“Readers, not critics, are the people who determine a book's eventual fate.”
Edward Abbey hit the nail on the head when he drew a clear line between consumers and critics. Reviews may be an important indicator of quality, but attracting an audience is usually the end goal. This is a hot button issue recently with Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. There is a huge divide between the audience rating and the critical rating, drawing much ire from fans, even prompting some (unfounded) accusations of bribery.
This phenomenon, however, is not isolated to Batman V Superman. Although the polarizing superhero showdown might be the most high profile example, audiences and critics have long disagreed on some films, often finding even more disagreement than they have over BvS. When looking at Rotten Tomatoes, there are over a hundred movies where audiences and critics diverge by more than 40 percentage points.
Some of this differential could be due to the fact that audiences are generally less harsh when they like a movie, but there are often cases of niche entertainment that just doesn't register with critics on the same level as it does with certain viewers. Whatever the reason, fans and critics often find themselves at odds.
Using Rotten Tomatoes as a statistical guide, here are the 19 Most Divisive Films that Pit Fans vs. Critics.
19 Blended (2014)
Lauren (Drew Barrymore) and Jim (Adam Sandler) are both single parents. After they're set up on a blind date from hell, they come to the conclusion that they should stay as far away from each other as possible. Shockingly (or not), they wind up registering their families for the exact same African vacation package, and are conveniently (or not) forced to share the same suite for the entire week.
Unsurprisingly, most critics didn’t fawn over what they considered another regurgitated Adam Sandler movie. Par for the course with his films, they found it boring, unfunny, uncreative, offensive, and overly sappy.
Audiences weren’t on the same page. It’d be a stretch to say it got glowing reviews from them, but the movie's family themes resonated with some viewers, and Sandler’s target audience definitely appreciated some of the gross out humor a lot more than the typical reviewer.
18 Law Abiding Citizen (2009)
When District Attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) strikes a plea deal that results in the release of the criminals that murdered Clyde Shelton's (Gerard Butler) family, Shelton decides to take the law into his own hands. The government won’t dole out the punishment he thinks the killers deserve, so he sets out to get vengeance on everyone involved, including DA Nick Rice.
Law Abiding Citizen is, naturally, a violent movie, and critics didn’t respond well to the brutality. Clyde Shelton’s actions are referred to as terrorism by several critics, and many see the film as “implausible” and “sadistic.” Critics aren’t always opposed to gruesome violence, but the justification (or lack of) for the events of Law Abiding Citizen earned it a big thumbs down.
The average viewer isn’t quite so down on the violence, though. Law Abiding Citizen scored way higher with audiences, who were much more accepting of the themes of revenge. For those who weren't offended by the vigilante savagery, the movie held a lot more entertainment value as a formulaic, but high-octane thriller.
17 Man on Fire (2004)
In Man on Fire (directed by Tony Scott), John Creasy (Denzel Washington) is a burned-out and washed up former CIA agent who has given up on life. Creasy's friend, Rayburn (Christopher Walken), lands him a laid back job in Mexico City acting as bodyguard to Pita Ramos (Dakota Fanning), the daughter of a millionaire industrialist. The grizzled Creasy slowly begins to grow attached to Pita so that when she’s abducted, it triggers a brutal manhunt in which Creasy tears through heaven and hell, turning Mexico City inside out to get her back.
This is another movie that was far too violent for many critics. Creasy’s ferocious and heavily stylized path of destruction was not well received. The film was pegged as “distasteful,” “sadistic,” and “hyperthyroidal,” and critics admonished Tony Scott for a style over substance approach.
Audiences, however, once again enjoy the gruesome and stylized revenge flick. Many did find it to be a fairly iterative thriller, but Tony Scott’s over-the-top stylization helps it stand out from the herd of generic revenge flicks.
