Movie review websites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic use two scores to rate movies: critic ratings and user ratings. A critic rating is the average score from professional critics who write for respected publications, and the user score is the culmination of anyone out there who saw the movie — no professional status required (like Yelp for movie reviews).
You’d think those scores would always be on the same page — critics should know what they’re talking about — but this is often not the case. The most famous example in the movie sphere is about a reviewer named Armond White. White gave the only bad review to one of the most well-reviewed movies in history: Pixar’s “Toy Story 3.”
It just goes to show the professionals don’t always see art the way they should, and that isn’t limited to just movies. Music, theater, and music have all produced hits that critics tried to call duds from the beginning.
The Da Vinci Code
“The Da Vinci Code” was adapted from the best-selling book by the same title and starred Tom Hanks as a Harvard professor turned Indiana Jones in search of the Holy Grail. The book’s success built up anticipation for the movie, and it scored big in the box office — more than $750 million worldwide. Unfortunately, the critics didn’t give the theatrical adaptation the same love and scored it a 25 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
“Transformers” is like the Nickelback of cinema. No one will admit to liking them, but they continue to make a ton of money. The franchise combined has earned more than $3.7 billion worldwide. That’s a higher net worth than some Google executives. So surely there are people who go to these movies just like there are people who go to Nickelback concerts. And despite the continued poor ratings from critics, it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon.
Moving on to theater, it’s hard to imagine a classic like “Les Miserables” — which still sells out shows decades later — would have opened to poor reviews, but that’s exactly what happened. Critic Michael Billington gave the play a sour review more than 25 years ago and, despite its current success, stands by that review today. He says it bored him, but clearly the world disagrees.
The critics were even less kind on the Wizard of Oz classic “Wicked,” which has also been selling out Broadway for 10 years now. Newsday called it “overproduced, overblown, confusingly dark and laboriously ambitious jumble,” which let’s be honest, is probably true of “The Wizard of Oz” as well. Another critic said that of the play’s 22 songs, not one of them is memorable. Broadway’s ambitious attempt at telling the story from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West paid off, though, as the movie took home multiple Tony Awards and is one of the most memorable and successful plays in the business.
While critics’ reviews are fun to read, there’s a lesson in all this — fan ratings like those from Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritc, combined with box office success, is a much better indicator of a movie or play’s success.