Slate on "Why We Need Movie Critics"

It won't surprise anyone around these parts that I get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside when folks start talking about box office statistics. If someone busts out a chart, well then they've officially got my attention. All of which is why Erick Lundegaard has just entered the rarified air of Schnaars-man-crush.

In a piece for Slate entitled "Why We Need Movie Critics" Mr. Lundegaard lays down an excellent argument for the value of critical consensus using Rotten Tomato scores and box office stats. It turns out that despite the numbers that get tossed out in the days and weeks after a film opens, America does tend to spend more money on higher quality films. Here's the money quote:

Percentagewise, the critic effect is less pronounced for the supposedly critic-proof blockbusters, but it's still there. On average, the "fresh" blockbusters, such as Harry Potter and I Am Legend outperform the "rotten" blockbusters, such as Wild Hogs and Bee Movie, by more than $500 per screen. Almost any way you slice it, if a majority of critics like a movie, chances are it will do better at the box office than a similar film the majority of critics don't like. Far from being elitist, movie critics are actually a pretty good barometer of popular taste.

My favorite chart is above, but Lundegaard has lots of really nice graphics that help illustrate his point further. Here's another good one:

Overall, the article is quite refreshing, because as he mentions in his opening, critics are getting pink-slips left and right these days (then again, so are lots of newspaper folks). Luckily, the internet presents almost zero barriers to entry, thus I'm not concerned about the future of film criticism as much as some people. As long as there are movies being made, writers will be offering their opinions on them. And from those opinions grows discussion, and from that discussion, hopefully, emerges some agreement on artistic merit. As Lundegaard deftly illustrates, artistic merit is still worth something these days.

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