So Now Rotten Tomatoes Has No Impact On the Box Office? Not So Fast.

There has been a conventional wisdom evolving that Rotten Tomatoes movie ratings are negatively impacting ticket sales at the movies. Over the last couple of weeks, there has been a counter argument made based on a study posted in a September 10th blog. The Wrap, Variety, and other websites reporting on the movie industry have run with the story that Rotten Tomatoes has little, if any, impact on movie ticket sales. I believe that is an oversimplification of the study and the intersection of movie ratings and movie consumption.

There has been a conventional wisdom evolving that Rotten Tomatoes movie ratings are negatively impacting ticket sales at the movies. Over the last couple of weeks, there has been a counter argument made based on a study posted in a September 10th blog. The Wrap, Variety, and other websites reporting on the movie industry have run with the story that Rotten Tomatoes has little, if any, impact on movie ticket sales. I believe that is an oversimplification of the study and the intersection of movie ratings and movie consumption.

The points made in the study that are getting the most attention are:

  1. There is very little statistical correlation between Rotten Tomatoes ratings and box office performance.
  2. The median Rotten Tomatoes rating for 2017 is 77.5% Fresh, whereas the ratings for each of the prior four years was either 72% or 73% Fresh.
  3. There is a correlation between Rotten Tomatoes ratings and Audience ratings.

So, the argument goes, you can’t blame Rotten Tomatoes for bad box office when it is statistically proven that it has no impact on box office and, by the way, critics have actually rated this year’s movies higher than last year’s, and audiences stay away from bad movies because they are more savvy today than they’ve been in the past.

I believe the third point should be the headline. When I’ve looked at this before  I’ve found a very strong correlation to the Certified Fresh, Fresh, and Rotten ratings and my “really like” ratings.  On the other hand, I’ve found that the percentage fresh rating has a weaker correlation to whether I’ll “really like” a movie. I wonder what the statistical correlation to box office performance is for the just the three broad ratings?

As to the second point, the overlooked item in the study is that not only have critics in the aggregate liked 2017 movies better that prior years, the worldwide box office has responded with higher ticket sales in 2017 than 2016. Is it possible that better movies in 2017 have translated into more people worldwide going to the movies?

The first point, and the one that became the headline in so many articles, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. If there is a correlation between Rotten Tomatoes ratings and Audience ratings, doesn’t that suggest that Rotten Tomatoes has contributed to a more informed movie public And, because they are more informed, they are staying away from bad movies. Therefore, Rotten Tomatoes has impacted the box office. The fact that it is an indirect impact rather than a direct impact is a little misleading. Isn’t it?

Near the end of his study presentation Yves Berqquist, the author of the study, concludes that  “Audiences are becoming extremely adept at predicting and judging the quality of a film”. Rotten Tomatoes is just one of the tools audiences are using to pre-screen the movies they watch. IMDB ratings are taken into account as are Cinemascore grades. For example, Box Office Mojo, which is the go to site for movie box office information, specifically cited the “F” grade that Cinemascore gave to Mother! last weekend as a factor in the “supremely disappointing $7.5 million from 2,368 locations” opening weekend box office. Cinemascore has only given out nineteen F’s in almost forty years of movie surveys.

The movie industry may be looking for someone to blame for movie consumers behaving differently than they have in the past. But, the sooner the industry comes to grips with the new reality that movie audiences are more savvy today than they were in the past, the sooner they will improve their own fortunes. It is arrogant to blame Rotten Tomatoes for contributing to a more informed movie audience.

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It has been seven weeks since a new movie, Detroit, joined The Objective Top Fifteen after its opening weekend. There is a chance that streak might be broken this weekend. Assuming Cinemascore surveys the movie, I think it’s likely that the Boston Marathon bombing bio-pic Stronger will join the list. I have hopes that Battle of the Sexes will sneak in as well. Check out my update on Monday to see how good my instincts were.

 

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.

 

September Kicks Off the Oscar Season…If You’re Looking for Buzz.

After a dismal summer box office performance, theater owners are only too happy to turn the calendar page and discover that Oscar season is upon us. September is the unofficial beginning of the six month journey for most movies seeking Oscar gold. As moviegoers, though, we need to cool our jets. It might not be until November before we get to contribute in a significant way to the discussion.

After a dismal summer box office performance, theater owners are only too happy to turn the calendar page and discover that Oscar season is upon us. September is the unofficial beginning of the six month journey for most movies seeking Oscar gold. As moviegoers, though, we need to cool our jets. It might not be until November before we get to contribute in a significant way to the discussion.

Over the last thirty years, only five movies widely released in September have been nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award. In other words, only once every six years has a September release been Best Picture worthy. In fact, Moneyball, which was released in 2011, is the only September release in the last twenty years to be nominated for Best Picture. Here’s the complete rundown by month of Best Picture nominations over the last thirty years:

# of Nominations
Jan 40
Feb 17
Mar 5
Apr 3
May 7
Jun 6
Jul 8
Aug 10
Sep 5
Oct 16
Nov 25
Dec 40

So, the peak period for Best Picture nominated movies to actually be seen by the broad public is from November to January.

Why, then, is September considered the “kick off” for the Oscar race? Well, even though the general public doesn’t get to see the Oscar contenders, attendees of film festivals do. The Venice Film Festival opened on August 30th. The Telluride Film Festival opened on September 5th. And, the Toronto Film Festival opens today, September 7th. It’s at these film festivals that Oscar hopefuls debut and try to generate buzz to launch their award campaign. For example, the early buzz coming out of Telluride is that Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour might already be a “lock” for the Best Actor award.

September is about generating “buzz” which creates pent up demand for a movie before it goes into wide release later in the season. Is there no hope then for this September? AwardsCircuit.com ranks the Oscar contenders by category based on buzz, box office, reviews, and awards during the season. As of September 5th, there are four September wide releases on their list of fifty Best Picture contenders. In fact, Battle of the Sexes, a September 22nd release which features Emma Stone as tennis great Billie Jean King, is ranked fifth on the list. It is coming out of Telluride with positive buzz and might buck the odds against September releases. mother!Victoria and Abdul, and Stronger are the other movies on the list. Those movies are more likely to be serious contenders for acting nominations than for Best Picture.

September is an interesting month. Going into the month there always seems to be a good supply of movies in the pipeline. Historically, many of these promising movies end up in disappointment. Studios possibly schedule them in September because they fear the movie can’t compete with heavy hitters released later in the season. Maybe this September it’s because Studios are getting smarter and see an opportunity for early momentum. Ah, hope springs eternal.

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The early read on this weekend’s big new release, the movie adaption of Stephen King’s novel, It, is positive. It is Certified Fresh and has high early IMDB ratings.