Does Critic Expertise on Rotten Tomatoes Overcome the Law of Large Numbers?

In the evolution of my “really like” movie algorithm, one of the difficulties I keep encountering is how should I integrate Rotten Tomatoes ratings in a statistically significant way. Every time I try I keep rediscovering that its ratings are not as useful as the other websites that I use.

In the evolution of my “really like” movie algorithm, one of the difficulties I keep encountering is how should I integrate Rotten Tomatoes ratings in a statistically significant way. Every time I try I keep rediscovering that its ratings are not as useful as the other websites that I use. It’s not that it has no use. To determine if a movie is worth seeing within a week after its release, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better indicator. The problem is that most of the data for a particular movie is counted in that first week. Most of the critic reviews are completed close to the release dates to provide moviegoers with guidance on the day a movie is released. After that first week, the critics are on to the next batch of new movies to review. With all of the other websites, the ratings continually get better as more people see the movie and provide input. The data pool gets larger and the law of large numbers kicks in. With Rotten Tomatoes, there is very little data growth. Its value is based on the expertise of the critics and less on the law of large numbers.

The question becomes what is the value of film critics expertise. It is actually pretty valuable. When Rotten Tomatoes slots movies into one of their three main rating buckets (Certified Fresh, Fresh, Rotten), it does create a statistically significant differentiation.

Rating “Really Like” %
Certified Fresh 69.7%
Fresh 50.0%
Rotten 36.6%

Rotten Tomatoes is able to separate pretty well those movies I “really like” from those I don’t.

So what’s the problem? If we stick to Certified Fresh movies we’ll “really like” them 7 out of 10 times. That’s true. And, if I’m deciding on which new release to see in the movie theater, that’s really good. But, if I’m deciding what movie my wife and I should watch on Friday night movie night and our selection is from the movies on cable or our streaming service, we can do better.

Of the 1,998 movies I’ve seen in the last 15 years, 923 are Certified Fresh. Which of those movies am I most likely to “really like”? Based on the following table, I wouldn’t rely on the Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh number.

Rating % Fresh Range “Really Like” %
Certified Fresh 96 to 100% 69.9%
Certified Fresh 93 to 95% 73.4%
Certified Fresh 89 to 92% 68.3%
Certified Fresh 85 to 88% 71.2%
Certified Fresh 80 to 84% 73.0%
Certified Fresh 74 to 79% 65.3%

This grouping of six equal size buckets suggests that there isn’t much difference between a movie in my database that is 75% Fresh and one that is 100% Fresh. Now, it is entirely possible that there is an actual difference between 75% Fresh and 100% Fresh. It is possible that, if my database were larger, my data might produce a less random pattern which might be statistically significant. For now, though, the data is what it is. Certified Fresh is predictive and the % Fresh part of the rating less so.

Expertise can reduce the numbers needed for meaningful differentiation between what is Certified Fresh and what is Rotten. The law of large numbers, though, may be too daunting for credible guidance much beyond that.

 

 

The Art of Selecting “Really Like” Movies: New Movies

Over the next three weeks I’ll outline the steps I’m taking this year to improve my “really like” movie odds. Starting this week with New Movies , I’ll lay out a focused strategy for three different types of movie selection decisions.

I watch a lot of movies, a fact that my wife, and occasionally my children, like to remind of. Unlike the average, non-geeky, movie fan, though, I am constantly analyzing the process I go through to determine which movies I watch. I don’t like to watch mediocre, or worse, movies. I’ve pretty much eliminated bad movies from my selections. But, every now and then a movie I “like” rather than “really like” will get past my screen.

Over the next three weeks I’ll outline the steps I’m taking this year to improve my “really like” movie odds. Starting this week with New Movies, I’ll lay out a focused strategy for three different types of movie selection decisions.

The most challenging “really like” movie decision I make is which movies that I’ve never seen before are likely to be “really like” movies. There is only a 39.3% chance that watching a movie I’ve never seen before will result in a “really like” experience. My goal is to improve those odds by the end of the year.

The first step I’ve taken is to separate movies I’ve seen before from movies I’ve never seen in establishing my “really like” probabilities. As a frame of reference, there is a 79.5% chance that I will “really like” a movie I’ve seen before. By setting my probabilities for movies I’ve never seen off of the 39.3% probability I have created a tighter screen for those movies. This should result in me watching fewer never-before-seen movies then I’ve typically watched in previous years. Of the 20 movies I’ve watched so far this year, only two were never-before-seen movies.

The challenge in selecting never-before-seen movies is that, because I’ve watched close to 2,000 movies over the last 15 years, I’ve already watched the “cream of the crop” from those 15 years.. From 2006 to 2015, there were 331 movies that I rated as “really like” movies, that is 33 movies a year, or less than 3 a month. Last year I watched 109 movies that I had never seen before. So, except for the 33 new movies that came out last year that, statistically, might be “really like” movies, I watched 76 movies that didn’t have a great chance of being “really like” movies.

