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Please, Stop Paying Attention to Box Office and Rotten Tomatoes



If you do a Google search for “Justice League” right now the first thing that will populate are the show times, then after that, you will see the IMDB page, Twitter, and Rotten Tomatoes page. That’s the same for pretty much every new release film. It’s what you find a few entries deeper that I find annoying. The countless articles and stories about how the #1 film in the world is a box office failure. I’m not here to support or tear down that assertion because I think it’s pointless. Playing armchair studio executive was once a game relegated to the financial pages and CNBC but now it’s not just Forbes analyzing the red and black, it’s Esquire, GQ, EW, every movie blogger, Twitter fanboy, and “movie nerd” deep diving into the commerce side of the business called show.

We’ve reduced film criticism to an analytic that creates a misleading narrative by valuing the output from Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, and CinemaScore. Different viewers can dislike or like films for a whole bevy of reasons and aggregation loses that nuance. In what I assume is attempt to save time we reduce everything down to the thumbs up or thumbs down model instead of taking the time to listen or engage in conversation. Are you that busy that you can’t take the time to read a review in your local paper? Yes? With what? Twitter? Snapchat? Instagram? We all think we are busier because we continually fill the voids in our lives with meaningless nonsense. We don’t give our minds enough time to wander. When we fill up our tanks at the gas station we pull out our smartphones, because we can’t stand the idea of simply pumping gas. As soon as our minds aren’t occupied we course correct and remedy the situation.

Focusing on box office and RT scores remove us from what were once the interesting conversations around a film. The hours we would spend with friends after seeing something like Pulp Fiction dissecting every detail. Some of my favorite memories around film aren’t in a theatre but in a parking lot or late night dinner after a screening. I was hopeful that the pendulum was swinging back in that direction with podcasting and blogging but if anything those mediums have exacerbated the meaningless narrative surrounding film. One of the more popular film podcasts has an episode called “Justice League: Assessing the Aftermath.” I’m not making that up, with a title like that you could assume the conversation would be focused on sexual harassment, climate change, war, or any number of topics deserving an assessment of the aftermath. But no, it’s a conversation about box office numbers. What was once an aside in the conversation around film has become the conversation itself?


The only reason all of this is frustrating is it has an impact on the films we get to see theatrically. The more we focus on RT scores the more studios will make films to go after that number. The more they will homogenize and attempt a shot down the middle. Hollywood has always been an uncomfortable balance of art and commerce that certain filmmakers have been able to transcend. The more we as audience goers give attention to analytics the less studios will care about art. 


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