16 The Best of Me (2014)
The Best of Me - the least polarizing of the several Nicholas Sparks-esque movies on this list - is the story of high school sweethearts Dawson (James Marsden) and Amanda (Michelle Monaghan) reuniting after two decades. Their relationship didn’t work the first time, and not much has changed.
Formulaic, melodramatic, and predictable. Critics weren’t a fan of this one. Most reviewers didn’t find much chemistry between Marsden and Monaghan, and considered the plot to be half-baked. No amount of sappy romance could redeem this film in critics eyes.
Nicholas Sparks has a target audience, and that audience doesn’t care about cliches or contrived romance. Audience reviews for The Best of Me are significantly more positive, with viewers saying “Nicholas Sparks is formulaic and predictable. And I don't care. I just. Do not. Care.” and “pass the tissues!”
15 Patch Adams (1998)
Based on a true story, Robin Williams plays Dr. Patch Adams, the lovable misfit medical student who goes against the grain, redefining what it means to have good bedside manner.
Critics found Patch Adams to be overdone, and Williams’s performance failed to carry the film, even weighing the movie down at times. Most reviewers thought the entire movie felt contrived and forced, with Robin Williams only providing an exclamation point to that sentiment with his over the top antics.
Audiences love Robin Williams. So much so, that they completely overlook (or forgive) the same errors harped on by critics. The emotional elements of Patch Adams resonated far more with most viewers, with some even citing it as one of the most memorable performances of the late great Robin Williams.
14 Son of God (2014)
Son of God tells the full life and death story of Jesus Christ, using a combination of footage from the History Channel miniseries, The Bible, along with new original footage.
Most critics were fairly bland on Son of God, considering it a safe, bland by-the-(good)-book adaptation of the Jesus story. For a story that has been told and retold many times, Son of God didn’t bring anything to the table that wasn’t accomplished with any of the previous tellings.
Son of God’s religious target audience, however, appreciated the combination of high production quality and its fidelity to the story as told in the Bible - a combination not always found in modern Biblical epics.
13 The Benchwarmers (2006)
In this Adam Sandler-produced comedy, Gus (Rob Schneider), Richie (David Spade), and Clark (Jon Heder) form a 3 person baseball team to take on the mean neighborhood kids.
Unsurprisingly, critics found The Benchwarmers stupid. A quick glance at the cast and crew will reveal that this is about as far from Oscar-bait as one can get, and the reviews reflect that, citing phoned in performances with gross out gags. Many critics even joked in their reviews about how happy they were when the credits rolled
Audiences also found The Benchwarmers to be incredibly stupid, but fans would put it in the so-stupid-it’s-funny category. Adam Sandler comedies have always been polarizing, but a loyal fanbase that appreciates his style of humor helps ensure his brand of comedy sticks around.
12 Safe Haven (2013)
Another Nicholas Sparks film, Safe Haven tells the story of Katie (Julianne Hough), a young woman with a dark secret in her past, moving to Southport, North Carolina, where she falls in love with a widower, Alex (Josh Duhamel). Unfortunately, a new town and a new lover don’t help her escape the shadows of her past.
Predictable, sappy, and completely dull, critics were completely down on Safe Haven. Melodramatic romantic mush aside, the movie sports multiple elaborate plot twists that reviewers found mind numbingly lame and contrived.
Again, the Nicholas Sparks crowd, like the Adam Sandler crowd, doesn’t care much for what critics think. Anyone that watched this movie looking for a story book sappy romance got exactly what they wanted.
11 I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2013)
Chuck Levine (Adam Sandler) and Larry Valentine (Kevin James) are getting married. Larry wants to ensure that his children can be named as sole beneficiaries of his estate, and exploiting gay marriage is apparently the only way to accomplish this. The only hitch is that not everyone believes them, forcing the hetero couple to fake a romance long enough for their plan to come to fruition.
Nothing spells critical flop like Dennis Dugan, Adam Sandler, and Kevin James. Not only did critics find Chuck and Larry incredibly offensive, due to the flippant nature of the subject matter, but they also found it to be offensively unfunny.
