in movies

The truth about film critics 

One of my favorite writers, Nathan Rabin, has an astute piece up at Cracked enumerating 5 truths about film criticism. My favorite? Number 4:

Film Critics Are Not Influential Or Important Enough To Bribe: When DC Films endured vicious critical beatdowns for its massive comic book tentpoles Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice and Suicide Squad, the internet was filled with ridiculous and angry accusations that Marvel was using its financial and corporate muscle to bribe critics into giving negative reviews to the work of its comic book archrival. If Marvel did bribe film critics into sabotaging DC Films’ commercial chances by giving negative reviews, they failed spectacularly. Oh sure, Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad each garnered scathing reviews, but that didn’t seem to have much of an effect on their box office performances. People simply threw up their middle fingers and slapped down the cash.

Rabin captures how weirdly personal some of the attacks against critics can get. Readers often think of critics as elitist, which is rather bizarre given that the vast majority of film critics don’t make a high salary, and film criticism itself is a dying industry, with critics getting fired from major newspapers left and right.

The only thing I wish Rabin had called out a bit more is that there are a bunch of vocal outliers in the community. Film critics do make mistakes sometimes. They do sometimes judge movies unfairly. They do all sorts of things that sour the public’s perception of the profession. While outliers are by definition not representative of the community, they are a big reason why many of these misconceptions exist.

  • Mountain_of_Conflict

    Point 4 is not entirely true, is it? Critics get special access via set visits where studios generally try to give people a good time.. DC probably does it as well as Marvel, but I think that could count for some as a form of bribery or at least making the reviewer more favourable towards the movie.

    • That’s fair, although that kind of dynamic exists in literally every industry ever (e.g. other forms of journalism, pharmaceuticals, etc.)

      • Mountain_of_Conflict

        It does and it’s of course a much bigger issue in other industries, but it opens the door to criticize the article. Then again, Rabin was talking about the more extreme versions DC fans spun.
        Point 5 and 1 are things the /Filmcast has to address time and time again unfortunately.

      • fuariz

        your examples are examples of industries that have been caught giving bribes.

        Do you really not see this?

  • fuariz

    So how much did Disney pay you to write this?

    Here is what you people dont seem to understand:

    There is mounting evidence that DC movies are being rated higher by audiences
    compared to critics and this is not happening with Disney movies.

    Every other field of criticism has faced bribery accusations before which
    were proven to exist. From product reviews, to music, to video games, to
    food, to restaurant service to business ethics, you name it a critic
    has been bribed to give it a good review. Are you to tell me that of all
    the fields of criticism movies remain the one bastion of integrity?
    Hell, there have even been congressional hearings on the topic that
    documented the payoffs received by music reviewers.

    Disney and Sony pictures have already been caught paying off government censors in
    China. Are we to believe that companies willing to bribe government
    officials which carries a jailterm are not willing to pay off a few
    critics which would produce zero repercussions?

    Marvel, now
    disney, has historically shown all willingness to attack DC. They have
    quite literally offered cold hard cash to comic book store owners to
    deface DC comics.

    Group think is a massively powerful force. It
    takes only one or two bad reviews to steer a herd. A quick glance at the
    chronograph of events shows that a bad review leads to more bad reviews
    while a neutral one does not. All disney really has to do is to get one
    bad review in quickly and the rest will line up.

    Here is what is happening:
    Disney knows exactly what reviewers are going to show up to advance screenings
    and makes sure that at least one of them writes the review they want.
    Other critics see it and get swayed.

    Here is the result:
    People like me are not getting the movies they want because bad reviews are
    crashing the movies we like. Wet get another 8 X-Men movies but due to
    the kickbacks we arent getting another Judge Dredd movie or another
    Suicide squad. When people like me point out that there is no way a
    honest reviewing process would produce such a massive difference in
    ratings we are yelled at for doubting the reviewing process. Now, I am
    not saying you personally are taking bribes but I am saying when you
    write stuff like this you are enabling those who do.

    • rainminded

      A) Film critics effing WISH they got bribes en mass for negative coverage of films. There’s spots of undisclosed paid reviews occasionally in both the film and games industries, but nothing near the scale you’re thinking, without much evidence besides a strong gut feeling I may add. Correlation does not and has never equaled causation.

      B) Something being popular does not equal it being good, see: Transformers movies and The Big Bang Theory, both utterly un-dented box office or ratings wise despite the best efforts of critics almost universally, particularly with the former. (Also to this point, while there’s a small correlation between positive reviews and box office success, notice the amount of films which receive widespread critical acclaim and next to no box office. Marketing is a much more significant influence, take a look at Suicide Squad’s success despite being critically panned).

      C) Speaking as someone with no love for Marvel, they’ve completely lost me at this point with their unremarkable bore fests, your perspective doesn’t allow for the possibility DC just isn’t releasing great films. Where was the paid negative coverage of The Dark Knight? Demanding that what audiences like must be something critics review well, or else they’re ‘out of touch’ defeats the entire purpose of criticism, which is to ensure that artists have to keep improving and attempting to raise the bar, so that studios can’t just pump out garbage. You’ve surely not enjoyed, or absolutely hated, movies that you’ve seen before, so you must be able to understand that perspective. Does that invalidate criticism to you? Maybe. But whether it’s for you or for filmmakers or both is an argument as old as the idea of criticism. As covered above, it’s hardly the factor threatening the types of movies you like, and if anything more lazily assembled garbage without a soul that critics despise is being made than ever before, with the mid-range budgets they love being snubbed. So from their perspective, they’re the ones being screwed over by blockbusters.

      D) Marvel makes average to bad movies lately that perform well critically and with audiences because they’re more family friendly and on the whole play it safer than DC films. They go for the ‘C’ grade and risk nothing, using a formula, because aiming for the ‘A’ grade means they might get an ‘F’ and that’s unacceptable. DC doesn’t use the same formula, so their, incompetently written/made if enjoyable to some audiences eg. transformers, films fall on their face simply because most art is bad, it’s really, agonisingly difficult to make a good film, particularly one that functions at that scale with all the controlling parties attempting to influence it. Marvel and Disney are successful through an appealing, safe internationally-palatable formula, not paying off critics, the idea of the latter giving them billion dollar success is absolutely absurd and baseless. No one who knows anything about how the industry works could take the idea seriously.

      E) Clearly what you consider a good film is irreconcilable with what the critic community and myself do, which is basically fine. I love the Hobbit films to death. They are despised pieces of film. Enjoy what you want as long as it’s not hurting anyone. Be more confident in your own tastes, having to explain away a difference in taste with paranoid conspiracy theories is ridiculous, just like what you like. Be ready to back it up with argument in a critics circle, or just enjoy it if it’s just you. DC ain’t shutting down anytime soon, and as covered above, the laser focus of the critic community has about as much effect on their ability to keep making movies as the media does on war in the Middle East. Barely any at all. If anything the negative reception to Suicide Squad, an objectively unfinished piece of film, created morbid curiosity or defiance that drew more people to see it. Critics do not have the power over people you seem to think they have, otherwise Moonlight and Green Room would have made hundreds of millions.

  • Shane Fender Fleming

    Kids should be critics of Super Hero Movies not Indie lovers.