Logically, the probability of selecting a “really like” movie that I’ve never seen before should be highest for new releases. I just haven’t seen that many of them. I’ve only seen 6 movies that were released in the last six months and I “really liked” 5 of them. If, on average, there are 33 “really like” movies released each year, then, statistically, there should be a dozen “really like” movies released in the last six months that I haven’t seen yet. I just have to discover them. Here is my list of the top ten new movie prospects that I haven’t seen yet.

My Top Ten New Movie Prospects 
New Movies =  < Release Date + 6 Months
Movie Title Release Date Last Data Update “Really Like” Probability
Hacksaw Ridge 11/4/2016 2/4/2017 94.9%
Arrival 11/11/2016 2/4/2017 94.9%
Doctor Strange 11/4/2016 2/6/2017 78.9%
Hidden Figures 1/6/2017 2/4/2017 78.7%
Beatles, The: Eight Days a Week 9/16/2016 2/4/2017 78.7%
13th 10/7/2016 2/4/2017 78.7%
Before the Flood 10/30/2016 2/4/2017 51.7%
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 11/18/2016 2/4/2017 51.7%
Moana 11/23/2016 2/4/2017 51.7%
Deepwater Horizon 9/30/2016 2/4/2017 45.4%
Fences 12/25/2016 2/4/2017 45.4%

Based on my own experience, I believe you can identify most of the new movies that will be “really like” movies within 6 months of their release, which is how I’ve defined “new” for this list. I’m going to test this theory this year.

In case you are interested, here is the ratings data driving the probabilities.

My Top Ten New Movie Prospects 
Movie Site Ratings Breakdown
Ratings *
Movie Title # of Ratings All Sites Age 45+ IMDB Rotten Tomatoes ** Criticker Movielens Netflix
Hacksaw Ridge         9,543 8.2 CF 86% 8.3 8.3 8.6
Arrival      24,048 7.7 CF 94% 8.8 8.1 9.0
Doctor Strange      16,844 7.7 CF 90% 8.2 8.3 7.8
Hidden Figures         7,258 8.2 CF 92% 7.7 7.3 8.2
Beatles, The: Eight Days a Week         1,689 8.2 CF 95% 8.0 7.3 8.0
13th    295,462 8.1 CF 97% 8.3 7.5 8.0
Before the Flood         1,073 7.8 F 70% 7.6 8.2 7.8
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them      14,307 7.5 CF 73% 7.3 6.9 7.6
Moana         5,967 7.7 CF 95% 8.4 8.0 7.0
Deepwater Horizon      40,866 7.1 CF 83% 7.8 7.6 7.6
Fences         4,418 7.6 CF 95% 7.7 7.1 7.2
*All Ratings Except Rotten Tomatoes Calibrated to a 10.0 Scale
** CF = Certified Fresh, F = Fresh

Two movies, Hacksaw Ridge and Arrival, are already probably “really like” movies and should be selected to watch when available. The # of Ratings All Sites is a key column. The ratings for Movielens and Netflix need ratings volume before they can credibly reach their true level. Until, there is a credible amount of data the rating you get is closer to what an average movie would get. A movie like Fences, at 4,418 ratings, hasn’t reached the critical mass needed to migrate to the higher ratings I would expect that movie to reach. Deep Water Horizon, on the other hand, with 40,866 ratings, has reached a fairly credible level and may not improve upon its current probability.

I’m replacing my monthly forecast on the sidebar of this website with the top ten new movie prospects exhibit displayed above. I think it is a better reflection of the movies that have the best chance of being “really like” movies. Feel free to share any comments you might have.

 

The Eighth Decade of Oscar Belonged to the Remarkable Dame Judi

In 1995 two actors eased their way into the consciousness of United States moviegoers after learning their craft across the oceans in Australia and England. The actor made an impression in a box office loser, The Quick and the Dead. The actress broke down the gender barrier in the testosterone laden James Bond franchise to become the first female to play M in Goldeneye. The New Zealand born actor was 31 years old. The English actress was 61. They are my Actor and Actress of the decade from 1997 to 2006.

In 1995 two actors eased their way into the consciousness of United States moviegoers after learning their craft across the oceans in Australia and England. The actor made an impression in a box office loser, The Quick and the Dead. The actress broke down the gender barrier in the testosterone laden James Bond franchise to become the first female to play M in Goldeneye. The New Zealand born actor was 31 years old. The English actress was 61. They are my Actor and Actress of the decade from 1997 to 2006.

Dame Judi Dench is the Actress of the Decade.

Top Actresses of the Decade
1997 to 2006
Actress Lead Actress Nominations Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Nominations Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Judi Dench 4 0 2 1 15
Hilary Swank 2 2 0 0 12
Meryl Streep 3 0 1 0 10
Kate Winslet 3 0 1 0 10
Nicole Kidman 2 1 0 9
Charlize Theron 2 1 0 9

It is remarkable for a woman to become a Hollywood star in her sixties. As I pointed out in a previous post, good roles for female actors peak between ages 22 and 31. Judi Dench has turned that statistic on its head. Beginning at age 63 with Mrs. Brown to the most recent, Philomena, at age 79, Judi Dench has been nominated for an Academy Award seven times. She won Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love, a Best Picture winner. While Judi Dench may have been fairly anonymous to United States audiences until the mid-90’s, she was not anonymous across the pond in Great Britain. She was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and is one of the most decorated actors in British theater history. She is also a ten time BAFTA winner, which is the British equivalent to the Academy Awards. So, Judi Dench did not just show up in the 90’s, she was always great.

