences, Ralph Fienne’s directorial debut failed to register with casual viewers on anything more than a visual level.
11. We Are What We Are (2013)
The Parker family has always lived a secluded life, following a closely guarded family tradition. When the relentless downpour of a storm cause a shift in family responsibilities, local police begin to suspect the Parker family’s reclusive behavior to be far more devious than previously believed.
A dash of hardcore gore, a dash of art-house cinema, and a restrained slow burn made for a critical hit. Critics found the drama successful enough to justify the gore, and the steady build of the story added to an air of creepiness that made We Are What We Are a memorable horror movie.
Like most critically acclaimed slow burns, audiences found We Are What We Are incredibly boring and confusing. The more artsy elements of it also lended to audiences confusion, with many reviews saying the plot didn’t follow. On top of that, the Parker family is weird and gross, which people apparently don’t like.
Why the difference in evaluation? Horror movies aren’t always well received by critics unless they do something to elevate themselves above the fray. We Are What We Are was able to do this in a way that caught the eye of critics, but lost most of the standard horror elements casual audiences are looking for in a scary movie.
10. The Informant!
Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), seeking praise as a hero, decides to blow the whistle on his employer over the practice of price fixing. The FBI is initially excited to have such a willing informant on their hands, only to have their hopes melt as concerns rise over Whitacre’s credibility as a witness. His story constantly changes, and his own involvement in the price fixing taints his credibility as it becomes clear he’s only participating for selfish, underhanded motives.
A brilliant performance by Damon carries The Informant! across the finish line, despite a divided opinion on the rest of the film. Soderbergh drew compliments for nailing the quirky tone (with big thanks to Matt Damon), but not all of the director’s decisions payed off, leaving critics to merely compliment him for the effort.
Soderbergh doesn’t find nearly as much leniency in the audience reviews. Most viewers see his style as a little too “out there,” and the tone he established didn’t quite match the subject matter. Matt Damon’s presence set an audience expectation for an outright comedy, leaving the quirky, off-beat, and ironic tone as a disappointment.
The Informant! finds its split between critics and audiences in expectations. The film was marketed and packaged very much like a quirky comedy, but it contained a far more complex story and character motivations. Meanwhile, critics were happy enough to see Soderbergh experiment with the tone, and were thrilled with Matt Damon’s execution.
9. The Witch (2016)
In Robert Eggers’s directorial debut, a 1630 New England puritan family builds a new farm near the outskirts of a dark forest. When the children start speaking to goats and items go missing, accusations of witchcraft are quick to fly. When their newborn son vanishes and crops begin to die, the accusations increase and the family begins to turn on each other.
Critics found The Witch to be a visually stunning and thought-provoking slow burn horror movie. Many said the fresh approach resulted in a creepy movie that sticks with you after the credits role. The approach was praised for being more than mindless horror, with many claims that The Witch elevates the horror genre.
Audiences complained about too much dialogue for a horror movie. The slow build story was too boring for many viewers, and the story was too loose to follow. Additional protests over difficult to understand dialogue made for a scary movie many viewers thought was more likely to make them yawn than scream.
The significant divide on The Witch appears to stem from the critics being able to better follow the story, since many viewers specifically called out the hard-to-understand dialogue. Considering this wasn’t a point of contention among critics, they must have either understood the dialogue better, or had better comprehension of other visual cues.
8. C.O.G. (2013)
C.O.G. adapts a short story from writer David Sedaris’s collection, Naked. C.O.G. is a fish out of water story about a young Yale graduate who travels to Oregon to live off the grid and work on an apple farm. Clearly out of his element, Samuel (Jonathan Groff) learns to get along in an environment that is completely alien to his upbringing and worldview.
Critical response to C.O.G. was fairly lukewarm, but Rotten Tomatoes rewards consistency more than quality, and C.O.G. got consistently average reviews. Despite a meandering plot, critics complimented a great aesthetic and a successful utilization of dark comedy.
Audiences were far more negative of C.O.G.. Some David Sedaris fans didn’t mind the script, but didn’t think the movie gave Sedaris’s work its due, while others found the script too slow and meandering to be an engaging movie.
7. About a Boy (2002)
Will Freeman (Hugh Grant) is a 36-year-old man-child that dates single mothers as a means of avoiding commitment. His attachment free plan meets a snag when he meets Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), the socially awkward 12-year-old child of his most recent pursuit. The two become fast friends, with Will teaching Marcus how to be a cool kid, and Marcus teaching Will how to grow up.
Hugh Grant’s boyish charms drew positive reviews from, critics, although the 94% score may slightly overstate the 7.7/10 critical score, it does show that the About a Boy had few critical detractors. The movie’s feel good comedy was a winner for many a reviewer.
Hugh Grant’s boyish charms did not win over audiences. In fact, audiences seem to dislike Hugh Grant just as much as Jack Black. Without any sympathy in the lead role, audiences found About a Boy boring, unoriginal, and cliche. Quite a few negative reviews also cite a dislike of dry British humor.
The difference in this case seems to pretty clearly come down to Hugh Grant. Whether this audience hatred comes from his past roles, or his off camera personality, his presence certainly soured the viewing experience for many.
6. Haywire (2012)
Steven Soderbergh introduces MMA fighter Gina Carano in her first acting role as Mallory Kane, an advanced operative who is set up by her employer, Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) during a hostage recovery mission. Now on the run, she needs to stay alive long enough to uncover the conspiracy that calls for her death.
