Will I "Really Like" this Movie?

Navigating Movie Website Ratings to Select More Enjoyable Movies

Archive for the tag “IMDB”

Leave Mummy Out of Your Father’s Day Plans

One of the goals of this blog is to make sure that you are aware of the internet tools that are out there to protect you from wasting your time on blockbusters like The Mummy. While it had a disappointing opening in the U.S., moviegoers still shelled out an estimated $32.2 million at the box office last weekend for this bad movie. Overseas it met its blockbuster expectations with a box office of $141.8 million. However, if you were really in the mood for a horror genre movie a better choice, but not a sure thing, might have been It Comes At Night which had a more modest U.S. box office of $6 million.

As a general rule, I won’t go to a movie on its opening weekend. I prefer to get at least a weekend’s worth of data. But if you just have to see a movie on its opening weekend here are a couple of hints. First, if you are seeing the movie on its opening Friday, the most reliable indicator is Rotten Tomatoes. Most critics have released their reviews before the day of the movie’s release. The Rotten Tomatoes rating on the movie’s release date is a statistically mature evaluation of the movie. It won’t change much after that day.

If you are going to the movies on the Saturday of opening weekend, you can add Cinemascore to the mix. I’ve blogged about this tool before. This grade is based on feedback moviegoers provide about the movie as they are leaving the theater. The grade is posted on the Saturday after the Friday release.

Finally, by Sunday IMDB will produce a pretty good, though slightly inflated, average rating for the movie.

The comparison of these three checkpoints for The Mummy and for It Comes At Night might’ve been helpful to those who thought they were in for a “really like” movie experience.

Rotten Tomatoes IMDB Avg. Rating Cinemascore Grade
The Mummy Rotten (17%) 5.9 B-
It Comes At Night Certified Fresh (86%) 7.2 D

While the Cinemascore grade of D for It Comes At Night would keep me away from opening weekend for both movies, if I had to see one, it wouldn’t be The Mummy.

Here’s the data behind my reasoning. For IMDB, the breakpoint between a movie with a good chance that I will “really like” it and one that I probably won’t like is an average rating of 7.2. Movies with a 7.2 IMDB average rating of 7.2 or higher I “really like” 63.3% of the time. Movies with an IMDB rating less than 7.2 I “really like” 43.3% of the time. Turning to Rotten Tomatoes, Movies that are Certified Fresh I “really like” 68% of the time. These “really like” percentages drop to 49.6% for movies that are Fresh and 37.5% for movies that are Rotten. So absent any information based on my own personal tastes, I won’t go to the movieplex to watch a movie that isn’t graded Certified Fresh by Rotten Tomatoes and has an IMDB Rating 7.2 or higher. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any movies out there that don’t meet that criteria that I wouldn’t “really like”. The movie may be in a genre that appeals to me which might provide some tolerance for a little less quality. That being said, the odds that I’ll “really like” a low rated movie are less than 50/50.

I should probably explore the potential of adding Cinemascore to the objective probability factors I use in developing “really like” probabilities. To date, though, I don’t have any Cinemascore data . I don’t yet have a feel for its “really like” reliability. For now, I just use it as another piece of data that might tip me one way or the other if I’m on the fence about a new movie.

Enjoy Father’s Day but stay away from Mummy.

Wonder Woman Is Wonderful But Is It the GOAT Superhero Movie?

Everybody is talking about Wonder Woman and its record-breaking box office last weekend. Critics and audiences agree that Wonder Woman is worth a trip to the theater. The Mad Movie Man is convinced as well. You’ll find the movie in the top half of the 2017 Top Ten List and it is on my Watch List for the week, which means I plan on seeing it within the next week.

I mentioned last week that critics were falling all over themselves in praising this movie with some calling it the Superhero GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). Does it warrant such acclaim? Maybe. When you compare it to four other highly rated superhero movies that kicked off franchises, it holds up pretty well.

Oscar Noms/Wins IMDB Rating Rotten Tomatoes Rating Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Combined Rating
Wonder Woman (2017) 0/0 8.3 C. Fresh 93%              17.6
Iron Man (2008) 2/0 7.9 C. Fresh 94%              17.3
Batman Begins (2005) 1/0 8.3 C. Fresh 84%              16.7
Superman (1978) 3/0 7.3 C. Fresh 93%              16.6
Spider-Man (2002) 2/0 7.3 C. Fresh 89%              16.2

All four of these comparison movies were Oscar nominated. We’ll have to wait until next January to see if Wonder Woman earns Oscar recognition. The combined rating presented here totals the IMDB rating and the Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh (converted to a 10 pt. scale) to measure the response of both critics and audiences to the five movies. It is still early, and IMDB ratings tend to fade a little over time, but for now Wonder Woman is clearly in the GOAT discussion.