The Actor of the Decade goes to Russell Crowe, beating out Sean Penn in a tie-breaker.

Top Actors of the Decade
1997 to 2006
Actor Lead Actor Nominations Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Nominations Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Sean Penn 3 1 0 0 12
Russell Crowe 3 1 0 0 12
Jack Nicholson 2 1 0 0 9
Denzel Washington 2 1 0 0 9
Jamie Foxx 1 1 1 0 7
Tie Breakers for Top Actor of the Decade
Avg IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for Nominated Movies
Released from 1997 to 2006
Actor IMDB Avg Rating # of Votes Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh How Fresh? # of Critics Reviews
Russell Crowe 8.3    1,798,645 81% Certified Fresh 522
Sean Penn 7.9       500,465 67% Fresh 398

Russell Crowe’s only three nominations in his career so far occurred in three consecutive years from 1999 to 2001. He won for Gladiator which was released in 2000.

If you were to read critics reviews of the 2012 Best Picture nominee Les Miserables, a common criticism of the movie is that Russell Crowe, in the role of Javert, wasn’t a very good singer. The irony in that criticism is that Russell Crowe was the lead singer for a moderately successful rock band called 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, also known as TOFOG. During a US concert tour, there were nights when a ticket to see TOFOG might command as much as $500 on ebay. In 2001, Crowe and his band performed on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. If you are interested, you can download songs of TOFOG from ITunes.

The next Actors of the Decade post will be for the current decade. The last nominations to be considered were announced two days ago. The winners will be announced on February 26th. My announcement of the decade winners will be in early March. Who knows, there may be another story as remarkable as Dame Judi’s.

For 1987 to 1996, the Actress of the Decade Comes Down to a Coin Toss?

Three months ago I began a series of articles on the best actors and actresses of each of the nine decades of Oscar. I was satisfied with the approach I was taking until…this month.

Three months ago I began a series of articles on the best actors and actresses of each of the nine decades of Oscar. I was satisfied with the approach I was taking until…this month. My scoring system works great when the results come out like the 1987 to 1996 Actor of the Decade.

Top Actors of the Decade
1987 to 1996
Actor Lead Actor Nominations Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Nominations Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Tom Hanks 3 2 0 0 15
Anthony Hopkins 3 1 0 0 12
Robin Williams 3 0 0 0 9
Daniel Day Lewis 2 1 0 0 9
Al Pacino 1 1 2 0 8

Clearly, Tom Hanks deserves that honor since he won Best Actor twice and Anthony Hopkins won only once. Both were nominated three times.

Now, let’s look at the Actresses of the decade.

Top Actresses of the Decade
1987 to 1996
Actress Lead Actress Nominations Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Nominations Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Susan Sarandon 4 1 0 0 15
Jodie Foster 3 2 0 0 15
Emma Thompson 3 1 1 0 13
Meryl Streep 4 0 0 0 12
Holly Hunter 2 1 1 0 10

It’s a tie…and it’s kind of a mess. Including Supporting Actress nominations, Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, and Emma Thompson all have one more nomination than Jodie Foster. Because Jodie Foster won twice, she passes everyone except Susan Sarandon. The two actresses tie because my scoring system values a Lead Actress win twice as much as a nomination. Previously I’ve handled ties by letting IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes results for nominated movies act as a tie breaker. In this case, it’s inconclusive.

Tie Breakers for Top Actresses of the Decade
Avg IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for Nominated Movies
Released from 1987 to 1996
Actor IMDB Avg Rating # of Votes Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh How Fresh? # of Critics Reviews
Susan Sarandon 7.3    242,422 88% Certified Fresh 191
Jodie Foster 8.5    971,401 84% Certified Fresh 125

The critics like Susan Sarandon’s movies more, but Jodie Foster rides Silence of the Lambs to a decisive IMDB nod.

In trying to decipher an advantage in these tie-breaker results, I reached a very different conclusion. They’re probably not that relevant. Critics and viewers may like a movie because of an actors performance, or they may like it for an entirely different reason. It isn’t like Oscar voting which is focused solely on the performance of a single actor. It would be better to use Golden Globe or Screen Actors Guild results as tie breakers or supplements to the scoring system.

And, is an Oscar win twice as valuable an indicator of greatness as an Oscar nomination? No, it’s even more valuable.

For Best Actress in a Leading Role
Number of Actresses Who Have:
% of Total Nominated
Been Nominated 219
Been Nominated More than Once 85 38.8%
Won 72 32.9%
Won More Than Once 13 5.9%

It is easier to be nominated twice than it is to win once. And, it has been more than five times as hard to win twice as it is to be nominated twice.

I’ve got to rework my scoring system. For now, with only two decades left to consider, we’ll keep it as it is. For Actress of this decade, it is a coin toss with a coin weighted towards Jodie Foster and her two wins.

In a Decade When Many New Stars Broke Through, Elizabeth Taylor Was the Brightest Star of Them All.

