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From the Wire: CinemaScore and Critics

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by Matt Singer
June 18, 2013 12:32 PM
3 Comments
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A CinemaScore ballot.
"Can you spare a few minutes? This allows you to be the critic."

This, according to TheWrap, is the line used by employees of CinemaScore as they hand opening night theatergoers a one-page, six-question ballot (seen at right). Viewers fold down their answers -- including a letter grade, A through F, and whether or not they would rent or buy the film on Blu-ray, DVD, or VOD -- and hand them back. Their responses are averaged out to create a film's "CinemaScore."

The results of these paper foldings are often included in weekend box office reports, where they're used as an indicator of audience reaction and a predictor of word-of-mouth: a good CinemaScore typically means a movie stands a decent shot at sticking around in theaters for a while; a bad one typically means it doesn't.

The men who run CinemaScore, Harold and Ed Mintz, seem like smart guys; and this quote in particular from the former suggests he understands his business very well:

"It's not necessarily the film's quality that's being graded, Mintz cautioned. 'Opening night audiences are already sold on the movie, or what they think the movie is,' he said, 'so in a very real way, it's a test of whether the marketing is in synch with the film and its target audience. The grades say whether the film delivered what the marketing promised.'"

That's perfectly fair -- and, I'm sure, valuable to the studios that use this system to gauge how effectively they've sold their movie to its audience. But getting just the people who show up on opening night, and just the people who show up on opening night who are willing to kill some time on the way to their car grading the movie (meaning they probably have a pretty strong feeling one way or the other) creates to a very specific group of respondents. The lists of movies that have received an A+ CinemaScore -- which includes "The Blind Side" and "42" -- and an F CinemaScore -- including Steven Soderbergh's "Solaris" and Richard Kelly's "The Box" -- speaks volumes about the sort of movies the system favors (feel-good uplift) and those it struggles with (feel-bad ambiguity). I've often said that an F from CinemaScore is maybe the best endorsement a movie can get. That's exaggerating slightly (some stinkers, like "The Devil Inside" get Fs too) -- but only slightly.

I don't know why I care about this stuff; I guess it just sticks in my craw to call it criticism for some reason. Because that's what criticism is; spending thirty seconds on your way out of a movie theater folding a piece of paper.

Read more of "CinemaScore Gets 'A' From Studios, Especially When It Counters Critics."

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3 Comments

  • mike | June 18, 2013 1:57 PMReply

    Obviously it's not criticism, it's just what Cinemascore uses to entice people to take the time and do the survey, they're trying to appeal to a moviegoers needs to share their opinions in a way they think will leave an impact.

  • Neal | June 18, 2013 12:55 PMReply

    Film reviewers are also a "very specific group of respondents".

  • Stefan | July 5, 2013 11:05 AM

    No. Respondents are those who respond to a survey instrument. They are paid, if at all, for participation. Critics (the kind who are professional) are trained in some aspect of the medium they critique (its history, its technique, etc.) and are paid to objectively judge the works of that medium alongside appropriately comparable works. They may happen to share some common demographic characteristics.

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