Will I "Really Like" this Movie?

Navigating Movie Website Ratings to Select More Enjoyable Movies

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.

 

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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.

***

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.

***

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”.

What Is the Best Month for New Movie Releases? You Might Be Surprised.

Remember a few weeks ago when I mentioned that we were experiencing an unusual run of good July movies. Well…maybe it’s not so unusual.

After I made that comment, I made a mental note to myself to check and see how accurate my impressions were. I would have preferred to wait for this study until I had a large enough sample in the Objective Database I’m developing. An assessment based on say IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes ratings would probably be a lot more meaningful to you. But, that database isn’t large enough yet and my curiosity got the better of me. So, I took a peek at my own ratings and I was mildly surprised.

Based on the 2,016 movies I’ve seen in the last fifteen years, July releases had the highest percentage of “really like” movies for me. Here’s my ranking:

Really Liked Didn’t Really Like Total % “Really Like”
 All             878            610           1,488 59.0%
 Jul                96               52              148 64.9%
 Dec             147               86              233 63.1%
 Nov             107               63              170 62.9%
 May                86               57              143 60.1%
 Jan                93               68              161 57.8%
 Feb                78               58              136 57.4%
 Aug                85               69              154 55.2%
 Oct             109               91              200 54.5%
 Mar                77               66              143 53.8%
 Sep                85               74              159 53.5%
 Apr                79               69              148 53.4%
 Jun                83               99              182 45.6%

I had assumed that December and November movies would top the list with their appeal to Oscar voters and the holiday movie crowd. But, on the surface, it looks like it is the lazy summer days of July that have the highest likelihood of a “really like” trip to the Cineplex.

While the rankings by month displayed above aren’t illogical, they do suggest the need for a more objective foundation. Consider that I’ve watched 233 December releases compared to only 148 July releases. Does that suggest that I’m more susceptible to the Oscar bait of December? Or, that I’m more selective in which July movies I see? For now, let’s just say that the data is suggestive and interesting, but not definitive. Just be careful what you see at the theater between now and November.

***

My rule of thumb for August releases is to avoid big budget movies and seek out a solid, small budget independent release. For those of you, like my wife, who have been waiting for The Glass Castle, the early reviews are not great. So far, it is 42% Rotten on Rotten Tomatoes. That rating, though, is based on only 24 critic reviews and so you can still hope. I just wouldn’t run out and see it right away.

The better bets are a couple of smaller movies. Wind River, which I commented on last week, went into limited release last weekend and goes into wide release this weekend. So far it has a 7.6 average rating on IMDB and is 87% Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Also, you might check out Ingrid Goes West which premiered at Sundance in January but goes into wide release this weekend. The movie’s leads, Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen, have been getting strong early reviews for their performances. Interestingly, Olsen has one of the leads in Wind River as well.

 

What IMDB Ratings Give You the Best Chance for a “Really Like” Movie?

As I was browsing the IMDB ratings for the movies released in July, I wondered how the average user of IMDB knows what is a good rating for a movie. I’m sure the more than casual visitor to IMDB would see the 8.2 rating for Baby Driver and immediately recognize that only above average movies receive ratings that high. Or, they might see the 1.5 rating for The Emoji Movie and fully understand that this is a really bad movie. But, what about the 6.8 for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets or the 7.2 for Atomic Blonde. They might have a number in their head as to what is the tipping point for a good and bad rating but that number could only be a guess. To really know, you’d have to compile a list of all the movies you’ve seen and compare their IMDB rating to how you’ve rated them. That would be crazy. Right? But, wait a minute. I’m that crazy! I’ve done that! Well, maybe not every movie I’ve ever seen. But, every movie I’ve seen in the last fifteen years.

So, given the fact that I’ve done what only a crazy man would do, what can I tell you about what is a good IMDB rating. Here’s my breakdown:

IMDB Avg. Rating # I Really Liked # I Didn’t Really Like Really Like %
> 8.2 108 43 71.5%
7.2 to 8.1 732 427 63.2%
6.2 to 7.1 303 328 48.0%
< 6.2 6 71 7.8%
> 7.2 840 470 64.1%
< 7.2 309 399 43.6%
All 1149 869 56.9%

The data suggests that IMDB ratings of 7.2 or higher give me the best chance of choosing a “really like” movie.

I mentioned a few posts ago that my new long range project is to develop a database that is totally objective, free from the biases of my movie tastes. I’m compiling data for the top 150 movies in box office receipts for the last 25 years. It’s a time-consuming project that should produce a more robust sample for analysis. One of my concerns has been that the database of movies that I’ve seen doesn’t have a representative sample of bad movies. While it’s a long way from completion, I have completed years 1992 and 1993 which are representative enough to make my point.