Elizabeth Taylor was beautiful. Because the picture above is in black and white, it doesn’t do justice to the allure of her distinctive , violet eyes. The world fell in love with her in 1944, at the age of 12, with her star turn in the Oscar nominated movie, National Velvet. Over the next dozen years, moviegoers watched her grow into a stunning beauty and a bona fide international star. The Oscar decade from 1957 to 1966 perfectly fits the peak of her acting career. In 1957, at age 25, she appeared in her first Oscar nominated role in Raintree County. Nine years later, in 1966, she appeared in her fifth nominated film of the decade, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, for which she won her second Best Leading Actress award. It also marked the last nomination she would ever receive from the Academy of Motion Pictures.

elizabeth-taylor

Elizabeth Taylor was beautiful. Because the picture above is in black and white, it doesn’t do justice to the allure of her distinctive , violet eyes. The world fell in love with her in 1944, at the age of 12, with her star turn in the Oscar nominated movie, National Velvet. Over the next dozen years, moviegoers watched her grow into a stunning beauty and a bona fide international star. The Oscar decade from 1957 to 1966 perfectly fits the peak of her acting career. In 1957, at age 25, she appeared in her first Oscar nominated role in Raintree County. Nine years later, in 1966, she appeared in her fifth nominated film of the decade, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, for which she won her second Best Leading Actress award. It also marked the last nomination she would ever receive from the Academy of Motion Pictures.

For the lead in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Elizabeth Taylor intentionally gained 30 pounds to play the past her prime Martha. The picture below is from the film. She sacrificed much of her beauty for the role.

elizabeth-taylor-2

Compare this to her picture from her first Oscar win in the 1960 film Butterfield 8.

elizabeth-taylor-3

It’s hard to believe that only six years separate the women in the two pictures.

Elizabeth Taylor was an excellent actress. But, she became a star because she was beautiful. Was this a case of the Hollywood double standard when it comes to women? Do many actresses have a shelf life that doesn’t outlast their beauty? A shelf life that doesn’t seem to apply, as much, to their male counterparts. This is a topic I’ll explore in greater depth in the future. But, for now, consider in the list below how dominant Elizabeth Taylor was in a decade filled with very strong competition. And after that she wasn’t dominant. She wasn’t even close.

Top Actresses of the Decade
1957 to 1966
Actress Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actress Nominations Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Nominations Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Elizabeth Taylor 1957 5 2 0 0 21
Deborah Kerr 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Shirley MacLaine 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Simone Signoret 1957 2 1 0 0 9
Sophia Loren 1957 2 1 0 0 9
Anne Bancroft 1957 2 1 0 0 9
Julie Andrews 1964 2 1 0 0 9

It was a decade when many actresses who were already active in the business broke through to become stars. With the exception of Deborah Kerr, all of the actresses on this list earned their first Oscar nomination within the decade. Only Julie Andrews had her movie debut within the decade. But even in her case, she had begun her career on Broadway before the decade began. It was a decade for actresses who weren’t household names, in most cases, to finally become stars.

On the Best Actor side, there was a similar story but not as pronounced.

Top Actors of the Decade
1957 to 1966
Actor Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actor Nominations Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Nominations Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Spencer Tracy 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Richard Burton 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Paul Newman 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Jack Lemmon 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Burt Lancaster 1957 2 1 0 0 9
Sidney Poitier 1957 2 1 0 0 9
Rex Harrison 1957 2 1 0 0 9

The decade produced a seven way tie for most Academy Award points. All of the actors made their film debuts prior to the decade, but only Spencer Tracy was an established star. Three of the actors (Newman, Poitier, and Harrison) were nominated for the first time during the decade. From this list of excellent actors, who is the Actor of the Decade?  You may be surprised, but the winner of the tie breakers is Jack Lemmon.

Tie Breakers for Top Actor of the Decade
Avg IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for Nominated Movies
Released from 1957 to 1966
Actor IMDB Avg Rating # of Votes Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh How Fresh? # of Critics Reviews
Jack Lemmon 8.3    299,677 95% Certified Fresh 116
Paul Newman 8.0    113,496 94% Certified Fresh 100
Spencer Tracy 8.2      72,424 90% Fresh 50
Richard Burton 8.0      79,113 87% Fresh 78
Burt Lancaster 7.8      20,515 91% Fresh 45
Rex Harrison 7.7      90,039 77% Certified Fresh 81
Sidney Poitier 7.7      16,476 90% Fresh 30

In a relatively close contest with Paul Newman and Spencer Tracy, Jack Lemmon wins on the strength of his leading roles in two movies just outside the IMDB Top 100 Movies of all time, The Apartment (105) and Some Like It Hot (116). His third nominated movie, Days of Wine and Roses is no slouch either. These movies generated more interest from today’s viewers and critics, as well.While just outside this decade, it should be noted that Lemmon also won Best Supporting Actor for his 1955 performance in Mr. Roberts. Of Newman and Tracy’s six nominated roles in the decade, only Tracy’s Judgment at Nuremberg (149) cracks the IMDB Top 250.

Next month I’ll look at the two decades between 1967 and 1986. I suspect we’ll be talking some more about some of the names on this decade’s list. Can you guess who the new stars will be?

