Online reviews and movie critics are fantastic – so why do we ignore them?

Alone in a Movie Theater by Sarah_Ackerman, on FlickrThe carpet is sticky and the smell of hotdogs mingles with sweet popcorn. The trailers are rolling. Even though person’s knee from the seat behind jabs into my back, I don’t care. The summer blockbuster is about to start and I’ve heard great things about it…

But two hours, a bursting bladder and numb bottom later, I leave disappointed.

Everyone hates wasting time and money watching cinematic drivel. If I (or a friend) were to recommend a film to you, would you go and watch it? With dozens of online review websites, no longer must we ‘take a punt’ on a movie. So, it would be safe to assume that all this information makes us better at picking good movies.  Oddly enough, it doesn’t. Like a flock of sheep, we ignore good advice. Like lambs to the…

Never trust a movie poster

I hope none of us trust what is written on movie promo posters. They are notorious for misquoting reviewers. To say they bend the truth would be kind:

  • The 1995 film Seven ran ads quoting Entertainment Weekly as saying, “A masterpiece”. The actual review described the movies as “a masterpiece in dementia”.
  • Likewise the promo blurb for Live Free or Die Hard quoted New York Daily News: “Hysterically… entertaining.” The actual review was less than endearing: “The action in this fast-paced, hysterically overproduced and surprisingly entertaining film is as realistic as a Road Runner cartoon.”

So, can we trust a Movie Critic?

Critics would seem a safer bet to turn to, before we have to sel a kidney to pay for the cinema fee. Believe it or not, popular critics seem to get it right – saying the same things we would if we saw the movie (there’s research to back this up). So why don’t we take them seriously?

The stats show that even a ‘double thumbs up’ from the most famous movie critic has a minute influence on whether we head to the box office. (Interestingly, of all film types, we are most likely to heed what they say about dramas). I guess we don’t care if an action movie sucks as long it has Bruce Willis and big explosions in.

We ignore online reviews

Perhaps the most reliable way of avoiding silver screen agony is to go to online review sites such as Rotten Tomatoes (a personal favourite).  It should be – they have an amazing amount of information. We read the reviews. Then ignore them:

    “Hey honey (speaking to wife), that movie we were going to see got terrible reviews online.”

    “But [insert friends name] is going to see it, and her friend said it was good. Besides, it will be good to go to the cinema.”

    “I guess you’re right…”

I’m going to assume this having-a-chat-whilst-cooking-dinner conversation is typical for many couples. Which is probably why online review sites could rave or lambast a movie – it will make no difference to the movie’s popularity. There is, however, one thing that you can tell from online reviews: it is not the rating of the reviews that matter but the number of reviews. Thousands of terrible reviews (Mission Impossible 3 anyone?) will actually predict box office success. Weird, huh? Here’s why it happens:

A friend talking about a movie makes us more likely to watch it. We go and see it. Afterwards we post a review about it. We don’t read what anyone else has to say first – we always trust our friends. The amount of online reviews tells us how many people are talking about it.

Which is nice to think that friends and family hold more sway over us than anything on a computer screen or in a magazine.

My faith in humanity is somewhat restored.

Thanks for reading – all opinions expressed are my own. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below…


Chintagunta, P., Gopinath, S., & Venkataraman, S. (2010). The Effects of Online User Reviews on Movie Box Office Performance: Accounting for Sequential Rollout and Aggregation Across Local Markets Marketing Science, 29 (5), 944-957 DOI: 10.1287/mksc.1100.0572

Duan, W., Gu, B., & Whinston, A. (2008). Do online reviews matter? — An empirical investigation of panel data Decision Support Systems, 45 (4), 1007-1016 DOI: 10.1016/j.dss.2008.04.001

BOOR, M. (1992). RELATIONSHIPS AMONG RATINGS OF MOTION PICTURES BY VIEWERS AND SIX PROFESSIONAL MOVIE CRITICS Psychological Reports, 70 (3c), 1011-1021 DOI: 10.2466/pr0.1992.70.3c.1011

One response to “Online reviews and movie critics are fantastic – so why do we ignore them?”

  1. You wrote :”Even though person’s knee from the seat behind jabs into my back, I don’t care.”

    Well I admire this, very British. Forgiving bad manners ? Being tollerant to such a disgrace ?
    For me this would be time to give the person with pointy knees a lecture about good behaviour in the cinema.
    They did not arrive there to chat loudly, keep checking their glowing cellphone screens for messages, make noise crunching on popcorn, sharing their health and marrital problems with strangers sitting 5 rows in front and behind them. This is a time to shut up and await the show, as if you are in school awaiting your strict teacher’s arrival.
    It is time to be respectful to others who do not give a damned about your problems, issues, and especially the pointed knees. If that happens, you need to turn around, caugh in their direction and then pretend swallowing a prescription medicine, while proclaiming to your neighbour beside you how contageous your disease is.
    Same applies if the people around you have a noughty small kid who will not shut up. Just caugh your heart out, blow your nose, complain how horribly your highly contageous disease has affected you for the last three weeks.

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