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Critics and Audiences Split on the Hits of 2012

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by Matt Singer
March 6, 2012 9:39 AM
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"The Lorax."

If Horton had been hanging out in Hollywood instead of Whoville yesterday morning, he might have heard a "Holy crap!" echoing out of offices all over town.  Kids like green eggs and ham, but apparently they love The Lorax. According to the weekend box office report, the Dr. Seuss adaptation took in a staggering $70.7 million at the box office, the second-largest non-sequel animated film opening in history, not to mention the best opening of any film in 2012 so far.

But if "The Lorax" left executives at Universal understandably elated, it left critics somewhat less pleased.  Reviews of "The Lorax" were decidedly mixed: some positives, but nearly as many negatives.  And some of the negatives were downright harsh -- the stuff of snarky Photoshopped mock-up posters ("The badness of the picture is a shock!" -- David Edelstein, New York). Put it this way: when all is said and done, "The Lorax" stands a good chance to wind up amongst the highest grossing pictures of the year.  But I wouldn't expect it to pop up on too many top ten lists.

"The Lorax"'s massive financial success and limited critical acclaim marks the continuation of a trend throughout the first two months of 2012: big box office amidst -- and in spite of -- bad reviews.  Just 7% of critics polled on Rotten Tomatoes -- four misguided, possibly demon-possessed souls -- gave the proverbial thumbs up to the found footage exorcism movie "The Devil Inside," but audiences still came out in droves, and the film earned $55 million domestically against a $1 million budget.  Critics pounced all over "The Vow," a romantic comedy starring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum, to the tune of a 28% Rotten Tomatoes score.  It's still the highest grossing movie of the year so far, to a far snazzier tune of $111.6 million.

In fact, all five of the highest grossing movies of the year so far came up on the negative side of Rotten Tomatoes' Tomatometer.  if you're keeping track at home:

1. "The Vow" 
Domestic Box Office: $111.6 million
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 28%

2. "Safe House"
Domestic Box Office: $108.3 million
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 54%

3. "Journey 2 The Mysterious Island"
Domestic Box Office: $85.2 million
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 43%

4. "The Lorax"
Domestic Box Office: $70.2 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 57%

5. "Contraband"
Domestic Box Office: $66.3 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 50%

So what do these numbers tell us?  Well, for one thing, that some of the stereotypes about January and February being a dumping ground for movies are absolutely true.  What few critically acclaimed films have appeared so far in 2012, movies like Joe Carnahan's "The Grey" and Steven Soderbergh's "Haywire," have been much more modest successes.  The highest grossing "Fresh" film on Rotten Tomatoes this year is "Chronicle," #7 on the list of the biggest hits of 2012.  

Why did people pass on those films and head out to "The Vow" and "The Lorax?" Maybe they were just starved for some good old fashioned mindless genre entertainment amidst months of prestige pictures and "The Vow" and "The Lorax" fit the bill.  I hope that's it.  I hope people just like going to the movies and will pretty much see whatever's playing.  Because the alternative is they read reviews and don't care what they say or ignore them completely, which means criticism is a hollow, meaningless exercise with no hope.  Or as Dr. Seuss might have written, "I do not like these audiences' tastes.  Time to go back for my MBA -- with haste!"

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