How Do Critic Reviews Influence Your Movie-Going Experience?

As a cinephile, I am always intrigued by the film reviews of critics and friends alike. Prior to the release of almost any film, I find myself constantly referring to Rottentomatoes (RT) to read their early reviews. Personally, I try not to let reviews sway me on whether or not I will see a movie. I like to let my own thoughts and opinions dictate whether or not a film is worth seeing. The truth is, however, that no matter how hard I try, my movie-going experience is affected by the reviews I read. This got me thinking, how much influence do reviews really have on me?

For the most part, I let my own interests in a film dictate whether or not I watch it. There is one situation, however, where I let positive reviews strongly influence my film selection experience. Usually, I do not see movies that I have no personal interest in watching. The only way I will see a movie that I have no initial interest in watching is if the movie gets very good reviews. The most recent example of this was for the film The Help.

To be honest, I planned on never watching The Help. If you know me, you know that I love Emma Stone, but not even her presence in it left me interested in watching. It screamed chick flick all the way and I did not want any part of it. After positive word of mouth, great reviews (76% on RT), and some Oscar nominations, I decided to change my mind. I watched The Help, and I loved it.

Now when it comes to movies that fall into this category I like to call the “movies I don’t care about but it got good reviews so I guess I’ll see it anyway (MIDCA),” my approach towards the film is significantly different. Because I never really wanted to see the MIDCA in the first place, I have pretty low expectations despite the good reviews. I know my own personal interests and just because a movie received good reviews does not mean I have to like it.

I find my approach towards MIDCA usually improves my movie-going experience. Going into a well reviewed movie with low expectations, I frequently leave enjoying the movie more than I expected to. Because I have low expectations, I don’t try to analyze the film too much. I just want to see if I enjoy the film as a whole. For this reason, I find that movies that fall in the MIDCA category lead to a more pleasurable film experience than most films I watch. I guess I need to find a way to put more films in this category.

Negative film reviews lend a whole different attitude.

When it comes to negative film reviews, I try to keep it very simple. If it is a movie that I already thought was going to be terrible, I use the negative reviews as reinforcement of my initial beliefs. I get a weird pleasure when a film that I never wanted to see gets terrible reviews. I just like knowing that my initial instincts were right. I usually laugh and have this “I told you so” attitude whenever I hear someone talk about the film in question.  I will most likely never see these movies.

In the case when a movie I am excited to see comes out to negative reviews, I usually still see it. Like I said earlier, I try to have my own personal interest in a film dictate whether I will see it or not.  Once I read the reviews, however, it is hard to not be a little biased going into the movie.  My overall expectations for a poorly reviewed movie are definitely lowered and despite my best efforts to remain positive, the aspects of the film that were negatively critiqued tend to stand out much more than they would have otherwise.

Similar to how my thought process worked with the films that fall in the MIDCA category, the lowered expectations can improve my overall enjoyment of these movies. With my personal interest high, but expectations low, these movies have to be pretty terrible for me not to enjoy.

A recent movie that fell into this category was The Hangover Part II (2011). Everyone in the world was excited to see it, but it was released with a poor RT rating of 35%. Despite to the poor reviews, I found that I liked it. I am not saying that I thought it was a good movie, but I think it was ok. The poor reviews made me think that the movie was not going to be funny at all. Since I found myself laughing throughout parts of the movie, I could not call the movie a complete failure. For The Hangover Part II, the poor reviews worked in its favor.

As you can see, reviews have a major effect on my movie-going experience and after explaining some of my thoughts above, I have created a general outline of how I would like to use RT reviews (NOTE: As hard as I may try, I still cannot follow my own guidelines):

If a movie gains either strongly negative reviews (0-10% on RT) or strongly positive reviews (90-100% on RT), I tend to stop letting my own interest in the film dictate whether I will see it or not and instead I will rely on the reviews. When a movie has such an extreme score on either end of the spectrum, it is usually a very good indicator of the quality of the film.

To be honest,any movie with a score between those extremes might not be worth reading the reviews. I always find that the ratings tend to sway my opinion of the film in the opposite direction of the RT score. In other words, movies that get lower ratings (a la The Hangover II) cause my expectations to decrease so much so that I tend to like the movie more than I probably would have without reading the reviews. The same goes with moderately well reviewed movies; the score increases my expectations so much so I often feel that these films are a little worse than the RT score indicates. For these reasons, it may be best to stay away from reviews of movies that fit in this category.

The complicated relationship that I have with film reviews can easily cause anyone reading this to question why I would read reviews at all if they have this effect on me. The truth is, I think it is fun to know what people think. I like having my own expectations for a film, but I LOVE knowing if my expectations match the opinions of people who already saw the movie. I guess it is kind of self-centered, but I like being right.

When all is said and done though, you need to take word of mouth with a grain of salt. Everyone has opinions, but only mine are right.

How do film reviews affect your movie-going experience? Please comment below and let me know!

P.S. We have podcast episodes of in-depth reviews of the films mentioned in this article. Feel free to check them out.

Episode #46 – “The Help”

Episode #18 – “The Hangover Part II”

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