In the Third Decade of Oscar, Marlon Brando Left All Other Actors Saying “I Coulda Been a Contender”

In the third decade of Oscar, which encompassed movies released between 1947 to 1956, Marlon Brando burst onto the Hollywood scene.

In the third decade of Oscar, which encompassed movies released between 1947 to 1956, Marlon Brando burst onto the Hollywood scene. Beginning with his second movie, A Streetcar Named Desire, released in 1951, Brando had a run of four consecutive years in which he was nominated for Best Actor. If you include his nomination for Sayonara , released in 1957, he had a string of 5 nominations in 7 years. He won the award for his 1954 iconic portrayal of Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront. It’s that movie that showcases Brando, at the peak of his career, in the classic scene with his brother Charley, played by Rod Steiger, where he laments that Charley should have been looking out for him with the line “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am”.

Here are the scoring results for the decade including the other “contenders”:

Top Actors of the Decade
1947 to 1956
Actor Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actor Nominations Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Nominations Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Marlon Brando 1950 4 1 0 0 15
Jose Ferrer 1950 2 1 1 0 10
Montgomery Clift 1948 3 0 0 0 9
Kirk Douglas 1947 3 0 0 0 9
William Holden 1947 2 1 0 0 9

Movie fans today may not realize how influential Brando was. In 1999, Time Magazine compiled a list of the 100 most influential people of the twentieth century. Marlon Brando was one of three actors to make the list, joining Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe. He was one of the first method actors, becoming off screen the character he needed to be on screen. While he has many detractors, he is widely regarded as the greatest actor of all time. I’ll explore this claim in a future blog. But for this period, there is little disagreement of his greatness.

There was no one actress over this ten year period who was the unquestioned actress of the decade. A group of veteran actresses divided up the awards fairly evenly.

Top Actresses of the Decade
1947 to 1956
Actress Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actress Nominations Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Nominations Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Susan Hayward 1947 4 0 0 0 12
Jane Wyman 1947 3 1 0 0 12
Katherine Hepburn 1947 3 0 0 0 9
Deborah Kerr 1947 3 0 0 0 9
Eleanor Parker 1947 3 0 0 0 9
Olivia de Havilland 1948 2 1 0 0 9
Ingrid Bergman 1948 2 1 0 0 9
Loretta Young 1947 2 1 0 0 9
Audrey Hepburn 1951 2 1 0 0 9

Three points separated nine actresses. Of the nine, only Audrey Hepburn debuted during the decade. On a list that includes both Hepburns, Olivia de Havilland, Ingrid Bergman, and Deborah Kerr, many would find it surprising to see Susan Hayward and Jane Wyman at the top of the list. I know I was.  When you look at the tie breakers for the two actresses, their nominated movies don’t generate much interest from today’s viewers and critics.

Tie Breakers for Top Actors of the Decade
Avg IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for Nominated Movies
Released from 1947 to 1956
Actor IMDB Avg Rating # of Votes Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh How Fresh? # of Critics Reviews
Jane Wyman 7.4         7,710 90% Fresh 29
Susan Hayward 7.1         3,738 No Rating 0

Susan Hayward was nominated for four Best Actress awards and not a single Rotten Tomatoes critic has been interested enough to review even one of those movies. Jane Wyman is my actress of the decade because two of her nominated movies, Johnny Belinda, her winning performance, and Magnificent Obsession, have attracted some, but not much, interest from today’s movie viewers and critics. Is this one of those periods where there just weren’t many good female roles?  Maybe. If so, it didn’t last long. Next week when I write about the 1957 to 1966 decade, one actress will dominate the decade and no other actor or actress will even be close.

Was October 2016 Really a Dud for New Movies? It Was and It Wasn’t Even (Horror)ible.

October traditionally kicks off of the Oscar season at the movies. In my last post I called this October a dud. Was it really? Or, did I overestimate the quality of movies that typically come out in October. Being the data geek that I am I decided to test my gut reaction to last month’s movies. I looked at the top ten October movies at the box office for the ten year period 2006 to 2015 and compared them to last month. I looked at the number of Oscar nominations. audience feedback (IMDB), and critical feedback (Rotten Tomatoes).

October traditionally kicks off of the Oscar season at the movies. In my last post I called this October a dud. Was it really? Or, did I overestimate the quality of movies that typically come out in October. Being the data geek that I am, I decided to test my gut reaction to last month’s movies. I looked at the top ten October movies at the box office for the ten year period 2006 to 2015 and compared them to last month. I looked at the number of Oscar nominations. audience feedback (IMDB), and critical feedback (Rotten Tomatoes).

The first thing I discovered that I hadn’t thought of last week was that October is not only the kick off to Oscar season, but it is also Halloween month. Twenty seven of the hundred movies in my sample were horror movies, and many of them were pretty bad horror movies.

 2006 to 2015 # of Oscar Nominations Avg. IMDB Rating Avg. Rotten Tomatoes Rating
Oct. Horror Movies 0 6.3 45% Rotten

In terms of box office, Horror movies are on average 24% of October ticket sales. This percentage would be even higher if I included Halloween themed family movies such as Frankenweenie.

