Before You See Mother! This Weekend, You Might Read This Article

As you might expect, I’m a big fan of Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website. Last Thursday they published an interesting article on the impact of polarizing movies on IMDB ratings, using Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power as an example. This is not the first instance of this happening and it won’t be the last.

As you might expect, I’m a big fan of Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website. Last Thursday they published an interesting article on the impact of polarizing movies on IMDB ratings, using Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power as an example. This is not the first instance of this happening and it won’t be the last.

When the new Ghostbusters movie with the all female cast came out in July 2016 there was a similar attempt to tank the IMDB ratings for that movie. That attempt was by men who resented the all female cast. At that time I posted this article. Has a year of new ratings done anything to smooth out the initial polarizing impact of the attempt to tank the ratings? Fortunately, IMDB has a nice little feature that allows you to look at the demographic distribution behind a movie’s rating. If you access IMDB on it’s website, clicking the number of votes that a rating is based on will get you to the demographics behind the rating.

Before looking at the distribution for Ghostbusters, let’s look at a movie that wasn’t polarizing. The 2016 movie Sully is such a movie according to the following demographics:

Votes Average
Males  99301  7.4
Females  19115  7.6
Aged under 18  675  7.7
Males under 18  566  7.6
Females under 18  102  7.8
Aged 18-29  50050  7.5
Males Aged 18-29  40830  7.5
Females Aged 18-29  8718  7.6
Aged 30-44  47382  7.4
Males Aged 30-44  40321  7.4
Females Aged 30-44  6386  7.5
Aged 45+  12087  7.5
Males Aged 45+  9871  7.5
Females Aged 45+  1995  7.8
IMDb staff  17  7.7
Top 1000 voters  437  7.2
US users  17390  7.5
Non-US users  68746  7.4

There is very little difference in the average rating (the number to the far right) among all of the groups. When you have a movie that is not polarizing, like Sully, the distribution by rating should look something like this:

Votes  Percentage  Rating
12465  8.1% 10
19080  12.4% 9
52164  33.9% 8
47887  31.1% 7
15409  10.0% 6
4296  2.8% 5
1267  0.8% 4
589  0.4% 3
334  0.2% 2
576  0.4% 1

It takes on the principles of a bell curve, with the most ratings clustering around the average for the movie.

Here’s what the demographic breakdown for Ghostbusters looks like today:

Votes Average
Males  87119  5.0
Females  27237  6.7
Aged under 18  671  5.3
Males under 18  479  4.9
Females under 18  185  6.6
Aged 18-29  36898  5.4
Males Aged 18-29  25659  5.0
Females Aged 18-29  10771  6.7
Aged 30-44  54294  5.2
Males Aged 30-44  43516  5.0
Females Aged 30-44  9954  6.6
Aged 45+  11422  5.3
Males Aged 45+  9087  5.1
Females Aged 45+  2130  6.3
IMDb staff  45  7.4
Top 1000 voters  482  4.9
US users  25462  5.5
Non-US users  54869  5.2

There is still a big gap in the ratings between men and women and it persists in all age groups. This polarizing effect produces a ratings distribution graph very different from the one for Sully.

Votes  Percentage  Rating
20038  12.8% 10
6352  4.1% 9
13504  8.6% 8
20957  13.4% 7
24206  15.5% 6
18686  12.0% 5
10868  7.0% 4
7547  4.8% 3
6665  4.3% 2
27501  17.6% 1

It looks like a bell curve sitting inside a football goal post. But it is still useful because it suggests the average IMDB rating for the movie when you exclude the 1’s and the 10’s is around 6 rather than a 5.3.

You are probably thinking that, while interesting, is this information useful. Does it help me decide whether to watch a movie or not? Well, here’s the payoff. The big movie opening this weekend that the industry will be watching closely is Mother!. The buzz coming out of the film festivals is that it is a brilliant but polarizing movie. All four of the main actors (Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michele Pfeiffer, Ed Harris) are in the discussion for acting awards. I haven’t seen the movie but I don’t sense that it is politically polarizing like An Inconvenient Sequel and Ghostbusters. I think it probably impacts the sensibilities of different demographics in different ways.