If Wonder Woman holds on to its statistical GOAT position it will be fueled by the response of women to the movie. A comparison of Female and Male IMDB ratings for the five movies compared here lays this out pretty clearly.

Female IMDB Rating Male IMDB Rating IMDB Rating Differnce
Wonder Woman 8.6 8.2 0.4
Iron Man 7.9 7.9 0.0
Superman 7.3 7.3 0.0
Batman Begins 8.1 8.3 -0.2
Spider-Man 7.1 7.3 -0.2

While men “really like” Wonder Woman, females love the movie. Women are responding like they never have before to a superhero movie. Men, on the other hand, have a slight preference for Christopher Nolan’s vision of Batman. I also have to admit that I personally consider Batman Begins as one of the GOAT movies, irrespective of genre. That being said, I am really excited about seeing Wonder Woman.

***

After all of this praise for Wonder Woman, you might be wondering why it is only fifth on the 2017 Top Movies List. Does that mean that the four movies ahead of it are better movies? It might but not necessarily. The top four movies all went into limited release in 2016 to qualify for Oscar consideration. They didn’t go into wide release until early 2017, which is why they are on this list. All of the other movies on the list won’t be considered for Oscar recognition until January 2018. As I mentioned last week, this list is based on objective criteria. The Oscar nominations that the top four movies received are additional objective pieces of evidence that they are quality movies. This allows the algorithm to be more confident in its evaluation of the movie and as a result produces a higher “really like” probability. Again, just in case you were wondering.

 

When It Comes to Unique Movies, Don’t Put All of Your Movie Eggs in the Netflix Basket.

It is rare to find a movie that isn’t a sequel, or a remake, or a borrowed plot idea, or a tried and true formula. Many of these movies are entertaining because they feel familiar and remind us of another pleasant movie experience. The movie recommender websites Netflix, Movielens, and Criticker do a terrific job of identifying those movie types that you “really liked” before and surfacing those movies that match the familiar plot lines you’ve enjoyed in the past.

But, what about those movies that are truly original. What about those movies that present ideas and plot lines that aren’t in your usual comfort zone. Will these reliable websites surface these unique movies that I might like? Netflix has 20,000+ genre categories that they slot movies into. But, what if a movie doesn’t fit neatly into one of those 20,000 categories.

Yesterday I watched a great movie, Being There.

Being There

This 1979 movie, starring Peter Sellers in an Academy Award nominated performance, is about a simple-minded gardener who never left the home of his employer over the first fifty years of his life. Aside from gardening, the only knowledge he has is what he’s seen on television. After his employer dies he is forced to leave his home. The movie follows Chance the Gardener as he becomes Chauncey Gardner, economic advisor to the President. It’s not a story of transformation but of perception. The movie is fresh.

My most reliable movie recommenders, Netflix and Movielens, warned me away from this movie. The only reason I added it to my weekly Watch List is because I saw the movie in the theater when it first came out in 1979 and “really liked” it.

Another possible reason why Netflix missed on this movie is because I hated Peter Sellers’ other classic movie Dr. Strangelove. I rated it 1 out of 5 stars.  If Being There is slotted among a Netflix category of Peter Sellers classics, it might explain the mismatch.

Is it impossible, then, to surface movies that have creative original content that you might like. Not entirely. Criticker predicted I would rate Being There an 86 out of 100. I gave it an 89. The IMDB rating is 8.0 based on over 54,000 votes. Rotten Tomatoes has it at 96% Certified Fresh. This is why I incorporate ratings from five different websites into the “really like” model rather than just Netflix.

When it comes to unique movies, don’t put all of your movie eggs in the Netflix basket.

 

 

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

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.

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. 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.

