Cinemascore Is For Opening Weekend, but Beware of Grade Inflation

The movie industry has its own version of the exit poll, Cinemascore. In the pre-IMDB days of 1978, the movie industry had the same concerns with critics that they have with Rotten Tomatoes today. The industry felt critics had too much influence with the viewing public. Cinemascore filled this perceived need to balance the sway of critics by measuring the opening night reaction to a movie from moviegoers who were walking out of the theater

We have just endured another Presidential Primary season where every tea leaf was micro-analyzed and every phrase parsed to death. One of the primary tools of the political pundits is the exit poll. In key districts across the primary State, pollsters await voters as they exit the polling place to determine who the voters were pinning their hopes on to lead the free world at that very moment and why. The exit poll fills our insatiable desire for instant feedback for what we’re collectively thinking.

The movie industry has its own version of the exit poll, Cinemascore. In the pre-IMDB days of 1978, the movie industry had the same concerns with critics that they have with Rotten Tomatoes today. The industry felt critics had too much influence with the viewing public. Cinemascore filled this perceived need to balance the sway of critics by measuring the opening night reaction to a movie from moviegoers who were walking out of the theater. Like political exit polls, the theaters polled in the survey were specifically selected to provide a cross section, regionally and demographically, of the viewing public in the U.S. and Canada. Participants in the survey answer six questions about the movie they’ve just watched including the assignment of a grade from A to F.

By going to the website linked above you can view the average grade from the surveys given to recent major movie releases. You can also type in a movie title released after 1978 to see that movie’s average grade. With a paid subscription you can enter the website and presumably access results from the other five questions surveyed. Not all movies are surveyed, only those considered major releases.

How useful are these grades? Well, if you absolutely can’t wait to see a movie, but you can hold off until Saturday night, they can be quite useful. The survey sample is representative of moviegoers like you. I would expect that most attendees of an opening night movie have a high degree of interest in the movie, just like you. On the other hand, if your decision to attend an opening weekend movie is more casually made, Cinemascore could be deceiving.

The 24 recent movie releases currently displayed on the Cinemascore Home Page are ranked below by grade with the accompanying IMDB rating results:

Cinemascore
Recent Movie Results
Movie Cinemascore # IMDB Votes IMDB Avg. Rating
ME BEFORE YOU A                6,217 7.9
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR A            229,127 8.3
GOD’S NOT DEAD 2 A                3,809 3.3
JUNGLE BOOK, THE A              84,945 7.8
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS A-                8,013 6.5
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE A-            102,507 7.4
ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS A-              12,479 6.4
CONJURING 2, THE A-                7,238 8.4
NOW YOU SEE ME 2 A-                3,696 7.2
BARBERSHOP: THE NEXT CUT A-                2,099 6.1
MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 A-                8,083 6.2
ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE, THE B+              13,128 6.4
WARCRAFT B+              45,628 7.8
HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR, THE B+              23,522 6.2
MONEY MONSTER B+              11,349 6.8
MOTHER’S DAY B+                3,643 5.4
BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE B            299,641 7.0
KEANU B                7,507 6.6
NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING B              16,437 6.1
POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING B                2,815 7.4
RATCHET AND CLANK B                1,778 6.1
CRIMINAL B-                5,452 6.4
NICE GUYS, THE B-              23,900 7.8
DARKNESS, THE C                1,901 4.1

If an IMDB rating of 7.3 or higher is considered an above average rating, then only a Cinemascore of A is solidly reinforced by the IMDB average ratings. Of the 7 movies  receiving an A- grade only X-Men: Apocalypse and The Conjuring 2 were considered above average by IMDB voters. A Cinemascore of A- may not translate favorably when the more general audience begins to view the film. If on the other hand, you are really into Christian movies and you were really looking forward to God’s Not Dead 2, Cinemascore is going to be a better indicator of the quality of the movie than IMDB, whose voters may not be representative of your taste in movies.

Cinemascore was created before we had sites like IMDB. It still has its use for “must see” opening weekend moviegoers and movies for unique tastes. Once you get past opening weekend, however, IMDB is probably a better tool for word of mouth feedback.

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6/17/2016

I’ve entered my final estimate for Finding Dory this morning. The early indicators are that this will be a critical and box office success. I’ve forecasted it will be a “really like” of 85%.

Is Opening Weekend at the Movie Theaters a Flip of the Coin?

These results beg the question, should we ever go to the movies when a movie first comes out? Without the benefit of the feedback from actual moviegoers, our potential enjoyment of a movie during its early run in the theaters might be no better than the flip of a coin.

Last weekend, the top five movies at the Box Office all earned Rotten grades from Rotten Tomatoes. Two of the five have managed to receive favorable scores from IMDB, while the remaining three have received very mediocre feedback from their IMDB voters. Here are the five movies:

TOP FIVE MOVIES AT THE BOX OFFICE
WEEKEND  OF 6/3 TO 6/5
Movie Box Office (000000) Rotten Tomatoes IMDB Avg. Rating
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows $35.30 36% Rotten 6.6
X-Men: Apocalypse $22.80 48% Rotten 7.5
Me Before You $18.70 56% Rotten 8.1
Alice Through the Looking Glass $11.30 29% Rotten 6.4
The Angry Birds Movie $10.20 43% Rotten 6.4

These results beg the question, should we ever go to the movies when a movie first comes out? Without the benefit of the feedback from actual moviegoers, our potential enjoyment of a movie during its early run in the theaters might be no better than the flip of a coin. Three of the five movies were released Memorial Day weekend and their numbers are down significantly from their strong numbers the first weekend, possibly the influence of their adverse Rotten Tomatoes grades. All of the movies have a built in audience because they are sequels, or, in the case of Me Before You, they read the book, or, in the case of The Angry Birds Movie, they play the phone app. Despite an audience that is predisposed to like each movie, only in the instances of X-Men: Apocalypse and Me Before You has the audience actually liked the movie, as evidenced by the IMDB ratings. Moviegoers spent $98.3 million last weekend expecting to be entertained by these five movies. Those who saw the TMNT movie, or Angry Birds, or the latest adventure of Alice, were a little disappointed. There has to be a better way.

I don’t know if it’s possible to improve the odds of selecting “really like” movies when they are first released. My efforts to forecast “really like” movies beginning in June will at least test whether I can do it. You may have noticed that I’ve made a notation  in my June forecast that my forecast for Me Before You is final. In order to truly test the ability to project a movie before its opening weekend, all forecast adjustments have to be finalized before it opens in the theaters.  After four to six months, I plan to go back and compare how the actual “really like” probabilities developed against what I projected. After all, a forecast doesn’t have much credibility unless you keep score and demonstrate a track record of success.

I’ve been to movies on opening weekend where I felt pretty confident that I would “really like” the movie,  Captain America: Civil War for example. In that instance there was a significant amount of data out there from its International run the week before the U.S. opening. For most other movies the data will be less robust requiring more creativity.

I’d like to think I can do better than the flip of a coin.

Franchise Action Movies are Gold

The story isn’t the impact of bad reviews on this particular movie but the box office immunity that franchise action movies have in general. They come with a built in audience that will show up regardless of how the movie is reviewed

X-Men: Apocalypse dominated the box office this Memorial Day weekend taking in $65.3 million in ticket sales. It also received a less than enthusiastic response from the critics, earning a 49% Rotten grade from Rotten Tomatoes. Does this mean that Rotten Tomatoes has little impact on how well a movie does at the box office? Absolutely not. X-Men: Days of Future Past received a 91% Certified Fresh Rating when it opened on Memorial Day weekend in 2014 and took in $90.8 million in ticket sales. The latest entry into the X-Men franchise underperformed its predecessor by 28% at the box office for the same holiday weekend. I suspect much of that deficit was due to the lukewarm reviews X-Men: Apocalypse received.

The story isn’t the impact of bad reviews on this particular movie but the box office immunity that franchise action movies have in general. They come with a built in audience that will show up regardless of how the movie is reviewed. The following is a list of the top ten U.S. box office performers for action movies including their Rotten Tomatoes grades:

Release Year US Box Office (000000) Rotten Tomatoes Grade % Fresh
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens 2015 $937 Certified Fresh 92%
Avatar 2009 $761 Certified Fresh 83%
Jurassic World 2015 $652 Fresh 72%
The Avengers 2012 $623 Certified Fresh 92%
The Dark Knight 2008 $533 Certified Fresh 94%
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 1999 $475 Rotten 56%
Star Wars 1977 $461 Certified Fresh 94%
Avengers: Age of Ultron 2015 $459 Certified Fresh 75%
The Dark Knight Rises 2012 $448 Certified Fresh 87%
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest 2006 $423 Rotten 54%

These box office behemoths have combined for $5.8 billion in ticket sales. Three of these blockbusters aren’t graded Certified Fresh and a fourth, The Avengers: Age of Ultron just barely qualifies as Certified Fresh. What all of these movies have in common is that they are all part of movie franchises. Avatar 2, 3, 4, & 5 are scheduled for release between 2018 and 2023, in case you were wondering why Avatar is considered a franchise. Only Star Wars and Avatar didn’t come with a built in audience from a previous movie in the franchise. Eight of the ten movies were released during Movie Blockbuster season. The other two, Avatar and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, were released during Movie Award season, earning 14 Academy Award nominations and 3 wins. These movies have a combined IMDB rating of 8.2 for males and 8.1 for females. There is little gender gap for this genre.

Franchise Action Movies are  box office gold for the good, the bad, and the ugly (a reference to a franchise of a different genre).