Audiences gave Chuck and Larry far better scores, although most of them account to a mere “eh, it was ok,” with very little high praise directed in the movie’s direction. Adam Sandler fans definitely give the movie a mild rating boost, but you won’t find it at the top of anyone’s list of favorite comedies.
10 John Q (2002)
John Q. Archibald (Denzel Washington) runs into trouble when he finds out his insurance won’t cover his son’s emergency heart transplant. Instead of simply cooking meth, like most people without insurance, John holds the hospital staff hostage until his son gets the procedure he needs.
As with most vigilante revenge flicks, critics pretty soundly denounced the message of John Q. as terrorism and criticized it for its fairly simplistic social message. The reviews could also be a product of their time, though, considering critics were much more accepting of the actions of Walter White a decade later.
Audiences didn’t have the same hang-ups as the critics, perpetuating the theme that normal viewers will justify many violent acts committed on screen if it’s done in the name of family, justice, or both. Audiences loved the themes, and also reacted very well to Denzel’s performance as John Q.
9 When the Game Stands Tall (2014)
When the Game Stands Tall, inspired by a true story, chronicles high school football coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) and his De La Salle Spartans as they fall from their record-breaking win streak of 151 games.
In a world of iterative feel good sports movies, critics didn’t think any of When the Game Stands Tall stood out against the competition. It didn’t bring anything new to the table, and its bland execution of cliche feel-good scenes didn’t win the hearts of any critics.
If there’s one thing audiences love, though, it’s cliche feel-good stories. Audiences (specifically religious audiences) really found resonance with the family values and morality eschewed in When the Game Stands Tall. Some still found it a little cheesy, but considered the sports scenes exciting and top-notch.
8 P.S. I Love You ( 2007)
When Gerry (Gerard Butler) unexpectedly passes away, he leaves his grieving wife, Holly (Hillary Swank), a series of messages and mini-adventures to help her cope with loss and move on.
P.S. I Love You left critics divided over what appeared to be a tonal schism between heartfelt drama and a sappy romantic comedy. Maybe P.S. I Love You wanted to be both, but just failed to execute. Accounting for that failure, most critics point fingers at Swank, saying the movie puts too much on her shoulders, and she ultimately fails to carry the plot.
P.S. I Love You may not be a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, but that didn’t stop audiences from swooning. The tonal issues and acting failures have no impact on most viewers, who consider it an emotional heartbreaking tearjerker.
7 Underworld: Evolution (2006)
Vampires and werewolves (or Lycans, as they're called here) have been enemies for centuries. In this Underworld sequel, a vampire, Selene (KateBeckinsale), and a Lycan, Michael (Scott Speedman), find themselves caught in the middle of a quickly escalating war.
Critics labelled Underworld: Evolution as overly-complicated, convoluted, and altogether unenticing. Some did find mild compliments for the visual decisions, action choreography, or world-building, but many reviewers confessed that Underworld required a taste that most hadn’t acquired.
That acquired taste seems to have been far more prevalent in audiences. While there are still a few complaints about plot and story structure, Underworld: Evolution’s target audience raved about the film, and considered it an excellent sequel.
6 Atlas Shrugged: Part I and II (2011/2012)
Critics: 10% (Part I), 4% (Part 2)
Audience: 69% (Part I), 61% (Part 2)
Differential: 59% (Part I), 57% (Part 2)
Atlas Shrugged Part I and II are the first of 3 instalments in an adaptation of Ayn Rand’s famed objectivist novel of the same name. The story centers around several industrialists who abandon their companies due to their inability to properly function under strict Governmental controls.
Cheap, boring, and passionless, critics piled on Atlas Shrugged from all directions. Many confessed to having strong disagreements with the subject matter, but the movies didn’t do much to help the perception. Wooden acting, sloppy editing, and an all around disagreeable experience left critics with little to like in either film.