So, should you go see Mother! this weekend? Fortunately, its early screenings at the film festivals give us an early peek at the data trends. The IMDB demographics so far are revealing. First, by looking at the rating distribution, you can see the goal post shape of the graph, confirming that the film is polarizing moviegoers.

Votes  Percentage  Rating
486  36.0% 10
108  8.0% 9
112  8.3% 8
92  6.8% 7
77  5.7% 6
44  3.3% 5
49  3.6% 4
40  3.0% 3
52  3.8% 2
291  21.5% 1

57.5% of IMDB voters have rated it either a 10 or a 1. So are you likely to love it or hate it? Here’s what the demographics suggest:

Votes Average
Males  717  6.1
Females  242  5.4
Aged under 18  25  8.4
Males under 18  18  8.2
Females under 18  6  10.0
Aged 18-29  404  7.3
Males Aged 18-29  305  7.5
Females Aged 18-29  98  6.1
Aged 30-44  288  5.0
Males Aged 30-44  215  5.0
Females Aged 30-44  69  5.2
Aged 45+  152  4.3
Males Aged 45+  111  4.3
Females Aged 45+  40  4.1
Top 1000 voters  48  4.6
US users  273  4.4
Non-US users  438  6.5

While men like the movie more than women, if you are over 30, men and women hate the movie almost equally. There is also a 2 point gap between U.S. and non-U.S. voters. This is a small sample but it has a distinct trend. I’ll be interested to see if the trends hold up as the sample grows.

So, be forewarned. If you take your entire family to see Mother! this weekend, some of you will probably love the trip and some of you will probably wish you stayed home.

 

Stop the Madness! The Male IMDB War Against Ghostbusters.

Ghostbusters, with its all female leads, opened this weekend with strong box office sales that met Sony’s expectations. Given the bizarre stories leading up to the release of the movie, that kind of box office performance was by no means a given. Apparently, there was a male backlash to the idea of an all female Ghostbusters team. In an apparent effort to hurt the movie at the box office, there was an attempt to tank the IMDB ratings of the movie before its release.

After devoting my last two posts to Rotten Tomatoes and male bias in their ratings, I was looking forward to writing about something a little lighter. But, to quote Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III, “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.” It seems like the topic of male bias and movie ratings isn’t done with me.

Ghostbusters, with its all female leads, opened this weekend with strong box office sales that met Sony’s expectations. Given the bizarre stories leading up to the release of the movie, that kind of box office performance was by no means a given. Apparently, there was a male backlash to the idea of an all female Ghostbusters team. In an apparent effort to hurt the movie at the box office,  there was an attempt to tank the IMDB ratings of the movie before its release. It was a big enough story to catch the attention of the folks over at Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website. Their article covers the IMDB tanking story as well as sharing the author’s thoughts on the weaknesses of IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. These thoughts are very much in concert with the studies I’ve shared with you on these pages. I thought it was particularly interesting that, according to a prior FiveThityEight study, Ghostbusters isn’t the first instance of males tanking IMDB ratings for entertainment aimed at women.

As of this morning, there is still a significant male-female split on IMDB. Based on 17,940 male votes, the male average rating for Ghostbusters is 4.5. Based on 5,518 female votes, the average female IMDB rating is 8.1. For females the rating is 80% higher than the male rating. Yet, because there are 3.25 males voting for every 1 female, the overall average IMDB rating is 4.8. This effort by males to sabotage Ghostbusters appears to be a worldwide phenomenon. 31.0% of U.S. voters scored the movie a 1 out of 10, the lowest score you can enter on IMDB. 35.8% of non-U.S. voters have scored the movie a 1 out of 10 so far.

