What Kinds of Movies Earn Perfect Grades From CinemaScore?

See the 76 crowdpleasers that join Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’ in having received a rare ‘A+’ from the polling service.
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By  · Published on February 22nd, 2018

See the 76 crowdpleasers that join Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’ in having received a rare ‘A+’ from the polling service.

Among the many achievements of Black Panther, including record-breaking box office and critical reception, the movie received an ‘A+’ grade from opening-night viewers via CinemaScore polling. It’s only the second superhero movie based on a comic book to earn the mark, the other being fellow Marvel Cinematic Universe installment The Avengers. And only the third superhero movie overall, with Pixar’s The Incredibles also among the pack.

As I looked over that pack, courtesy of a Letterboxd list by user Payton R., I also noticed that Black Panther is the second ‘A+’ movie starring Chadwick Boseman in the lead (42 is the other). And it’s the second co-starring Lupita Nyong’o (along with Queen of Katwe). And it’s the third to feature Angela Bassett in a major role (the other two: Akeelah and the Bee and Music of the Heart). Suddenly it became clear that a lot of movies with perfect grades via CinemaScore have, like Black Panther, a predominantly black cast. Out of 77 titles, 15 of them involve black ensembles and another nine have black lead characters, either as protagonists or co-protagonists, including Lethal Weapon 2.

That’s almost one third of the movies that audiences designated as perfect. Also among that list is a movie about Chinese-American women (The Joy Luck Club), an animated feature about a legendary Chinese girl (Mulan), an animated feature about a Mexican boy and honoring his culture (Coco), an animated feature involving mostly Arab characters (Aladdin), a biopic about a historical Indian icon (Gandhi), an anti-Apartheid drama (A Dry White Season), and a Western mostly consisting of Native-American characters, most of whom were played by Native-American actors (Dances With Wolves).

Are the audiences drawn to all these movies just happy to see such inclusive representation on the big screen? Perhaps for some of them. These aren’t all huge hits or highly acclaimed efforts, but those that aren’t as professionally or financially well-received provide certain under-represented moviegoers something that is at least indulging that appeal. Another notable bunch of ‘A+’ movies cater to Christian viewers — nine of them, in fact, including the wider-aiming The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (there are 10 if we allow the Christmas film The Polar Express). Many others, such as Wonder, have wholesome themes that easily align with that group.

Outside of that, though, you can bet there are a lot of feel-good movies. There are the uplifting sports dramas (including Dream: Inspired by a True Story, Rocky III, and Remember the Titans) and inspiring teacher dramas (including Dead Poets Society, Lean on Me, and Mr. Holland’s Opus), and heartwarming films involving animals (including Dolphin Tale, Iron Will, and Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey). There are also obviously a number of crowd-pleasing animated movies (Pixar is on there six times, Disney proper another six times, mostly with ’90s features) and a smattering of classic blockbusters, namely Star Wars, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Titanic, and Die Hard.

Speaking of the bigger movies on the list, it’s interesting how many franchise sequels there are without the original movie being represented. In addition to lonely installments Lethal Weapon 2Rocky III, and Toy Story 2, there’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day but no The Terminator (which doesn’t seem to have a grade), The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King but not its predecessors, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home but nothing else in that series (it’s the first of the movies to get a grade apparently), and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets but nothing else in that series.

One wouldn’t expect anything too controversial to do so well on CinemaScore, but another interesting type of ‘A+’ movie appeals to a more conservatively patriotic crowd. There are two collaborations between director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg (Patriots Day and Lone Survivor), Clint Eastwood’s phenomenally successful American Sniper, and apparently the Dinesh D’Souza documentary America: Imagine a World Without Her, which is the only title among this crop that wouldn’t have attracted anyone without a conservative political interest. It’s also not a film to be found in CinemaScore’s listings on its own site, which is strange (and possibly suspect).

The thing to remember with CinemaScore grades is they’re not reflective of a movie’s quality or popularity as far as wider tastes go. These are the results of polling the very people who were excited or drawn enough to these movies on opening night and came away 100% satisfied that their expectations were met. So an ‘A+’ for America would have been earned by the moviegoers who would see a D’Souza documentary in the first place, and an ‘A+’ for Black Panther was earned by the many more moviegoers who would go see an MCU installment starring a black superhero and ensemble cast on opening night. Given the audience size, the latter is by far the greater achievement.

Does the perfect CinemaScore matter, though? I’ve pointed out its significance in the past in box office reports, because there’s a correlation that data supports in how much more a movie will gross in the long run with a higher grade than it would with a lower grade. That’s not necessarily because of the CinemaScore so much as it’s that the CinemaScore can indicate what sort of word of mouth a movie might have. But just getting an ‘A+’ isn’t going to mean a movie will make tons of money or win any awards, even if the list includes a number of Best Picture nominees and winners, the latter including Forrest GumpThe King’s Speech, Driving Miss DaisyArgo, and Schindler’s List.

Some of the other “perfect” movies, CinemaScore grade-wise, that don’t seem to fit any easy boxes except they’re obviously very good, very beloved, very deserving, and oh just happen to be directed by Rob Reiner include The Princess BrideWhen Harry Met Sally…, and A Few Good Men. To see what all has received the ‘A+’ grade in the 40 years since these polls began (again we think this is comprehensive), check out the full list here.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.