Many people eschew the opinions of professional critics. The popular feeling is that this group fancies themselves as “better” than the masses. They presume to be able to tell whether a work of art is worth consuming or ignoring altogether. Sometimes they have so much power over the general public that if a piece is critically panned, it will end up flopping even though a studio has spent years producing it, with great marketing campaigns and star power to back it up. Perhaps that fact alone is why critics are abhorred, we never want to give one person or group too much power and we certainly never want to believe that we aren’t in complete control over how we observe something. We are all individuals!
But that presents something of a problem. All art, no matter what kind it is, is a group effort. It is (usually) created by a group, it is consumed by a group. No two people will ever see a piece quite the same way because how it affects them reflects on their own personal experiences in life. Humans are social animals and as such we draw on others to see things from a different angle that we wouldn’t have considered on our own. Therefore, when coming to a conclusion on the quality of a movie, we should always seek to get other people’s opinions, not for validation of our own or to argue whose is right or wrong but to expand our frame of reference beyond our initial impressions. Who better to give us more worldly points of view than people who are paid to do so?
So by now I have you sold on the idea that critics, at the least, are not your enemy. So then each of us has to decide how much power to give them. In a perfect world, we would all have a personal assistant who was perfectly attuned to how we think. Our assistants would see each movie ahead of time and let us know ahead of time what movies we want to see. Netflix sort of does this with its rating system, but ever since they incorporated the whole thumbs-up, thumbs-down system, I’ve found myself struggling to rate the movies I would have rated 3 stars before. Since finding that one reviewer that seems synced to your interests is like finding a needle in a haystack, I’ve found it most useful to use critical aggregators in order to get a general consensus of a movie.
However, the same score on different aggregators can mean very different things. The three main scores to keep in mind are iMDB, Metacritic, and Rotten Tomatoes. The iMDB score is an aggregation of user scores. I’ve found user scores to be very biased, especially when a movie is first released, so that score is generally unreliable. Metacritic is my favorite, as it averages together all critical scores. The best way to put the score into context is that their metascore is close to how most people would score it themselves. Rotten Tomatoes is very misunderstood because most people assume it works the same as Metacritic. However, the former’s score represents the percentage of critics who would recommend seeing the film. In essence, their score is the chance that an individual will enjoy the movie. All this is to say, each of these has their own way of telling you whether you should see a movie or not.
So should we let other people’s experiences dictate whether or not we should see a film? I would argue yes, resoundingly. The internet has allowed everyone to be more social than ever, sharing in each other’s experiences. These days, if you spend money on anything you don’t have personal experience in without first consulting sites like Yelp, Amazon, or the review section of any online retailer, you can truly be throwing caution to the wind and money down the drain. Putting this back in the context of movies, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked out of a movie and said, “Well that’s two hours I’ll never get back.” Who has time for that? I’ve also found that, ever since I started only seeing movies that score an 80 on Metacritic, I’m seeing movies that make me consider them more deeply. The best films will leave a strong impression on you afterwards, sometimes making you consider them for days.
Of course, there is still a place for bad movies. Mystery Science Theater 3000 spawned an entire franchise based on watching them. I still say “Rabbit!” every time I hear the word because of Dirty Love. Hell, just saying my first name to some people leads them to recite lines from Friday. Bad movies do serve a purpose, but just like junk food, they should only be consumed sparingly, not as a main form of sustenance. And I wouldn’t recommend actually spending money to see one. If we all make a group effort to do research before we subject ourselves to a director’s will, we can hopefully make the industry better as a whole while saving our own time, money, and sanity at the same time.