Are Movie Critics Still Necessary? Of Course They Are

June 28, 2012

In the era of the internet, I've heard some argue that movie critics are no longer necessary.  The reasoning is that with the prevalence of social media today anyone can post reviews of the movie they just saw before they get out of their seat in the theater after the movie ends.  So the assumption is that what an older person writes in "old media" like newspapers or magazines about films isn't going to matter much to younger moviegoers.  The fact that a majority of "old media" sources are in decline -- with newspapers either folding or cutting out film reviews to cut costs -- would seem to add evidence to this thought.

That assumption is rather silly.  Film critics may no longer be the primary sources of film knowledge that they once were in the pre-Internet era, but their opinions still matter.  For example, is anyone really surprised that Rock of Ages and That's My Boy tanked at the box office?  Critics gave the movies awful reviews, which led to ugly, ugly pre-release buzz for both films.  Obviously critical praise doesn't lead to box office success, and likewise critical drubbing doesn't necessarily lead to box office failure.  One just has to look at the box office success of the critically-bashed Twilight movies to see otherwise.  But since they were based on a best-selling book series, most fans could careless how bad the movies are -- they want to see their favorite books come to life.  Similarly, the Transformers movies have gotten terrible reviews yet fans of the 1980s cartoon and popcorn movies in general weren't going to let that stop them from seeing them.

Rock of Ages is a long-running popular musical, so one might have expected that the film version has a built-in audience who wanted to see the film.  However, the audience for the musical and the play certainly aren't teenagers since none of them were even born, let alone lived, when the movie's music was popular.  Furthermore, any fans of the musical were likely turned off by the significant changes made in the stage-to-screen transition.  That core Rock of Ages fanbase -- if there even was one -- was certainly not big enough to deliver a huge opening weekend.  It's also doubtful that the film will do well internationally, since although Tom Cruise is a bigger draw overseas than he is in the United States, the film is so saturated in 1980s American culture that I'm not sure how interested audiences in other countries would be in the material.  Would positive reviews have given the film a significant boost?  Well, that's up for debate, but I think it's obvious that it wouldn't have hurt.

One of the worst films I saw all year was The Devil Inside.  There were no pre-release screenings for critics -- with good reason, since the film scored a tremendously awful 7% on Rotten Tomatoes.  I only got to see it early because I was able to get passes through a radio promotion.  It did well its opening weekend, because at that point word of mouth was non-existent (not to mention that there wasn't anything else interesting at the movie theater that weekend).  But when subsequent word of mouth and critical reviews were awful, the film took a nosedive -- The Devil Inside had one of the biggest second weekend drops in box office history, putting it among other awful second-weekend performers like From Justin to Kelly.  Paramount was completely right to keep this one away from critics, as it's likely the film wouldn't have performed well its first weekend if more critics were able to post their reviews of this wretched films.  It's obvious then that critics' voices still matter.

Film critics still have an audience, even if that audience is far smaller than it used to be.  That audience will take what a critic says into consideration before deciding to see (or not to see) a movie.  Personally I find it flattering when friends and co-workers decide not to see a film because I gave it a bad review (or decide to see it because I recommend it).  In fact, perhaps film critics seem less important just because there are so many of us now and the audience is fractured.  Hey, as long as I have my dozen or so readers, I'll be happy.


Chris McKittrick is a New York-based cinephile who also writes for MovieBuzzers.com and DailyActor.com. He is also a published writer of both fiction and nonfiction. Check him out on Twitter at @ChrisMcKit

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