Create, Test, Analyze, and Recreate

Apple’s IPhone just turned 10 years old. Why has it been such a successful product? It might be because the product hasn’t stayed static. The latest version of the IPhone is the IPhone 7+. As a product, it is constantly reinventing itself to improve its utility. It is always fresh. Apple, like most producers of successful products, probably follows a process whereby they:

  1. Create.
  2. Test what they’ve created.
  3. Analyze the results of their tests.
  4. Recreate.

They never dust off their hands and say, “My job is done.”

Now I won’t be so presumptuous to claim to have created something as revolutionary as the IPhone. But, regardless of how small your creation, its success requires you to follow the same steps outlined above.

My post last week outlined the testing process I put my algorithm through each year. This week I will provide some analysis and take some steps towards a recreation. The results of my test was that using my “really like” movie selection system significantly improved the overall quality of the movies I watch. On the negative side, the test showed that once you hit some optimal number of movies in a year the additional movies you might watch has a diminishing quality as the remaining pool of “really like” movies shrinks.

A deeper dive into these results begins to clarify the key issues. Separating movies that I’ve seen at least twice from those that were new to me is revealing.

Seen More than Once Seen Once
1999 to 2001 2014 to 2016 1999 to 2001 2014 to 2016
# of Movies 43 168 231 158
% of Total Movies in Timeframe 15.7% 51.5% 84.3% 48.5%
IMDB Avg Rating                   7.6                   7.6                   6.9                   7.5
My Avg Rating                   8.0                   8.4                   6.1                   7.7
% Difference 5.2% 10.1% -12.0% 2.0%

There is so much interesting data here I don’t know where to start. Let’s start with the notion that the best opportunity for a “really like” movie experience is the “really like” movie you’ve already seen. I’ve highlighted in teal the percentage that My Avg Rating outperforms the IMDB Avg Rating in both timeframes. The fact that, from 1999 to 2001, I was able to watch movies that I “really liked” more than the average IMDB voter, without the assistance of any movie recommender website, suggests that memory of a “really like” movie is a pretty reliable “really like” indicator. The 2014 to 2016 results suggest that my “really like” system can help prioritize the movies that memory tells you that you will “really like” seeing again.

The data highlighted in red and blue clearly display the advantages of the “really like” movie selection system. It’s for the movies you’ve never seen that movie recommender websites are worth their weight in gold. With limited availability of movie websites from 1999 to 2001 my selection of new movies underperformed the IMDB Avg Rating by 12% and they represented 84.3% of all of the movies I watched during that timeframe. From 2014 to 2016 (the data in blue), my “really like” movie selection system recognized that there is a limited supply of new “really like” movies. As a result less than half of the movies watched from 2014 through 2016 were movies I’d never seen before. Of the new movies I did watch, there was a significant improvement over the 1999 to 2001 timeframe in terms of quality, as represented by the IMD Avg Rating, and my enjoyment of the movies, as represented by My Avg Rating.

Still, while the 2014 to 2016 new movies were significantly better than the new movies watched from 1999 to 2001, is it unrealistic to expect My Ratings to be better than IMDB by more than 2%? To gain some perspective on this question, I profiled the new movies I “really liked” in the 2014 to 2016 timeframe and contrasted them with the movies I didn’t “really like”.

Movies Seen Once
2014 to 2016
“Really Liked” Didn’t “Really Like”
# of Movies 116 42
% of Total Movies in Timeframe 73.4% 26.6%
IMDB Avg Rating                       7.6                                  7.5
My Avg Rating                       8.1                                  6.3
“Really Like” Probability 82.8% 80.7%

The probability results for these movies suggest that I should “really like” between 80.7% and 82.8% of the movies in the sample. I actually “really liked” 73.4%, not too far off the probability expectations. The IMDB Avg Rating for the movies I didn’t “really like” is only a tick lower than the rating for the “really liked” movies. Similarly, the “Really Like” Probability is only a tick lower for the Didn’t “Really Like” movies. My conclusion is that there is some, but not much, opportunity to improve selection of new movies through a more disciplined approach. The better approach would be to favor “really like” movies that I’ve seen before and give new movies more time for their data to mature.

Based on my analysis, here is my action plan:

  1. Set separate probability standards for movies I’ve seen before and movies I’ve never seen.
  2. Incorporate the probability revisions into the algorithm.
  3. Set a minimum probability threshold for movies I’ve never seen before.
  4. When the supply of “really like” movies gets thin, only stretch for movies I’ve already seen and memory tells me I “really liked”.

Create, test, analyze and recreate.

 

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

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. 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).

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.

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