So what do October movies look like if you exclude the Horror movies. Here is an average of the ten years excluding the 27 Horror movies:

 2006 to 2015 Avg. # of Oscar Nominations Avg. IMDB Rating Avg. Rotten Tomatoes Rating
All Other Oct. Movies 8 7.4 66% Fresh

For the typical October, the 7.3 movies in the top ten that aren’t Horror movies earn an average of 8 Oscar nominations. Last year there were 18 nominations  for 6 non-Horror movies. 2009 was the only year that there were no Oscar nominated movies in the October top ten. Based on the IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes results audiences and critics typically like October movies.

Which brings us back to the month just past. Here are the October 2016 box office rankings so far. Here are the qualitative results for the top ten:

# of Projected Oscar Nominations Avg. IMDB Rating Avg. Rotten Tomatoes Rating
Oct. 2016 Horror Movies 0 6.7 82% Certified Fresh
All Other Oct. 2016 Movies 0 6.7 44% Rotten

Despite the fact that there was only one Horror movie in the top ten, none of the remaining nine top ten October movies is presently expected to earn an Oscar nomination. I base this on the up to date projections provided by Awards Circuit. The only movie the critics gave a Certified Fresh score to was the Horror Movie, Ouija: Origin of Evil. The average Rotten Tomatoes Rating of 44% Rotten for non-Horror movies is worse than any of the ten years in the sample. The average IMDB rating of 6.7 ties 2008, 2009, and 2011 for the lowest ratings in the sample.

So, when I suggested that October 2016 was a dud for new movies, it was probably an understatement. October 2016 may actually be the worst October in the last eleven years. It wasn’t (horror)ible. It was horrible.

After a Disappointing October at the Theaters, Get Ready for a Terrific November.

Maybe it’s me, but I thought that the October opening of the Oscar season this year was kind of a dud. The two leading Best Picture contenders released widely in October, The Birth of a Nation and The Girl on the Train, were over-hyped. Even the movies you might expect to be better than average crowd-pleasers were okay entertainments at best. One possible exception is The Accountant. Audiences seem to like it even though critics didn’t warm up to it. Its Rotten Tomatoes rating is 51% Rotten but its IMDB average rating is 7.8 so far. That being said, there was no movie released in October that was a “must see” for me. November, on the other hand, could rock.

Maybe it’s me, but I thought that the October opening of the Oscar season this year was kind of a dud. The two leading Best Picture contenders released widely in October, The Birth of a Nation and The Girl on the Train, were over-hyped. Even the movies you might expect to be better than average crowd-pleasers were okay entertainments at best. One possible exception is The Accountant. Audiences seem to like it even though critics didn’t warm up to it. Its Rotten Tomatoes rating is 51% Rotten but its IMDB average rating is 7.8 so far. That being said, there was no movie released in October that was a “must see” for me. November, on the other hand, could rock.

November releases, on average, make up almost 12% of the total annual box office. Ticket sales are usually more than 40% higher than the average month. You would expect November to be a magnet for crowd-pleasing, Oscar-worthy movie releases. In fact, since 1990, 13.9% of all Best Picture nominees have been released in November, including the last three winners. Based on my own data, there is a 58% chance that I will “really like” a movie released in November. So with those kind of odds in our favor, let’s take a look at what interests me in November.

Seven of Awards Circuit’s top twenty Best Picture contenders will be released in November. I’m going with four of those seven and a “summer blockbuster” type being released in November.

Doctor Strange.    Release Date: November 4    “Really Like” Probability: 75%

Because Thanksgiving is such huge family movie weekend, you will usually find a “sure thing” franchise blockbuster released during the month of November. The box office king for the last three Novembers was the last three movies of the Hunger Games franchise. Before that it was the Harry Potter franchise. This year Marvel Studios and Disney Studios are making a big bet by launching the Doctor Strange franchise, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, in November. Entertainment Weekly has compared it to Inception and The Matrix in its “puzzle-box quality”. We already have an idea how good this movie is going to be because it had its Los Angeles premiere on Oct. 20th and premiered internationally on Oct. 25th. Early IMDB voting has it at an 8.4 rating so far and Rotten Tomatoes is at 96% Fresh based on 49 reviews. The November 4th U.S. release suggests that the producers are confident enough in this new franchise that it will be a “must see” movie by Thanksgiving.

Manchester by the Sea.  Release Date:  November 18   “Really Like” Probability: 65%

Every year The Black List surveys production companies to identify the best scripts they’ve read that haven’t been picked up for movie production. In 2014 Manchester by the Sea was near the top of that list. Two years later it is one of the leading contenders for Best Picture. Casey Affleck plays the lead character and is the current front runner for Best Actor. Can this Boston area based movie replicate the Oscar magic of last year’s Best Picture winner, Spotlight, another Boston based film released in November?

Moonlight. Wide Release Date: November 4     “Really Like” Probability: 60%

This film has come out of nowhere to become a legitimate Best Picture contender. Moonlight opened in four theaters last weekend and earned $413,174 in ticket sales. That is one of the top 25 average sales per theater opening of all time. It already has a 99% Certified Fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes and an 8.5 average rating from IMDB. It is about a young black man growing up in South Florida as he struggles with his sexual identity.

