Thumbs Down: The Great Divide Between Critics and Audiences Keeps Growing

Reason No. 68 why the disconnect between film critics and moviegoers is bigger than ever: The elitism of the old guard. Over the course of the past week, well known and nominally intelligent film critics Roger Ebert and A.O. Scott both wrote that the decline of the film industry is in direct proportion to the increasing stupidity of the audience. (Jeffrey Wells, hysterical blogger and all around curmudgeon, had written the same thing previously, albeit in more breathlessly hyperbolic terms.) Apparently, if you thought the culture war was reserved for political campaigns and Fox News talking heads, you were mistaken.

Of course, the funny thing is that these critics are waging this culture war on what seems like the entire population of the United States. Their consternation lies mostly with the wild success of two movies: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The latter, with close to $400 million in total grosses is one of the worst reviewed movies in the history of Hollywood to reach such lofty financial heights; the former was famously left unscreened for major film critics and scored a $54 million opening over this past weekend despite that fact. To Messrs. Scott and Ebert, the thinking seems to be that if crappy movies are making big bucks, the audience—particularly the young and impressionable—are to blame. (Mr. Ebert has even gone so far as to say that film critics are more “evolved” than regular moviegoers; this from the man who gave Knowing four-stars [Editor’s Note: Some of us here also think that Knowing is pretty awesome.]). What other reason could there be for the perceived “failures” of ostensibly highbrow films like Public Enemies and The Hurt Locker, two critically beloved summer entries that have supposedly underwhelmed? Never mind that Public Enemies is actually kind of successful (Michael Mann’s gangland epic has grossed $94 million to date) and The Hurt Locker hasn’t been shown in more than 535 theaters at any point this summer (by contrast, G.I. Joe opened in over 4,000 theaters). The real reason Hollywood continues to put out a crappy product is because of you! This is all your fault.

And therein lies the problem: It’s not your fault! Was it your fault when Slumdog Millionaire grossed well over $100 million, or when Up and Star Trek, two of the best reviewed movies of the year, grossed over $250 million, each? Sure some great movies (like The Hurt Locker) will inevitably fall through the cracks, but most of the time, we audience members do see the good movies, if we’re given the opportunity. Of course, we see the crap movies too. That’s issue with these film critics: Somewhere along the way they forgot that people just fundamentally like going to the movies. This has nothing to do with intellect—or lack thereof—but a wish to escape the rigors of daily life for a couple of hours. The person who paid to see G.I. Joe this weekend isn’t necessarily dumb, just like the one who paid to see The Hurt Locker isn’t necessarily a Rhodes scholar. It’s time to separate the quality of the films from their paying audiences. The sooner film critics do this, the better.