Next week, the film Be Kind, Rewind is due to open, and several critics I know were discussing when the press screening would be. One of them called our local rep to discover that not only are there no screenings in our markets, but there were at one time. We were told that New Line Cinema canceled most of them.
What the fuck?
I know that by targeting the issue of studios not screening films for the press, I’m treading on recently-covered ground. Neil Miller has already weighed in on the issue this week with a deftly written piece about the film that triggered this. But I feel compelled to speak out as well. (And it gives me a rare opportunity to ass kiss the editor.)
A few years back, studios got the bright idea to hold screenings from critics when films like The Benchwarmers and Underworld: Evolution went on to make solid box office after not being widely screened. Of course, the people who read that story failed to notice that movies like Stay Alive and BloodRayne also didn’t have screenings and utterly tanked.
The bottom line is that many studios are scared of us, and by “us” I mean internet writers. Why else would the local Weinstein Company reps screen Hannibal Rising to one critic in the central Ohio area – the guy who writes for the main newspaper?
The bottom line is that studios have to specifically not screen something for the press. It’s not that they forget to or anything like that. But what they don’t realize is that the public has caught on that no screening means a bad film. I do radio interviews each week to review films, and the hosts have caught on that if a film isn’t screened that it’s a warning sign. I don’t have to say anything special, and the hosts usually preempt me by telling their audience to avoid these movies.
I agree with my colleague David Medsker at Bullz-Eye.com who says that the solution is to make better movies.
But ultimately, not screening a movie does more harm than good because it kills the film from being talked about. Whether a review is good or bad, the review gets the movie’s name in print.
Let’s face it, the public really doesn’t go or not go to movies on the recommendations of us critics. There are plenty of examples of well reviewed films that didn’t get seen and tons of counter-examples of movies that were panned that banked at the box office.
After all, Strange Wilderness was screened for no one (not even the director’s mother), and it bombed harder than Hiroshima.
There are only two times when a review negatively impacts a film. The first is when the movie is advertised as something that it is not (like the squishy drama The Night Listener, which was billed as a tense thriller). The other is when a film should be praised by critics, but is not (like last year’s stinker All the King’s Men).
I’d hate to think that awful reviews for New Line’s most recent release Over Her Dead Body were responsible for the new no-screening policy. Instead, I would submit that it was the fact it was a terrible film that it did so poorly. After all, Fool’s Gold was screened for the critics last week, received a lot of bad reviews and went on to win the box office. On the other hand, Rambo wasn’t screened but got some decent reviews… and then went on to lose the top spot of the weekend to Meet the Spartans by about $300,000.
Hollywood either needs to admit that it’s scared of us… or at least just suck it up and screen the films and realize that if they make a turd like One Missed Call that it’s not our fault people don’t like it.