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Do bad reviews really make a difference?

By Alex Wiggan

Over the Valentine’s Day weekend, Universal Pictures decided to make the canny move and release their big budget take on the bestselling novel, 50 Shades of Grey, in order to take advantage of the love-themed weekend. The film – directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson – hit screens on Friday 13th February and despite mixed to poor reviews, it was the film that everybody was talking about this weekend.

Now I haven’t seen Fifty Shades and if I’m being honest I don’t really have any intentions to do so; not because I’m a prude or I find the subject matter distasteful, but simply because the film just doesn’t interest me in the slightest. However, the sheer amount of mixed reviews that the film has been getting compared with the level of interest that the movie has been generating has got me thinking – do bad reviews really make a difference to the success of a film?

Over the weekend I was talking to a friend about the forthcoming reboot of the Spider-man franchise and the reasons why it is being given another reworking – my suggestion was it is because of the poor response to The Amazing Spider-man 2 (2014). My friend, who has a good knowledge of movies, pointed out that actually it’s not just because interest dropped off with the most recent movie, Sony is perhaps keen to work with Marvel Studios because each release has made less money at the box office then the previous entry.

It’s true, according to Box Office Mojo, whilst Spider-man 3 (2007) made more than $890 million at the world wide box office, The Amazing Spider-man (2011) took $752,216,557, and The Amazing Spider-man 2 made $708,982,323. So, did The Amazing Spider-man take less at the box office because of the critical response, or was it because audiences were feeling apathetic towards the franchise?

During the same conversation, my friend highlighted the fact that movies don’t necessarily fall and die by the words of critics, using the box office performance of the live-action Transformers movies as an example. Said friend stimulated a lot of thought on this subject.


Last year, Transformers: Age of Extinction was ranked as the No.1 movie of 2014, taking an impressive $1,087,404,499 at the worldwide box office; a considerable increase on the No.2 movie of 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy which took home $772,349,244. Whilst, the fourth TF movie made a little less than the third entry in the series – Dark of the Moon – the fact that it achieved more than a billion dollars at the box office is still very impressive, especially when you consider the critical mauling that the film received on release.

Rewinding back to 2007, Empire magazine gave the first TF movie four stars out of five, commenting in the review that, “the script may have rubbery legs, but the action is rock-hard. The surprise is the lightness of touch: treat as a comedy for best results.” That film went on to make over $709 million.

Empire’s review for the second TF movie – Revenge of the Fallen – garnered a review of only three stars but this time made over $836 million at the worldwide box office. Meanwhile both the third and fourth TF movies picked up a two star rating from Empire.

So despite receiving increasingly lacklustre reviews the TF movies became box office hits. Now, part of the success of Age of Extinction was down to the inclusion of scenes set in China, something I’ve previously talked about when looking at the 2014 box office Top Ten, but even so, surely the review-to-box-office-ratio demonstrates that audiences don’t care so much about negative criticism, right?


Speaking in the current edition of SFX, Group Editor-in-Chief, David Bradley, made a very strong point about the reasons why we are seeing a succession of sequels and reboots, instead of risk-taking movies.

He said:

“Did you go to your local cinema to see Safety Not Guaranteed, or What We Do In The Shadows, or Her? Did you buy SFX when we put A Scanner Darkly on the cover? If the answers to these questions are a baffled “no” then you’re the reason there’s a Transformers 4. Movie studios make what their customers seem to want most. Every time you spend your Saturday night re-watching Iron Man 3 on Blu-ray instead of Primer or Cloud Atlas you reinforce their behaviour patterns. Why would they reinvent the wheel if all you ever talk about on Facebook is the huge upcoming DC slate?”


Bradley puts forward a strong argument and one that is worth considering. How many movies have actually been bad but have made lots of money? On the flipside, how many movies have proven to be enjoyable yet have failed to bring home the box office bacon? The Judge Dredd reboot from 2012 springs to mind; a movie which received thumbs up from most reviewers, yet was considered a commercial failure because very few people went to see it. Same goes for The Lone Ranger (2013), which was far from fantastic, but certainly wasn’t the dire movie that you may have been led to believe it was.

Of course, films can often build up a following when released on home video, either through DVD, Blu-ray or digital download, but it can take years for poor-performing movies to make enough of a profit to convince studios that the property has an audience. In the meantime, a succession of subpar, yet very profitable movies is released and we only have ourselves to blame. But are we happy with movies that don’t impress the critics anyway? If you pay to see a movie and you like it, regardless of what anyone else says, then surely it does what it set out to do – entertain you.

So what do you think? Have negative reviews ever put you off going to see a film, even though you really wanted to see it? Or, are you guilty of watching an increasingly dire series of movies out of loyalty to the franchise?  And do bad reviews really make a difference?


About Alex Wiggan: Alex dislikes the TF movie franchise, but admits he has seen three of the four live-action movies at the cinema. He doesn’t feel proud of this.

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