IMDB Avg. Rating % of All Movies in Objective Database (Years 1992 & 1993) % of All Movies in My Seen Movie Database
> 8.2 1% 7%
7.2 to 8.1 23% 57%
6.2 to 7.1 35% 31%
< 6.2 41% 4%

Over the last six or seven years in particular, I have made a concerted effort to avoid watching bad movies. You can see this in the data. If 7.2 is the “really like” benchmark, then only 24% of the top 150 movies at the box office are typically “really like” movies. On the other hand, my selective database has generated 64% “really like” movies over the past 15 years. This is a big difference.

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While no new movies broke into the Objective Top Fifteen this week, Megan Leavy, which was released around eight weeks ago, slipped into the list. This under-the-radar movie didn’t have enough critics’ reviews to be Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes until recently.

As for this weekend, The Dark Tower could be a disappointment to everyone but the most die-hard of Stephen King fans. Instead, I’m keeping an eye on Detroit. This urban drama, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, captures the chaos of Detroit in 1967. It probably will be surveyed by Cinemascore.

A third movie, that probably won’t be surveyed by Cinemascore but I’m watching nevertheless, is Wind River. Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the acclaimed movies Hell or High Water and Sicario, wrote this movie. Sheridan is a great young talent who is stepping behind the camera in his directorial debut as well.

 

 

 

 

Why Did “The Big Sick” Drop Out of the Objective Top Fifteen This Week?

This past Sunday my wife, Pam, and I went to see The Big Sick. The movie tells the story of the early relationship days of the two screenwriters, Emily Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani. In fact, Nanjiani plays himself in the movie. It is the authenticity of the story, told in a heartfelt and humorous way, that makes this film special.

On the following day, last weekend’s blockbuster, Dunkirk, moved into the second spot in the revised Objective Top Fifteen rankings. When a new movie comes on the list another one exits. This week’s exiting movie, ironically, was The Big Sick. Wait! If The Big Sick is such a great movie why isn’t it in my top fifteen for the year? Are all of the other movies on the list better movies? Maybe yes. Maybe no. You’ll have to determine that for yourselves. You see the Objective Top Fifteen is your list, not mine.

I developed the Objective Top Ten, which became Fifteen the beginning of July and will become Twenty the beginning of October, to provide you with a ranking of 2017 widely released movies that are most likely to be “really like” movies. Because the ranking is based on objective benchmarks, my taste in movies has no influence on the list. The four benchmarks presently in use are: IMDB Avg. Rating, Rotten Tomatoes Rating, Cinemascore Rating, and Academy Award Nominations and Wins. A movie like Hidden Figures that meets all four benchmarks has the greatest statistical confidence in its “really like” status and earns the highest “really like” probability. A movie that meets three benchmarks has a greater “really like” probability than a movie that meets only two benchmarks. And so on.

The important thing to note, though, is that this is not a list of the fifteen best movies of the year. It is a ranking of probabilities (with some tie breakers thrown in) that you’ll “really like” a movie. It is subject to data availability. The more positive data that’s available, the more statistical confidence, i.e. higher probability, the model has in the projection.

Which brings me back to The Big Sick. Cinemascore surveys those movies that they consider “major releases”. The Big Sick probably didn’t have a big advertising budget. Instead, the producers of the film chose to roll the movie out gradually, beginning on June 23rd, to create some buzz and momentum behind the movie before putting it into wide release on July 14th. This is probably one of the reasons why Cinemascore didn’t survey The Big Sick. But, because The Big Sick is missing that third benchmark needed to develop a higher probability, it dropped out of the Top Fifteen. On the other hand, if it had earned at least an “A-” from Cinemascore The Big Sick would be the #2 movie on the list based on the tie breakers.

And, that is the weakness, and strength of movie data. “Major releases” have it. Smaller movies like The Big Sick don’t.

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This weekend may be the end of the four week run of Objective Top Fifteen movie breakthroughs. Atomic Blonde, the Charlize Theron spy thriller, has an outside chance of earning a spot on the list. As of this morning, it is borderline for the IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes benchmarks. I’m also tracking Girls Trip which earned a Certified Fresh just in the last couple of days from Rotten Tomatoes and has an “A+” in hand from Cinemascore. For now, it is just below the IMDB benchmark. We’ll see if that changes over the weekend.

 

 

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