Do Film Critics Really Matter Anymore?
Films lauded as critical successes don’t necessarily encourage people to the cinema, as was the case for many of the award season darlings like Lady Macbeth and Call Me By Your Name, films which did not appear in the top 20 for box office sales in 2017.
Perhaps it isn’t so much that the general audience pays attention to film critics to decide what film they’d like to see, but if mass critical opinion happens to favor a film they were already interested in, it’s all the better. Negative or middling critical opinion didn’t dampen the financial performance of films like The Boss Baby, Fifty Shades Darker, Murder on the Orient Express, all of which are in the top 20 at the box office. Narrowing the field to the box office top 20 films produced either wholly or in part by UK financiers, there are even more films that earned well despite negative or middling critical opinion: Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge, The Justice League, Alien: Covenant, Transformers: The Last Knight, and The Mummy.
According to the British Film Institute’s year-end statistics report “the top 20 films earned £732 million at the box office, accounting for 54% of the total box office. All of the films in the top 20 earned £20 million or more, the first time this has occurred since our records began in 2002.”
As one might have expected, Star Wars: The Last Jedi was 2017’s top earner, garnering roughly £81m from its release on December 14th to the end of the year. A film like Star Wars is almost guaranteed to earn money, even one as divisive as The Last Jedi. Though it scored high on the aggregate review site Rottentomatoes.com, the reception among fans and general audience was split. Controversy, however, is not necessarily a drawback for a film and, in many instances, bolster attendance as people want to see for themselves what the fuss is about.
As reported by the BFI’s 2017 statistics, theatre attendance in the UK was approximately 171 million, which is 1% higher than it was in 2016 and “slightly above the ten-year average figure of 168.4 million.”
Audience Taste: UK vs. USA
On the whole it appears, when looking at both top 20 lists for UK and USA box office numbers in 2017, that UK audiences put their money toward films of a “better” grade than USA audiences. Keeping in mind, however, the size differences between the two countries, and therefore the range in people’s tastes, it can’t necessarily be stated that UK audiences watch better movies.
The BAFTA nominees for best film include such critical darlings like Call Me By Your Name, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Montana, The Shape of Water, Dunkirk, and Darkest Hour. From that list only Dunkirk was part of the top 20 financial successes and Darkest Hour had not yet been released; ironic given its subject matter. In the “Best UK Film” category, films like The Death of Stalin, Lady Macbeth, and God’s Own Country were also financial disappointments despite being lauded by critics. As is sometimes the case, award winners will see a bump in financial gain during or shortly after awards season as they’re re-released into the theatre and audience interest has been renewed.
The BFI’s full lineup of official statistics can be found here.