Do Movie Reviews Impact You?

People are susceptible. The entire advertising industry is created around the principle that your opinion can be bought, or at least influenced. We are constantly bombarded by stimuli that impacts are purchasing decisions. Movie spots contain the most positive lines (sometimes manipulated and taken out of context) to let consumers know how great their product is. After a film’s initial release, there is almost always a “#1 in America” commercial that follows, because these are effective at driving ticket sales. If the media blitz of trailers, posters and articles can sway opinion what impact do reviews have on your enjoyment of a movie?

Reviews before Watching

Consumers actively seek reviews. Besides blurbs on commercials, if someone reads a review it is because they took the time to search for it. They are predisposed to have their opinion adjusted based upon the opinions of others. I remember being on the fence about seeing the Robocop reboot. I turned to Rotten Tomatoes to make my viewing decision for me. If the site said the film was fresh I would go, if it was bad I would avoid it. This is the worst way make a choice. By relying on the opinions of the majority we take away our individuality. Your tastes are your own and cannot be determined by the interests of the mob mentality. I am sure there are plenty of popular, well liked, Academy Award winning films that you don’t care for (my list includes Avatar, Citizen Kane and Frozen). You know what you will possibly enjoy better than the crowd, but by relying on reviews you trust someone else’s instincts over your own.

Expectations determine enjoyment. Our sense of how good a movie “should be” influences our enjoyment of the experience. Everyone has walked out of the theater, turned to their companions and said, “That was a lot better than I thought it would be” or “That did not live up to the hype.” Unless you are amongst the early adopters, or go on a media-blackout, your outlook is set by the film’s reception. Co-workers talking around the antiquated water cooler, opinions on Twitter and friend’s offhanded remarks about a film paint a picture of what you anticipate when the opening scene starts. It is a rare case that your opinions will blend perfectly with the collective’s, causing you to leave the theater with a slanted view of the film. This can cause a mediocre film to seem better than it truly is or a good movie worse, because it wasn’t great enough.

Critics detail the film. Most review sites go into detail about the film’s plot, character arc and plot twists when writing up their review. It is a difficult task to talk objectively, intelligently and coherently about a product without revealing anything about it. If there was a truly 100% spoiler free review it would read “It was good” and leave it at that. Critics need to go into greater detail in order to justify their opinion and profession. During this process they reveal facts about the movie which can ruin surprises; now that I know there is a twist in the narrative all I can do is watch the movie and try and guess what it is. They can point out flaws in the plot or performances, which if left to their own devices, movie goers wouldn’t have noticed. During a viewing, if the fan is thinking about the review instead of the film it will create a less enjoyable screening.

Reviews after Watching

Affirmation is the best opinion. It is hard to admit when we are wrong. When looking through evaluations of a film, fans will naturally lean towards opinions which are in sync with their own. Once we judge a film’s success it is difficult to update that mindshare. When combing through the internet for reviews people will find one’s that match their own, hold it up and point to it as an example “See, I was right.” This confirmation can be used to help a fan soapbox about the merits, or pitfalls, of a picture, but reviews can only be effective when people are willing to hear contradictory thoughts and be part of the conversation.

Analysis reduces enjoyment. Potentially humorous, as in Honest Trailers, but probably humbling is examinations that break down the essence of the film. Ideally the movie is more than the sum of parts, but when studying each piece individually we remove ourselves from the cohesive whole. If a film is enjoyable and fun then it shouldn’t matter that it doesn’t have the highest production values. Conversely, if the camera angles are interesting and the cinema photography unique, but the acting stale and the story derivative, it was still a bad movie. By pointing out individual directorial choices a review is placing a target on the movie. It is like when you nose starts itching, only because someone told you not to touch your face.

People turn to reviews because movies are expensive. The film industry continues to see year-over-year increases in profits and the price of X-Large Popcorn is not coming down anytime soon. To help consumers feel they are making an educated choice, they research critic’s opinions or listen to word of mouth. There is a trend to feel more positive about a movie when it is mediocre because people don’t want to admit that they wasted money and two hours on an “okay” movie.

Reviews Complement the Experience

Reviews and critics have a place in pop culture, but that spot in line is after the movie. By opening ourselves to other’s perspective we end up watching the movie through their eyes instead of our own. A good critic can discuss a movie’s qualities without revealing the story itself. They can objectively evaluate the film and raise questions a fan might not have thought of, they are able to start the conversation. Besides watching a film, my favorite part of the movie is that post-viewing discussion. If a review is able to bring a new perspective and assist the dialogue, than it is a success.


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