Like any ideologically-oriented endeavour, audiences were far more forgiving of Atlas Shrugged than the critics. Many fans confessed that they loved the movie simply for the fact that it aligned with their worldview, dismissing the importance of most filmmaking elements being judged by critics.
5 The Identical (2014)
The Identical is a story about twin brothers (both portrayed by Blake Rayne) who are separated at birth. Set during the great depression, both boys independently pursue music, eventually leading to their lives intersecting once more.
Some critics urged audiences to see The Identical, but only so they could see how bad it is. Striking the rare note of unintended comedy, The Identical failed on nearly every critical metric so badly that critics said it was a trainwreck that everyone must see.
Audiences reviews are far more positive, citing a resonance with the music and the message, but considering that the Twitter page for The Identical held a promotion for the express purpose of encouraging viewers to give the film high marks on Rotten Tomatoes, those reviews are obviously all suspect.
4 Little Boy (2015)
When Pepper Flynt Busbee's (Jakob Salvati) father enlists in the Army during World War II, Pepper makes it his number one goal to find a way to bring his father back.
Little Boy is another polarizing faith based film, so many critics failed to connect with the religious elements, citing a heavy handed story and over emphasized moral lessons as the main drags in an otherwise well-intentioned movie.
Audiences once again are quick to defend Little Boy, particularly those that appreciated the religious elements. Finding the message and moral lessons far more agreeable, general viewers give Little Boy high praise as an emotional tear-jerking family film.
3 The Life of David Gale (2003)
David Gale (Kevin Spacey), a former philosophy professor and anti-capital punishment activist, is on Death Row. An intrepid reporter, Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet), is interviewing him for a story when she decides that his description of events don’t add up. Gale is scheduled for the lethal injection, so Bitsey is running out of time to prove his innocence.
Critics found The Life of David Gale incredibly boring and contrived, many saying they felt bad for all the actors involved. The movie got consistently low scores due to the cheaply concocted plot, and offensively simplistic “twist” ending.
Audiences loved The Life of David Gale. They are mostly less critical of the plot than the critics - and everyone loves Kevin Spacey. The film's ideology also seems to get a strong response from many, possibly leading viewers to be overall more forgiving of the sins cited by critics.
2 Grandma’s Boy (2006)
Alex (Allen Covert) is 35-years-old, and works as a video-game tester. But when his roommate blows all of his money on hookers, Alex has to find a new place to live, eventually moving in with his grandma.
Grandma’s Boy is completely stuffed with shock value gross-out humor and drug and alcohol references, and critics did not appreciate it one bit. They found the movie to be over-the-top in all the wrong ways, basically concluding that “you’d need to be high to enjoy this movie."
Luckily, the film’s target audience was only too willing to be under the influence, and enjoyed the movie very much. Most positive audience reviews say that Grandma’s Boy knows exactly what kind of movie it is, a stoner comedy, and it succeeds because it doesn’t even attempt to be anything else.
1 Boondock Saints (1999)
Irish brothers Conner and Murphy MacManus (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus) take it upon themselves to institute vigilante justice on the city of Boston, earning the title of “saints,” and catching the attention of eccentric FBI agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe).
Critics found little to like in Boondock Saints, calling it a morally bleak Tarantino rip-off, saying it essentially supports terrorism, and altogether rejected the films message. Basically par for the course when it comes to critics and movies about vigilante justice.
Audiences take a slightly more nuanced view of Boondock Saints, also seeing the Tarantino inspiration, but considering it more of an over-the-top satirization of Tarantino violence. Whether or not that’s the intention of the filmmakers, Boondock Saints has a massive cult following, and it finds itself at the top of this list, with the most polarizing score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Have you ever loved a movie that got trashed by the critics? Do you generally agree more with critics, or audiences? Have any opinions on why the above movies are so polarizing? Let us know in the comments!
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