Bad Press: Film Critics Reign Supreme As Star “Names” Guarantee Nothing At The Box Office

Simultaneous cinema and video on demand releases might be affecting box office receipts but a trio of big name movies have tanked at cinemas this year despite having big Hollywood names in the cast. The thing they all have in common: negative reviews.

Bad Press: Film Critics Reign Supreme As Star "Names" Guarantee Nothing At The Box Office

Emma Watson – star of the Harry Potter franchise, campaigner for international gender equality and women’s rights, and dream girl of many teenage boys – has just endured the worst opening weekend of her movie career. Her latest movie The Colony tanked at the UK box office. Opening at just three cinemas the film recorded £47 in ticket sales. The film cost a reported $14m.

Part of its poor return was due to only three cinemas screening the film. The other part of the equation was audiences preferring to watch the film “on demand” at home than travel to their local cinema. That opens up a debate we’re not going to get into here: how will simultaneous digital “on demand” and cinema releases fare in this evolving market. What’s perhaps more interesting is the power of negative press against the commercial “hook” of Hollywood star power.

The Colony, previously known as Colonia when it debuted at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival in September last year, disappeared from US theatres after a similarly poor run. Despite winning audience favour outside of cinemas (exampled by its 7.1 rating on IMDB), cinemagoers were less likely to spend their cash to see the film on the big screen.

That could be down to multiple factors: cost, dramatic themes not proving attractive enough against, say, an action-adventure like recently released Independence Day 2, lack of screenings (in the UK there were only three). Perhaps most obvious of all is the critical bashing it took. Perhaps this, more than anything else, halted people handing over cold hard cash for a ticket to see a potential failure.

Star Names No Guarantee Of Box Office Success As Audiences Listen To The Critics

Star Names No Guarantee Of Box Office Success As Audiences Listen To The Critics

Despite the presence of Emma Watson and co-star Daniel Brühl, cinemagoers were listening to the critics, not allowing themselves to be attracted by the allure of celebrity. It’s not the first time this year we’ve seen a big star suffer such embarrassment following concurrent VOD releases. Keanu Reeves endured the same fate as his new film Exposed made £88 on its opening weekend while veterans Anthony Hopkins and Al Pacino saw their movie Misconduct record less than £100.

All these films suffered critical bashing. David Parkinson of Empire magazine echoed the thoughts of many critics when he said: “[The Colony] is a grotesque miscalculation that disrespects the memory of those who perished in one of the darkest episodes in recent history by turning it into a piece of white-knuckle entertainment.”

Critics were even more damning of Misconduct and Exposed. Tim Robey of the Daily Telegraph said the Hopkins and Pacino film was the worst either had ever starred in. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian said of Exposed: “What a strange and frustrating mess this is.”

The cost of going to the cinema against the increasing attractiveness of video on demand services like Netflix and Amazon Prime is changing the landscape from which we consume our cinema diet. And since people have already forked out a few hard-earned pounds on their membership fees they’re more likely to view a cinema outing with more caution.

Critics, in print and online (and social media’s word of mouth much of which is made up of the sharing, retweeting and liking of said critics’ thoughts), are therefore playing an even more vital role in our decision making. Bad films can’t hide behind big star names while the worse of the worse will quickly be “outed” within our connected world.

It’s up to the theatre owners themselves to figure out how to get more bums in seats in their bid to challenge the VOD providers. Meanwhile, it’s up to Hollywood to drop the hubris and make better films.

Words by Rory Fish

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About the Author
Rory Fish has loved movies since he can remember. If he was to put together an "all time" top 10 of absolute favourites it would have to include North By Northwest, 12 Angry Men and Sunset Boulevard.

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    Callum Reply

    I definitely look around the internet to see what people are saying before I spend my money. Going to the cinema is so expensive. It’s helped by Meerkat Wednesdays or whatever it’s called but it’s still expensive and if you want to catch a quieter showing you have to pay price. Plus, don’t get make started on the price of food and drink.

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      Rodney Twelftree Reply

      Same here in Australia. There’s two cinema chains here, one offering $20 tickets and another offering $10 tickets. While the cinemas for the latter offer unallocated seating and smaller auditoriums, the trade off in cost (never mind food and drink, LOL!) is far superior.

      It’s a shame this kinda of cinema-and-online release structure doesn’t appear to work – I always felt that there was room in both markets for a big event movie to work well (if people couldn’t get to a cinema or whatever) but it appears to not be the case. And yeah, Hollywood needs to make better movies.

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