It’s become pretty popular in Hollywood to suggest that a failing movie was never meant to succeed with critics. Here are 5 recent examples.
I’m normally pretty understanding when it comes to Hollywood spin. Studios spend hundreds of millions of dollars on their summer blockbusters, so if a movie opens to middling reviews, I don’t begrudge executives the opportunity to get ahead of the narrative and do what they can to frame their films in a positive light. That being said, I cannot for the life of me understand the logic behind the now-popular ‘critics vs. fans’ defense. Even my most casual moviegoing friends are looking to enjoy their night at the multiplex; they may be lured in by familiar titles and recognizable actors, but they’re not going to fall on a film’s sword just because they happened to like a TV show or a comic book from their adolescence.
So when someone like The Mummy director Alex Kurtzman tries to spin his film as a movie that was misunderstood by professionals and completely embraced by fans, I grind my teeth a little. Movie critics don’t have an agenda; they’re people whose taste in films has been framed by decades of watching every goddamn movie they could get their hands on, and you’ll never see someone defend a bad movie with more selfless abandon than a critic who loves something everyone else seems to hate. But that’s only half the problem. To suggest fans enjoy films simply because they exist is to treat general audiences as uncritical and undiscerning, and I will go to my grave a sad shell of a man before I accept this as the state of the world. There’s often a very reasonable explanation for the failure of a movie, and it doesn’t take a genius — or some sort of superhero devotee — to know that the wisdom of crowds typically reveals a film for what it truly is.
With that in mind, here are five recent examples of the ‘critics vs. fans’ argument offered by filmmakers and actors. I think you’ll agree that they all miss the mark by a pretty wide margin.
Who Said It: Adam Sandler
Film: [Most of Them?]
Quote: “I know what they’re writing about me. I could almost write the piece for them by now. But then remember that I didn’t get into movies to please the critics. I got into it to make people laugh and have fun with my friends.” (The Independent, 2013)
Why He’s Wrong: You could probably argue that Sandler has never been a critical darling, but there’s a pretty stark difference between the reception of his earliest films and his recent run of Netflix titles. The Wedding Singer, Happy Gilmore, and Billy Madison all rank somewhere between 46% and 67% on RottenTomatoes; compare this to Sandler’s recent run — The Do-Over at 5%, Pixels at 17%, and The Cobbler at 9% — and you’re looking at a night-and-day difference between the early and late parts of Sandler’s career. Despite this, Sandler maintains that his audience is holding strong. One could make a compelling argument that Netflix has shielded Sandler from the worst of what audiences have to offer. Bad reviews are one thing, but audiences tend to remember when a big name loses a bunch of money at the box office. With no dollars to parse out, Sandler can avoid the suggestion that he is no longer one of the biggest Hollywood stars.
Who Said It: Amy Adams
Film: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Quote: “I know that Zack doesn’t make the movies, and none of us are making the movies for the critics, so to speak, you can’t go into it from that perspective. So, I know we really hope the fans like it, and so far the reaction’s been really positive on that front.” (Yahoo, 2016)
Why She’s Wrong: This is the inherent danger in the ‘critics vs. fans’ debate. Amy Adams is an extremely talented and intelligent actress but read between the lines and she seems to be suggesting that comic book movies are limited by the very nature of their format. Here Adams seems dangerously close to suggesting that superhero films and quality cinema are diametrically opposed, and that doesn’t do justice to the vast majority of comic book movies that have both entertained and inspired over the years. If we treat superhero films as existing on the opposite side of the spectrum from art, then we place artificial limitations on both the potential of the subgenre and the types of films studios attempt to make. Film critics want superhero movies to also be good movies, and nobody is happier than us when things break just right (see Woman, comma, Wonder).
Who Said It: Cara Delevingne
Film: Suicide Squad
Quote: “The critics have been absolutely horrific. They’re really, really horrible. You know, I just don’t think they like superhero movies. It doesn’t really matter what the critics say at the end of the day, it’s the fans that we made this movie for.” (Reuters, 2016)
Why She’s Wrong: You don’t exactly have to dive into archival research to find a slew of superhero movies that critics have actually enjoyed. Films as diverse as The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, Wonder Woman, and The Avengers have all received a 90% or higher on RottenTomatoes, and one of the most common bits of praise for Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman was that it harkened back to Richard Donner’s Superman and gave us a superhero that was more ‘hero’ than ‘super.’ It’s also slightly disingenuous to suggest that fans, who had never seen the majority of the Suicide Squad characters in a film before, should’ve been satisfied with the slapdash treatment given to some of DC’s best antiheroes. Setting aside the nonsense rivalry between DC and Marvel movies, fans want films that translate the magic of the page to the big screen, and there wasn’t a lot of ‘magic’ in Suicide Squad, despite its plethora of acting talent.
Who Said It: Dwayne Johnson
Quote: “Oh boy, critics had their venom & knives ready. Fans LOVE the movie. Huge positive scores. Big disconnect w/ critics & people.” (Twitter, 2017)
Why He’s Wrong: Listen, plenty of people out there friggin’ love Dwayne Johnson. When he’s not spearheading some of the best action movies of the last decade, Johnson is showing off his underrated comedy chops in movies like Central Intelligence and Pain & Gain. So why is Johnson singling out critics for negative reviews of a movie adapted from a 16-year-old television show that, let’s be honest, wasn’t that great, to begin with? It’s not like raunchy comedies or television adaptations are critical poison; in the past few years alone, we’ve seen Neighbors and 21 Jump Street — not to mention their equally beloved sequels — be widely endorsed by film critics around the world. Hell, Daniel Day-Lewis has won three Academy Awards and that didn’t stop people from dragging Nine over the coals when it was released in 2009. Audiences are smarter and more discerning than most Hollywood executives would have you believe. Sometimes, they need more than half-remembered television tie-ins to inspire them to pay $15 dollars for a movie at their local multiplex.
Who Said It: Alex Kurtzman
Film: The Mummy
Quote: “The only gauge that I really use to judge it is having just traveled around the world and hearing the audiences in the theaters. This is a movie that I think is made for audiences and in my experience, critics and audiences don’t always sing the same song.” (Business Insider, 2017)
Why He’s Wrong: I love Tom Cruise as much as the next guy — probably more than the next guy, unless I happen to be standing next to Birth.Movies.Death.’s Scott Wampler — but even I, the perpetual blockbuster apologist, can’t find many nice things to say about Kurtzman’s The Mummy. And of all the films highlighted in this article, The Mummy is the oddest choice to use as a case of fans before critics. What, exactly, are fans supposed to be rallying for? Don’t contemporary audiences treat Brendan Fraser’s 1999 film as the pinnacle of the genre? Has there been a huge resurgence in popularity for Boris Karloff’s 1932 horror film? Or are the mediocre box office numbers of Universal’s 2014 Dark Universe predecessor Dracula Untold a mirage? The truth is, most fans weren’t sure what to expect with The Mummy, and general audiences and horror fans alike were mostly unimpressed by Kurtzman’s new film. Don’t confuse the fact that most audiences are vaguely aware of the Mummy character as proof that they were clamoring for a $125 million blockbuster bearing its name.