Gina Carano didn’t stun critics with her acting chops, but the high octane action she brought to the screen and the all star cast Soderbergh surrounds her with more than made up for it in most reviews. Haywire is in no way a trailblazer, but Soderbergh works to his available strengths, delivering a solid action thriller that checked all the boxes for most critics.
Audiences weren’t nearly so forgiving. Many complain about Carano’s wooden acting, but other complaints range from a simplistic plot to bland music. With a well saturated action thriller market, many viewers demand more from the genre, and Haywire was just more of the same.
Like the other Soderbergh movie on this list (The Informant!), critics are willing to give Soderbergh brownie points for his effort to provide something new with Haywire, but audiences aren’t as into consolation prizes.
5. Mr. Turner
Mr. Turner is a biopic that chronicles the last quarter century of the life of the British Painter J.M.W. Turner (Timothy Spall) as he travels, drinks, and paints his way across England.
Critics found Mr. Turner to be a beautifully shot film anchored by a brilliant performance from Spall. It was fairly light on plot, but the story focused mostly on Turner’s character, which was the highlight of the film.
Audiences were utterly bored by the lack of story and lost by the thick accents (a trend in audience reviews). Spall’s performance is heavily complimented by viewers, but the character he portrayed was so unlikeable that it gave the whole movie an air of pretentiousness.
Mr. Turner is far from a crowd pleaser. With a story that focuses on an artist that is relatively obscure to mainstream audiences, there was never much to be found in Mr. Turner for anyone other than art aficionados and art-house film fans.
4. Antz (1998)
A lowly worker ant, Z (Woody Allen), desires a means to elevate himself in the mindless colony of ants in which he was raised. Since ant society prioritizes the good of the colony over the well-being over any single individual, Z must mount a revolution against the totalitarian hierarchy that rules him and his fellow ants.
Antz was fairly early to the modern age of CGI animated family movies, and critics were impressed. With a fresh (at the time) style and an A-list cast of voices, critics praised Antz for its comedy and mass appeal.
Unfortunately for Antz, A Bug’s Life hit theaters barely more than a month later. While critical opinions were already in the bag, Antz is set to suffer a lifetime of audience comparisons to a classic Pixar movie.
3. Spy Kids (2001)
When Robert Rodriguez takes a break from hard R action films to direct a childrens’ movie, the result is Spy Kids. The world’s greatest super spies Gregorio (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid (Carla Gugino) are captured during a mission, and it’s up to their kids, Carmen (Alexa PenaVega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara) to save the day.
Critics lauded Spy Kids for it’s commitment to family fun without taking itself too seriously. Robert Rodriguez assembled an all-star cast of adults to supplement the children actors, and the movie had enough nods to classic spy films to entertain adults as well as children.
Audiences mostly consider Spy Kids childish nonsense, desiring something more along the lines of Rodriguez’ normal fare, such as the Machete movies – which are ironically spun off from Danny Trejo’s character in Spy Kids. Many reviews specifically call out irritating performances from the child leads and more bizarre and cartoonish plot elements as major detractors.
At the end of the day, Spy Kids is a kids movie. Most critics seem to have reviewed it in that context, whereas many audience reviews are comparing it to more mature properties, and many are direct reactions to the film’s 93% on the Tomatometer.
2. Sharknado (2013)
When a frenzy of flesh eating sharks encounters a mega tornado off the coast of California, Los Angeles is in for a dangerous day. Sharknado is another B-movie mashup from The Asylum, the same studio that brought you the likes of Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus and Mega Python vs. Gatoroid.
Sharknado’s blatant terribleness got praise from critics who loved the movie’s unabashed so-bad-it’s-good approach. Despite very few positive things to say about the film, critics award Sharknado for the fact that it knows it’s bad and doesn’t care.
Audience reviews for Sharknado read incredibly similarly to critical reviews, but the big difference is that audiences still give the movie low marks. The audience review section is full of 1 star reviews that read “this movie is absolutely hilarious.”
This difference in scores for Sharknado is an interesting one, because critics and fans seem to have a fairly similar opinion of the movie at the end of the day. The difference here comes mostly from a difference in ratings scales, where critics give points for entertainment value, but viewers – despite being entertained – rated the movie based on its objective merits.
1. Willow Creek (2014)
Willow Creek is the found footage tale of a bigfoot enthusiast, Jim (Bryce Johnson), who drags his girlfriend, Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), into Six Rivers National Forest in Northern California with the intent of capturing live footage of the Sasquatch. She doesn’t think Bigfoot is real, but both are in for a surprise once they get to their destination.
Although Willow Creek doesn’t do anything special for the found footage genre, critics appreciated the chemistry between the two leads, and enjoyed a few moments of humor sprinkled in. Director Bobcat Goldthwait also draws praise for his use of restraint and reliance on implied horror instead of resorting to explicit gore and jump scares.
As with most found footage movies, audiences didn’t see Willow Creek as much more than a Blair Witch Project knock-off. The slow plot proved to be too slow, and many reviews also complain about the dialogue between the leads lacking the chemistry that critics praised.
How about you? Do you generally agree with the audience, or the critics? What do you think causes divides between critics and audiences? Let us hear about it in the comments!