Now, there is a legitimate difference in opinion about the movie between men and women who’ve actually seen the movie. The critics on Rotten Tomatoes, whose male critics presumably didn’t participate in the efforts to tank the ratings, generate a significant male-female split. Consistent with findings of my study from the previous post, the 3.35 male reviews for every female review falls into the high range of female critic participation. It’s in this high range where the widest male-female splits occur. For Ghostbusters, male Rotten Tomatoes critics gave it a 69.5% Fresh while female critics gave it an 86.4% Fresh rating, a 21.7% higher rating by female critics.

Bottom line, this is another mark against using IMDB ratings as a major influence in deciding what movies we should watch. And, Guys, stop the madness!! It’s only a movie! Rating movies that you haven’t seen only hurts those of us who actually want to discover movies that we will “really like”.

Is There Something Rotten (Tomatoes) in Denmark?

With apologies to William Shakespeare and Hamlet, does the influence of corporate profit incentives have a corrupting influence on movie recommender websites.

With apologies to William Shakespeare and Hamlet, does the influence of corporate profit incentives have a corrupting influence on movie recommender websites? Movie Ratings have become big business. Amazon bought IMDB in 1998 to promote Amazon products. There appears to be a synergy between the two that doesn’t seem to impact IMDB’s rating system. On the other hand, the Netflix business model, which began as DVD mail order business,  today is a very different business. Netflix has become heavily invested in original entertainment content for its online streaming business and is using a recommender algorithm for that business that is different than its gold-standard algorithm used for the DVD business. Does the Netflix algorithm for its online streaming business better serve the interest of Netflix subscribers or Netflix profits? I’m sure Netflix would say that it serves both. I’m not so sure. This will be a topic of interest for me in future posts. The more immediate concern is Rotten Tomatoes.

It was announced on Feb. 17, 2016 that Rotten Tomatoes, along with the movie discovery site Flixster, was sold to Fandango. For those of you who are not familiar with Fandango, it is one of two major online advance movie ticket sales sites. MovieTickets.com is the other site. For a premium added to your ticket price, Fandango allows you to print movie tickets at home to allow the moviegoer to avoid big lines at the theater.

So, why should we be concerned? Let’s start with the perception that Rotten Tomatoes has become so influential that it makes or breaks movies before they are even released. Here are a couple of articles that express the growing concern film-makers have with Rotten Tomatoes scores: Rotten Tomatoes: One Filmmaker’s Critical Conundrum and Summer Box Office: How Movie Tracking Went Off the Rails. Whether it is true or not, the movie industry believes that the box office success or failure of a film is in the hands of 200 or so critics and the website that aggregates the results, Rotten Tomatoes.

This impact that Rotten Tomatoes has on the box office each week may be a driving force behind Fandango’s acquisition. In CNN Money’s article  announcing the purchase, Fandango President Paul Yanover states “Flixster and Rotten Tomatoes are invaluable resources for movie fans, and we look forward to growing these successful properties, driving more theatrical ticketing and super-serving consumers with all their movie needs,”. Fandango makes money when more people go to the movies, particularly on opening weekends for well-reviewed movies, when lines are expected to be long. Rotten Tomatoes’ Certified Fresh designations drive opening weekend long lines. Logically, Fandango business interests would be better served by even more movies earning the Certified Fresh rating.

Am I being too cynical? Well, according to a study by Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site  Fandango has done this before. According to FiveThirtyEight Fandango used some creative rounding to inflate their movie ratings in the past. Has Fandango learned its lesson? They claim that Rotten Tomatoes will maintain their independence within their corporate structure. Maybe, but from my experience, corporate acquisitions are made to create profitable synergies – more Certified Fresh ratings, more moviegoers, more long lines for tickets, more “theatrical ticketing” in advance, more profits.

If you begin to “really like” fewer movies that are Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes you might conclude that there may be something Rotten (Tomatoes) in Fandango…if not in Denmark.