What are the most overrated films? This is the question supersmart blogger Benjamin L. Moore attempted to answer using an intriguing—and what Moore calls “Rube Golbergian”—analysis of data from the popular movie-scoring aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, which includes critic reviews and audience ratings.
Moore acknowledges that overrated and underrated “are slippery terms to try to quantify,” and he explains the limitations of his research in detail on his blog. Despite a perception that audiences and film critics tend to disagree, Moore shows that the opinions of moviegoers and those of critics align most of the time.
The films on which critics and paying audiences diverge, however, is telling.
It’s no surprise that audiences score movies like Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Grandma’s Boy substantially higher than critics (it is also difficult, as Moore points out, to consider these films “underrated,” though his analysis places them near the top of that list). Audience demographics and the number of ratings received by movies that are more popular at the box office do not figure in to the Rotten Tomatoes application programming interface (API).
What is surprising, considering the overwhelming middle-ground of agreement Moore establishes, are the films that ended up on the “most overrated” list. As one would expect, that list of 15 contains independent, art-house fare such as 3 Backyards, Greenberg and Essential Killing. But it is dominated by films that were solid box-office performers: Spy Kids, About a Boy, King Kong, Splash and Freaky Friday among them.
Moore’s blog arrived just days after Manhola Dargis and A.O. Scott, the exceptional film critics at The New York Times, published “Memos to Hollywood,” which tackles, among other topics, the differences in the way critics and audiences watch movies today. Filmmakers and moviegoers alike should be disheartened by the lazy format employed by some studios and reviewers.
As the sequel-and-superhero movie season begins, Moore’s blog and “Memos to Hollywood” rekindle the eternal question: Are studios giving audiences what we want, or are moviegoers just settling for what we’re given? The answer probably lies in the middle, somewhere between Babe and Bad Boys II.