Arrival.   Wide Release Date: November 11     “Really Like” Probability: 55%

Can a movie about a linguist trying to prevent an alien invasion really be a Best Picture candidate? According to Awards Circuit, that is, in fact, the case. Amy Adams plays the linguist and is right in the middle of the discussion for a Best Actress nomination. So far, it is 100% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes based on 49 critic reviews. This movie is going after the audience that loved The Martian last year. Count me in.

Hacksaw Ridge.     Wide Release Date: November 4     “Really Like” Probability: 50%

This film, based on a true story, features Andrew Garfield as a conscientious objector who wins the Medal of Honor in World War II despite the fact that he refuses to kill. Awards Circuit currently has it ranked 14th in the Best Picture race. Very early feedback on the movie is positive. The IMDB average rating is 8.7 and Rotten Tomatoes is 94% Fresh. It is an interesting premise and should make for an entertaining movie.

This is the first month since I started forecasting the upcoming movie month that I am really excited to see all of my picks for the month. There were even three Best Picture contenders that I left off my list. Does it get any better than November and December for great movie watching?

 

Does Rotten Tomatoes Unduly Influence the Movie Box Office?

DC Comics fans were so enraged by the emerging Rotten rating for Suicide Squad last week that they initiated a petition to shut down the Rotten Tomatoes website. Do they have a point? Do critics prejudice movie viewers against movies with Rotten ratings?

A firestorm arose last week among DC Comics fans when reviews started to aggregate on Rotten Tomatoes for the latest DC Comics movie installment, Suicide Squad. From those early reviews it was clear that DC Comics was headed to its third straight Rotten rating. As of today the Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for the three DC movies released so far are:

Release Date Rotten Tomatoes Rating
Man of Steel 6/14/2013 Rotten 55%
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice 5/23/2016 Rotten 27%
Suicide Squad 8/5/2016 Rotten 26%

DC Comics fans were so enraged by the emerging Rotten rating for Suicide Squad last week that they initiated a petition to shut down the Rotten Tomatoes website. Do they have a point? Do critics prejudice movie viewers against movies with Rotten ratings?

Last year I created a time series of movies released in the second half of 2015 that made it into the weekly box office top ten. From that data, I’m able to measure box office performance for movies rated Certified Fresh vs. Rotten by Rotten Tomatoes.

Top Ten Box Office Movies
Released  July 17 to October 13, 2015
Opening Weekend Box Office (1,000,000) Total Box Office (1,000,000) % Growth After First Weekend
Certified Fresh  $        26.50  $       92.14 247.7%
Rotten  $        13.37  $       40.19 200.6%

Certified Fresh movies, on average, open with almost twice the box office as Rotten Movies. And, after the first weekend, the additional growth in sales is 23.5% greater for Certified Fresh movies. In addition, Certified Fresh movies have an average theatrical box office run of 96 days as opposed to 72 days for movies rated Rotten.

So obviously Rotten Tomatoes does influence theater goers into seeing Certified Fresh movies over Rotten movies, right? Yes, and justifiably so. Audiences enjoy the Certified Fresh movies more according to IMDB feedback from opening weekend movie goers.

Top Ten Box Office Movies
Released  July 17 to October 13, 2015
Opening Weekend IMDB Rating
Certified Fresh                7.9
Rotten                6.1

The people who go to movies on the opening weekend are the ones who are most predisposed to like the movie. If they rate Rotten movies low on IMDB, the casual viewer is likely to rate it even lower. Rotten Tomatoes is doing the person planning on going to the movies a service by redirecting then away from below average movies. In fairness, though, the IMDB ratings for the three DC Comics movies are better than the average Rotten rating in my study.

IMDB Rating as of 8/11/2016
Man of Steel 7.2
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice 6.9
Suicide Squad 7.0

These IMDB ratings are closer to what you might see for a Fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes. The  incongruity between the IMDB average ratings and Rotten Tomatoes might be worth a second look. The influence of bad reviews on the box office for these movies is also unclear..

Opening Weekend Box Office (1,000,000) Total Box Office (1,000,000) % Growth After First Weekend
Man of Steel  $      116.62  $     291.05 149.6%
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice  $      166.01  $     330.25 98.9%
Suicide Squad  $      135.10

At first blush, these movies appear to underperform in the weeks after successful opening weekends. But, when you compare their box office growth after opening weekend to the very successful Captain America: Civil War the post-opening weekend box office growth lags, but not outrageously so.

Opening Weekend Box Office (1,000,000) Total Box Office (1,000,000) % Growth After First Weekend
Captain America: Civil War  $      179.14  $     407.05 127.2%

We’ll have to wait and see whether Suicide Squad underperforms in subsequent weeks. But it might be that franchise movies have a built in audience that mitigates somewhat the influence of bad reviews for all but the casual movie goer.

The Careers of Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks Through the Eyes of IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes

Until The Post was released in 2017, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks had never appeared together in a film.

Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks have been two of the most bankable stars in Hollywood for over a quarter of a century. Both were around 28 when their first movies  were released. It is interesting to view their careers through the average ratings of the movies they were in.

First Career Phase (10  movies each)
Age Avg IMDB Rating Avg Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Academy Award Noms./Wins
Streep 28 to 35 7.2 71%   5 Noms./2 Wins
Hanks 28 to 32 6.1 61% 1 Nom/ 0 Wins

Meryl Streep hit the ground running. She was a Tony nominee on Broadway before landing her first role in the Oscar nominated movie Julia. She won an Emmy Award for the miniseries Holocaust before landing a supporting role in The Deer Hunter for which she received her first Oscar nomination. It is an incredible accomplishment that she was nominated for Academy Awards in five of her first ten movies, winning for Kramer vs. Kramer and Sophie’s Choice. In her personal life, her 3 year relationship with actor John Cazale ended with his death when Streep was 28 years. Six months later she married Don Gummer and had her first child at age 30 and her second four years later at age 34.

Tom Hanks crossed over from TV to film. While he was best known for the cross dressing role of Kip Wilson on Bosom Buddies, his real break came at age 26 when he appeared with Ron Howard on an episode of Happy Days. This appearance led Ron Howard, the Director, to cast Tom Hanks in the lead for the movie Splash, which went on to a fairly successful box office run. For the remainder of this period Hanks endured a number of flops until his critical breakthrough in Big, which earned him his first Academy Award nomination at age 32. In his personal life, Hanks went through the divorce from his first wife, with whom he had two children. The children were 9 and 4 at the time of the divorce. Hanks married his second wife, Rita Wilson, at the age of 32.

Second Career Phase (9 movies for Streep, 10 for Hanks))
Age Avg IMDB Rating Avg Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Academy Award Noms./Wins
Streep 36 to 43 6.5 66%   4 noms/0 wins
Hanks 33 to 39 7.0 67%   2 noms/2 wins

During this second phase of their careers Meryl Streep solidified her position as the premier actress of her time, while Tom Hanks made a successful transition to the “A-List” of Hollywood actors. Remarkably, Streep continued to earn Oscar Nominations for almost half of the movies she was in. Hanks gained serious actor status by transitioning to dramatic roles that resulted in Best Actor nominations and wins in consecutive years for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. In their personal lives, both experienced the births of their 3rd and 4th children.

Third Career Phase (10 movies for Streep, 11 for Hanks)
Age Avg IMDB Rating Avg Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Academy Award Noms./Wins
Streep 44 to 53 6.9 67%   4 noms/0 wins
Hanks 40 to 48 7.4 79%   2 noms/0 wins

This third phase saw an uptick in the quality of the movies each appeared in. In terms of opportunity, Hanks was at the peak of his career. To appear in 11 movies with an average Rotten Tomatoes rating of 79% Fresh suggests that he had the pick of the litter in terms of selecting movies to appear in at this time. As for Meryl Streep, she continued to select roles that earned her an Academy Award nominations for almost every other movie she appeared in.

Fourth Career Phase (12 movies each)
Age Avg IMDB Rating Avg Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Academy Award Noms./Wins
Streep 54 to 59 6.6 56%   2 noms/0 wins
Hanks 49 to 59 6.6 60%   0 noms/0 wins

This fourth phase of each actor’s career is interesting. In terms of the quality of the movies they were in, the numbers are very similar. Meryl Streep  earned two Oscar nominations during this period for The Devil Wears Prada and Doubt, but seems more intent on working rather than cherry-picking Oscar worthy roles. She averaged two movies a year during this period, far and away the most productive period of her career For Hanks, on the other, hand, this is the least productive period for movie acting, about one a year, as he became more involved in producing. He appeared to be more selective in his acting roles, with half being in Oscar nominated movies.

Fifth Career Phase (11 movies)
Age Avg IMDB Rating Avg Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Academy Award Noms./Wins
Streep 60 to 66 6.7 67%  4 noms/1 wins

Meryl Streep is seven years older than Tom Hanks and so she has completed a career phase that Tom Hanks is just entering. Compare her IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes results during this latest stage in her acting career with her second and third phases and you’ll find that they are very similar. The biggest difference is that she is acting in more movies. From age 28 to 53, Meryl Streep averaged 1.13 movies per year. From 54 to 66, she has averaged 1.77 movie per year.

Let me sum up with a couple of observations. First, if we can use average IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes ratings as indicators of the quality of roles available to Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, then the best opportunities available to Meryl Streep were from age 28 to 35 and for Tom Hanks from age 40 to 48. These results are consistent with the study I posted earlier in the year which noted that the amount of dialogue  for women in scripts peaks before age 31. Secondly, both Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks have four children. During the years that each was involved in caring for their children, Meryl Streep made fewer movies and Tom Hanks made more movies. From age 28 to 43, Meryl Streep made 1.19 movies per year. From age 28 to 39, Tom Hanks made 1.67 movies per year. I won’t draw any conclusions from these observations. I do intend, however, to do more of these side by side career comparisons in the future to see if any patterns do emerge.

Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins) and Tom Hanks (Sully) are once again appearing in movies this year that should include them in the conversation for acting awards. They are truly American treasures.