Movie Sales Down? Blame the Critics!

Rotten Tomatoes article header

Box office this summer wasn’t good. Compared to last year, movie studios made 15% less, a 20-year low. (That’s still 3.8 billion dollars, so let’s keep this in perspective.) What’s the problem, say studio heads? According to this NY Times article, Rotten Tomatoes, the website that makes it easy for potential customers to see what critics think of a film.

Some studio executives privately concede that a few recent movies — just a few — were simply bad. Flawed marketing may have played a role in a couple of other instances, they acknowledged, along with competition from Netflix and Amazon.

But most studio fingers point toward Rotten Tomatoes…

Last year, scores started appearing on Fandango, the online movie ticket-selling site, leading to grousing that a rotten score next to the purchase button was the same as posting this message: You are an idiot if you pay to see this movie.

I think it’s more likely that the movies were bad. No one wanted to see King Arthur: Legend of the Sword or the 5th or 6th sequel to a movie where fresh ideas had long ago been stomped out by the franchise money-making train. Heck, I tried to watch Baywatch with the lowest of expectations (show me some pretty boys!), and even so I was insulted by how dumb and vulgar it was, lacking the summer fun attitude it should have had.

There is something of an argument to be made about whether full review pieces should be summed up as a number or a positive/negative ranking, but this appears to be a case of “we aren’t making as much money as we want — shoot the messenger telling people what viewers thought of our films!” The problem, according to studios, is that now, the ratings are so much easier to find, being imported into ticket selling sites and Google searches.

Near the end, there’s also this throwaway comment about changing audience behavior:

…moviegoing is no longer a habit for most Americans. Because of climbing prices and competition from other forms of entertainment, a trip to the multiplex has become a special event. In particular, more movie fans are ignoring low- and mid-budget films when they are in theaters: Ehh, let’s wait until they show up on Netflix.

I think there’s a lot more to be said about the hollowing out of the middle, where we lose simply entertaining movies that aren’t spectacles or Oscar bait. The same thing has already happened in publishing. Or here’s a crazy idea — make it cheaper to go to the movies, particularly for films that aren’t doing well or haven’t found their audience yet! Sure, the latest entertaining superhero movie can be $10 or $14 a ticket, but for stupid summer fun, maybe a group price of $20 for 3 or 4 people? Get creative, Hollywood, instead of grousing that things aren’t like they used to be.

The article does have a great header cartoon, though, by Chris Lyons:

Rotten Tomatoes article header


  • David Oakes

    A lot of major chains around here are going to $5 a film, and in barca-loungers. I don’t know about the economics of both at once – popcorn is still $50 – but I am willing to go along with the experiment. I may have seen more films in the theatre in the last six months than the previous six years.

  • There are a couple experiments in subscription pricing, too, for movies. For me, it’s more a matter of having time to get out to the theater, but if I had the time and could pay $20 – $25 a month to see one movie a week, I’d go two or three times a month, I’m sure, especially in the summer months, when there’s often three or four films out at the same time that I’d like to see.

    And EVERYONE wants to sell you a subscription these days…

  • Max Magee

    Personally, we don’t got to the movies for three reasons: 1) We’ve got a 2-year-old at home. If we’re going out, we’re going to do something where we can interact with each other as grown-ups. 2) Moviegoing is a hassle- we prefer the ease, comfort, and control of watching movies/series at home. You can’t pause a movie in the theater and only the people in your living room can ruin the experience, unlike the talkative, rambunctious teens and old, rude folks that seem to live in theaters these days. 3) It really is too expensive. I’ll go see/watch a shitty movie, if I’m bored (or I want to enjoy the pain), but I’m not going to pay $18 to do so!

    There have always been derivative, dumb, bad movies, but there hasn’t been a time like this summer as far back as I can remember when there wasn’t a really good movie out that everybody should see, and that got a good advertising push. I feel like The Big Sick was poorly promoted/didn’t get the audience it should because people didn’t know about it. It’s gotten some buzz now, but it’ll only live up to its potential if it gets a couple of big award nods and people make the effort to find it.

  • James Schee

    Stupid excuse blaming critics, fan sites etc. the movies last year were generally terrible. I saw less movies last year than any point in my life as so very little interested me. Even the animated giants like Pixar put out a sequel Cars 3, that was a tired franchise after one movie for me

    I may have even reached my fill of superhero movies and shows. There’s just too much and tones will bring me in over even quality. I.E. The CW shows are mostly fun, if cheesy at times, but I watch. The Marvel Netflix shows are well acted and written, but depress me so I stopped watching them.

    I want to see some fun action adventure films in the spirit (though not direct sequels) of the Indiana Jones films. And damn it why aren’t there any good sappy romantic comedies like Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullouck used to do? Where are the quirky shows like Clueless or 10 Things I Hate About You?

    Sorry old man rant over.

  • We were just saying something similar – I was watching Pirate Radio, with its terrific ensemble cast where EVERYone is a gem, and we were wondering why there weren’t more fun movies like that.

  • I actually really liked King Arthur *shrugs*

    I have a year pass to my cinema – which pays for itself after 21 films. Because of this, I’ve seen over 25 films (assuming an average price of £10/ticket), with a couple of months left on the pass.

    I have no idea whether there’re similar deals in the US, but if there are, they’re really worth it! Plus the cinema gets the benefit of me dropping in for my weekly coffee with The Bestie at their coffee franchise, instead of elsewhere – more money for them, everyone wins.

  • There’s at least one group trying to start a movie pass program like this, but one of the biggest theater chains doesn’t want to participate, so I’m not sure it will catch on.

  • That sucks! Most of the cinema chains here have some sort of scheme – and it’s def. worth it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *