Will I "Really Like" this Movie?

Navigating Movie Website Ratings to Select More Enjoyable Movies

I’m Stating the Obvious But You Will Probably “Really Like” Oscar Nominated Movies.

You are more likely to “really like” a movie that has received an Oscar nomination than one that hasn’t. Now, there’s a bold statement. But while most people would intuitively agree with the statement, I have statistical data to support it.

As followers of this blog are aware, I’m building a database of  objective movie ratings data from the past 25 years. Last week I added a fifth year of data. With each year that I add I can pose questions that are easier to test statistically, such as, do Oscar nominations have “really like” statistical significance. I even take it a step further by exploring if there are differences between major nominations and minor ones.

Major nominations are the commonly accepted major awards for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay. Minor nominations are for all of the other categories presented on Oscar night. It doesn’t include the special technical awards presented in a separate ceremony.

Here are the results for the years 1992 to 1996. The movies are grouped by whether they were awarded at least one major and/or minor nomination. The table represents the percentage of IMDB voters who gave the movies in each group a rating of 7 or higher.

Movies with: % 7+
Major & Minor Nominations 90.5%
Major Nominations Only 84.6%
Minor Nominations Only 74.7%
No Nominations 61.4%
All Sample Movies 73.0%

Major nominations have a clear statistical advantage over minor nominations. The size of the gap between movies with just minor nominations and those with no nominations might be surprising. My gut tells me that this gap will narrow as we add more years, especially when we add more recent years. But, it is interesting nonetheless. It does suggest that members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) understand their craft and that knowledge does a great job identifying the “really like” movies released in a given year.

There are more questions to answer regarding Oscar performance as a “really like” indicator. What is the predictive value of an Oscar win? Does predictive value increase with number of nominations that a movie receives? Does a Best Picture nomination have more predictive value than any other category? All of these questions and more will have to wait for more data.

One question we have answered is why all of the movies at the top of the Objective Top Twenty are Oscar nominated movies from last year’s voting. The other takeaway is that all of the other movies on the list that didn’t go through last year’s nominating process, probably won’t stay on the list unless their name is called on January 23, 2018 when this year’s Oscar nominations are announced.

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It might be a light weekend for new Objective Top Twenty contenders. I’m keeping my eye on Only The Brave which chronicles the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, one of the elite firefighting units in the USA. As of this morning, it is 89% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and has a 7.3 on IMDB.

 

 

 

 

 

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In the Objective Top Twenty, a Certified Fresh Is a Must…But Is It Enough?

When you review the Objective Top Twenty you’ll notice that every movie has earned a Certified Fresh designation from Rotten Tomatoes. It is a dominant factor in my rating system. It may even be too dominant.

All of the analysis that I’ve done so far suggests that a Certified Fresh designation by Rotten Tomatoes is a strong indicator of a “really like” movie. The new Objective Database that I’m working with also shows that a Certified Fresh rating results in a high likelihood that IMDB voters will rate the movie a 7 or higher.

 # of IMDB Votes IMDB Votes 7+ %
Certified Fresh               19,654,608 88.2%
Fresh                  6,144,742 75.4%
Rotten                  9,735,096 48.5%

And, as you might expect, the likelihood of a 7 or higher rating stair steps down as you move into the Fresh and Rotten groups of movies.

This exposes a flaw in my previous thinking about Rotten Tomatoes. In the past I’ve indicated that I haven’t seen a statistical relationship between the % Fresh and the likelihood of a “really like” movie. And, actually, that’s a true statement. The flaw in my thinking was that because I didn’t see it I assumed it didn’t exist.

The Certified Fresh, Fresh, and Rotten designations are primarily defined by % Fresh:

  • Certified Fresh for most movies is > 75% Fresh
  • Fresh for most movies is > 60% and < 75% Fresh
  • Rotten is < 60% Fresh

If differentiation exists for these three groups then it should exist between other % Fresh groups. For example, movies that are 95% Certified Fresh should have a greater “really like” probability than movies that are 80% Certified Fresh. I now believe that I haven’t seen the difference because there hasn’t been enough data to produce stable differences.

When I begin to marry Rotten Tomatoes data with IMDB, I also get more data. Below I’ve grouped the Certified Fresh movies into four groups based on % Fresh.

Certified Fresh:  # of IMDB Votes IMDB Rating 7+ %
100%                     966,496 90.7%
90-99%               10,170,946 89.9%
80-89%                  5,391,437 87.3%
70-79%                  3,125,729 83.5%

We might be seeing the differences you’d expect to see when the units of data get larger.

So, why is this important? If we treat all Certified Fresh movies as strong “really like” prospects, we are in effect saying that we are as likely to “really like” The Shawshank Redemption (Certified Fresh 91%, IMDB Avg. Rating 9.3) as The Mask ( Certified Fresh 77%, IMDB Avg. Rating 6.9). The “really like” model becomes a more dynamic movie pre-screening tool if it can make a Rotten Tomatoes distinction between those two movies.

I believe that the database has to get much larger before we can statistically differentiate between Certified Fresh 87% movies and Certified Fresh 85% movies. But, I think I can begin to integrate the Certified Fresh groupings I developed above to create some additional means of defining quality movies within the Certified Fresh grade.

You might just see this change in next Monday’s Objective Top Twenty.

***

In looking at this weekend’s new releases, there are no sure things but three of the movies are worth keeping an eye on. The Foreigner, the Jackie Chan action thriller, is getting good early feedback from critics and IMDB voters. I expect it to do well at the box office. Marshall, the Thurgood Marshall bio-pic starring Chadwick Boseman, has received some early Oscar buzz. It appears to be headed towards a Certified Fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes. The movie that may sneak up on audiences is Professor Marston & the Wonder Woman. Professor Marston created the character of Wonder Woman in the 1940’s. This movie tells that story. Already 34 of 38 critics have given it a Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I would expect it to receive its Certified Fresh designation by tomorrow morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will “You” Really Like This Movie?

If you reviewed this week’s Objective Top Twenty, you might have noticed something other than five additional movies on the list. You might have noticed that, other than Hidden Figures holding onto the number one spot on the list, all of the rankings had changed.

A few month’s back I mentioned that I was developing a new objective database to project “really like” movies that are not influenced at all by my taste in movies. This week’s Objective Top Twenty reflects the early fruits of that labor.

The plan is to build a very robust database of all of the movies from the last twenty five years that finished in the top 150 in box office sales for each year . I have 1992 through 1995 completed which gives me enough movies to get started with.

The key change in the “really like” formula is that my algorithm measures the probability that users of the IMDB database will rate a particular movie as a 7 out of 10 or higher, which is my definition of a “really like” movie. The key components of the formula are IMDB Average Rating, Rotten Tomatoes Rating, CinemaScore Grade, and the number of  Academy Award wins and nominations for the major categories and for the minor categories.

In future posts, I’ll flesh out my logic for all of these factors. But, the key factor is the capability to measure on IMDB the percentage of IMDB voters who have rated a particular movie as a 7 or higher. When you aggregate all of the movies with a particular IMDB average rating you get results that look like this sample:

Avg. Rating % Rating 7+
                8.5 92.8%
                8.0 88.8%
                7.5 81.4%
                7.0 69.2%
                6.5 54.7%
                6.0 41.5%
                5.5 28.7%

Note that, just because a movie has an average rating of 7.0, doesn’t mean that every movie with a 7.0 average rating is a “really like” movie.  Only 69.2% of the votes cast for the movies with a 7.0 rating were ratings of 7 or higher. Conversely, every movie with an average rating of 6.0 isn’t always a “don’t really like” movie since 41.5% of the voters handed out 7’s or higher. It does mean, though, that the probability of a 7.0 average rated movie is more likely to be a “really like” movie than one with a 6.0 rating.

These changes represent a start down a path towards a movie pre-screening tool that is more useful to the followers of this blog. It is a work in progress that will only get better as more years are added to the database. But, we have a better answer now to the question, “Will you ‘really like’ this movie?”

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If you’re going to the movies this weekend, chances are that you’re going to see Blade Runner 2049. The early indications are that it is going to live up to the hype. You might also check out The Florida Project, an under the radar movie that is getting some apparently well-deserved buzz.

Why Does CinemaScore Leave Out So Many Good Movies When Issuing Grades?

The 2017 Academy Awards will be forever remembered as the year that La La Land was awarded Best Picture for about a minute before they discovered that Moonlight was the actual winner. Those two movies have something else in common. Neither movie received a CinemaScore grade despite, arguably, being the top two movies of 2016.

I’m thinking about this issue this week because three movies with Oscar buzz, StrongerBattle of the Sexes, and Victoria and Abdul,  went into limited release last weekend. None of them were graded by Cinemascore. There is a valid reason for this but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing to movie pre-screeners like myself.

For me, Cinemascore is appealing because it measures only opening night reaction. Most people who go to the opening night of a movie are there because they really want to see that movie. The pre-release buzz has grabbed their attention to such an extent that they can’t wait to see it. They walk into an opening night movie expecting to love it. When they walk out of the movie and respond to CinemaScore’s survey they are probably grading based on expectations. So, when a movie receives an “A” from Cinemascore, it tells us that the movie lives up to the hype. Anything less than that suggests that the movie experience was less than they expected.

CinemaScore gets stuck when it comes to movies that are released in a limited number of theaters prior to them being released widely in most theaters. CinemaScore samples locations throughout the U.S. and Canada to establish a credible unbiased sample. When a movie goes into limited release, it is released in some of their sample locations but not in most of their sample locations. Last weekend, Stronger was released in 573 theaters, Battle of the Sexes was released in 21 theaters, and Victoria and Abdul was released in 4 theaters. To provide some perspective, Kingsman: The Golden Circle opened in 4,003 theaters last weekend and earned a “B+” grade from CinemaScore. When Stronger and Battle of the Sexes goes into wide release tomorrow, does word of mouth reaction from moviegoers who’ve seen the movie in the last week disturb the integrity of any sample taken this weekend? When Victoria and Abdul goes into wide release on October 6, is its release into just 4 theaters last weekend sufficiently small to not taint the sample? I don’t know the answers to these questions. I’ll be looking to see if these movies get graded when they go into wide release. In Box Office Mojo’s article on last weekend’s box office performance they indicate that CinemaScore graded Stronger an “A-” even though it hasn’t been officially posted on their website. Perhaps they are waiting to post it after wide release?

I understand why grades don’t exist on CinemaScore for many limited release movies. I understand the importance of data integrity in the creation of a credible survey. I will just observe, though, that in this age of social media, using limited movie releases to build pre-wide release momentum for quality movies is an increasingly viable strategy. Just this week, A24, the studio behind the rise of Moonlight last year, decided to put their dark horse candidate this year, Lady Bird, into limited release on November 3rd after it emerged from the Telluride and Toronto film festivals with a 100% Fresh grade from Rotten Tomatoes. CinemaScore may be facing the prospect of an even broader inventory of ungraded top tier movies than it does today. It will be interesting to see how they respond to this challenge, if at all.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

Is MoviePass the Next Big Thing? Or Just One More Thing.

Netflix put DVD rental stores out of business. Amazon changed how we buy books (and almost everything else). Uber has placed taxi companies on a path to obsolescence. On August 15th, MoviePass, a fledgling movie theater subscription service with 20,000 subscribers, lowered their monthly subscription price from $14.95 to $9.95. Two days later they had 150,000 subscribers and had drawn a panicked response from AMC, the top theater chain in America. Is a seismic shift occurring in the first run movie delivery system as well?

Rather than go into a long explanation of what MoviePass is, I’ll link you to its Wikipedia page to fill you in. I’m more interested in whether it makes sense for the movie consumer to subscribe to MoviePass. Here’s the economics of it. At $9.95 a month, the annual cost of a MoviePass card is $119.40. According to AMC, their average ticket cost for the first quarter of 2017 was $9.33. If you see 13 movies annually it would cost you $121.19. So to save money with a MoviePass you would have to typically go to the movies more than 12 times a year. It doesn’t seem like a lot but it actually is. I would consider myself an above average consumer of movies. But when I went back and tallied how often I actually go to the movie theater, here’s what I discovered:

Year # Seen in Theater Avg Cost Total Cost
2017 6  $       9.33  $    55.98
2016 6  $       9.33  $    55.98
2015 6  $       9.33  $    55.98
2014 3  $       9.33  $    27.99
2013 5  $       9.33  $    46.65
2012 11  $       9.33  $  102.63

In the five years before 2017, I would have lost money using MoviePass. I would have to go to the movies more than twice as often as I normally do to make it financially viable.

This is the “gym membership” pricing model. You enthusiastically use your gym membership in the beginning. Over time, though, life gets in the way and you use it less and less even though you continue to pay the same monthly membership fee. In one of the articles I read to prepare for this post, Stacy Spikes, the CEO and co-founder of MoviePass, indicated that 10% of moviegoers buy 50% of the movie tickets sold. According to Spikes, it was those movie theater patrons that they were targeting with this price decrease. I don’t buy it. They wouldn’t have to reduce the price to get those consumers. It is more likely they are targeting the movie fan that thinks that they go to close to a movie a month when actually they don’t.

As consumers of movie and television programming, we are witnessing the splintering of our venues to watch this programming. One other big piece of news that came out over the summer was Disney’s announcement that they will end their arrangement to provide content to Netflix in 2019. Disney intends to launch its own streaming service. Remember that Disney includes the Marvel and Star Wars franchises as well as their stable of Disney classics. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO, Showtime, Starz and soon Disney have exclusive entertainment that we probably want to see. MoviePass should be viewed as one more subscription service to fit into our entertainment budget if we so choose. But, can we afford it all?

There could be a place for MoviePass in this equation. Here are the totals of all of the movies released in the last 5+ years that I’ve seen:

Year Total # Seen # Seen in Theater % Seen in Theater
2017 9 6 67%
2016 35 6 17%
2015 51 6 12%
2014 44 3 7%
2013 41 5 12%
2012 59 11 19%
Total 239 37 15%

I eventually watch many more of the movies released in a given year on the platforms I subscribe to, whether it be cable, Netflix DVD, or a streaming service. Currently, I subscribe to all of the streaming options, either directly or through cable, mentioned above except for Hulu. I do this to give me enough good movie options to access each week. What if I watched more of the movies I end up watching with subscription services in theaters using MoviePass instead. I might then think of my subscription services as primarily for television entertainment. Since I can only binge watch a show or two at a time, why not limit my cost to the venues I’m watching at the time. If I just finished watching Game of Thrones until the next season in 2019 and now I want to watch Ozark, I can suspend my HBO subscription and reopen my Netflix streaming account. At the same time I could suspend my Showtime and Starz subscriptions too until I get around to watching Billions or Outlander. This would free up the cash for MoviePass and save me a little more as well. My wife Pam thinks that this sounds like a lot of work. The subscription services are banking on you feeling that way as well.

A few years ago, I remember listening to people complain about their cable bills. The common complaint was that we couldn’t pay for just the channels we wanted to watch and not pay for the others. Well, that day gets closer and closer every day as subscription services replace cable. If we don’t carefully manage our options, though, we may end up paying more for the things we “want” to watch then we ever paid for cable. We might think about paying only for what we “want” to watch right now. I think MoviePass could be part of the strategy, or not.

 

It’s a Good Week To Be on Vacation 

Every now and then I wonder if anyone would notice if I didn’t blog one week. I’m a creature of habit. I update the Objective Top Fifteen every Monday. I update my Watch List every Wednesday. I publish a new article every Thursday.

This week I’m spending the week in beautiful Newport, RI. I didn’t update the Objective Top Fifteen. Did you notice? As it turns out, there were no changes. Both The Hitman’s Bodyguard and Logan Lucky received mediocre grades from Cinemascore, which kept them off the list.

I didn’t update my Watch List today. But that wouldn’t have changed much either. After watching American History X last Wednesday, I haven’t watched another movie since.

As for the movies opening this weekend, there isn’t much to talk about. August is typically weak. If you can believe it, this August is running 64% behind last August at the box office, making it a weaker than weak August. If you want to use your newly purchased Movie Pass (Its price was recently cut to $10), check out the Indies I’ve mentioned before. Good Time, the Robert Pattinson crime drama, opens to a wide audience this weekend. Positive buzz is following its limited release last weekend.

Finally, I just wanted to let you know that I wouldn’t be publishing tomorrow. I’ll be continuing to sample signature drinks throughout Newport. Given where we are in the movie cycle, it’s a very viable alternative.

When Art Mirrors Reality: American History X and the Events in Charlottesville

At the end of July I went through my monthly ritual of identifying movies I had watched 15 years ago and moving them onto my list of potential movies to watch now. One of these recycled movies, American History X,immediately moved to the top of my Watch List. Because it wasn’t available on any of the platforms I subscribe to, I added it to the top of my Netflix DVD queue. It was happenstance that I watched this DVD yesterday, a few days after the events in Charlottesville.

My experience has been that, when these movies come up for a second viewing fifteen years later, I have a couple of common recollections of the movie. I have a general memory of what the movie is about. I have very little memory of the details of the movie. And, most importantly, I have a distinct memory of whether I “really liked” the movie even if everything else about the movie is indistinct. If it happens that I remember “loving” a movie, I know that I am about to re-experience the highs of being a movie lover even if I can’t remember why.

I have no memory of American History X when it was first released. It was only a few years later that my exploration of IMDB surfaced this movie that was highly rated but was about a topic that repulsed me, the neo-Nazi movement in California. It took a little time but I finally overcame my reluctance and watched it in 2002, four years after it was released. I remember being surprised at how good a movie it was.

The movie is told in two stories. One story is the 24 hour period after Derek Vinyard, played by Edward Norton, is released from prison after serving three years for voluntary manslaughter of two black men who were attempting to steal his car. His prison experience leads him to rethink the path he followed and is determined to dissuade his younger brother, Danny, from following down the same path.

Danny tells the second story. At the beginning of the movie, a teacher, who is trying to get through to Danny, gives Danny an assignment to write a history about his brother, called American History X. This second story is a flashback, filmed in black and white, of Derek’s evolution from inquisitive high-schooler to neo-Nazi leader to his disillusionment with the movement.

I watched it yesterday with a heightened sense of its relevance. I listened to the rhetoric spewed by  Derek and was amazed how closely it mirrored the rhetoric we hear daily. I noted how the two main characters in the movie were well educated, just as many of the neo-Nazi marchers at Charlottesville were young college educated males. The movie portrays the recruitment of young men who have been preyed upon or feel vulnerable with the pitch that their problems are caused by “those people” rather than their own inability to cope with the lemons that life has tossed their way.

One scene in the film is particularly poignant. There is a flashback of high school aged Derek having breakfast with the father he idolized. Derek is expressing his excitement about a class he is having that is exposing him to cultural experiences of other races. His father, a fireman and otherwise decent man, shuts him down and proceeds to indoctrinate him in his racist “reality”. I immediately thought of Barack Obama’s viral tweet of the words of Nelson Mandela, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate…”

At the end of the movie, the younger brother, Danny, narrates the end of his American History X paper with the following words:

“So I guess this is where I tell you what I learned – my conclusion, right? Well, my conclusion is: Hate is baggage. Life’s too short to be pissed off all the time. It’s just not worth it. Derek says it’s always good to end a paper with a quote. He says someone else has already said it best. So if you can’t top it, steal from them and go out strong. So I picked a guy I thought you’d like. ‘We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.’ “

Danny is quoting here from Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address. We can only hope that the hardened shells of our hatred can be penetrated “by the better angels of our nature”.

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