Update: Movie Review Intelligence will discontinue publishing its website in June Updated: Sun, Apr 28 2013, 12:00pm
Update: We recently announced that we would discontinue publishing this website at the end of April. We are giving it until June so that we can explore a couple of ways to continue indefinitely. Those of you who have sent comments and feedback -- thank you! We've posted some of your notes below...
SANTA MONICA, CA March 15, 2013 -- Movie Review Intelligence will discontinue publishing its website at the end of April. Editor and publisher David A. Gross said, “We are extremely grateful for the readers who have visited our pages during the last three and a half years. We are an independent website. As such, we do not have access to the content networks and mainstream moviegoers we set out to reach in order to continue our growth. And so we will stop at the end of April.”
About Movie Review Intelligence
Movie Review Intelligence launched in June 2009 and has covered 3,330 movies released in theaters since the beginning of 2009. The site includes reviews from over 52 publications that represent what moviegoers see and read every day -- all types of publications, all types of critics.
The site attracts approximately 100,000 readers per month across all platforms and ranks #4.6 (four point six) out of 1,060,000,000 in a Google search for “movie reviews.” Movie Review Intelligence is not aligned with a movie studio or entertainment company. Here is more background about the site.
The Current State of Movie Reviews
Starting in 2005 the print media industry started losing its financial monopoly on printed news. Revenues fell, expenses and staffs were cut, and several high-profile critics were let go. Since that time, and for many of the same reasons that print media imploded – the arrival of new media and social media – readership has exploded. For instance, in 2005 the New York Times had approximately 1,136,000 million print subscribers (Audit Bureau of Circulation). Now it has approx. 779,000 print subscribers and more than 18 million online readers (various sources). Today Roger Ebert has over 840,000 followers on Twitter, nearly twice the number of print subscribers to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“Reviews are proliferating,” Gross says, “In print, on news, movie and entertainment websites, on ticketing sites, throughout social media, on pay-TV channels, on mobile devices, on search engines, in ads, everywhere. As the delivery of movies to individuals migrates to digital platforms, reviews will continue to proliferate.”
The Current Role of Reviews
Moviegoers take in lots of information about movies. Reviews are one element in an enormous mix. Reviews are an opinion. Anyone can have one – moviegoers take in many and form their own. Reviews are the first opinion. They set the tone and they stick with a movie through its distribution life. They are important.
Since last summer, most of the movies that have performed well have been well reviewed: ‘Hunger Games,’ ‘Dark Knight Rises,’ ‘Avengers,’ ‘Skyfall,’ ‘Argo,’ and many others. “As moviegoers see more reviews at the point of the movie transaction – the mobile ticket purchase, the pay-TV download, the computer streaming – we will continue to see better reviewed movies over-perform at the box-office, and poorly reviewed movies under-perform,” Gross says.
There will always be movies whose marketing appeal – the story, cast, genre, special effects -- is so strong that lots of people attend, irrespective of reviews. Recently, ‘Identity Thief’ opened to $34.6 million with weak reviews. The film has performed well and will finish with approximately $134 million box-office. Would it have made more money had the reviews been stellar? $150 million? $165 million? For a great comedy, $175 million is not out of reach. Yes, stellar reviews would have added to its business.
Some commentators believe movie critics counted more in the old days, like in 1967 when Pauline Kael is credited with saving ‘Bonnie & Clyde.’ “That’s an old saw,” says Gross. “Before the internet, the elite media dominated the conversation. Now everyone has access to everything. It all happens more quickly. Reviews are more influential now than ever before. There is no question about that.”
One example: In December 2009 Twentieth Century Fox had a major release that appeared to be in trouble. Delayed, over-budget, ponderous, bad – the filmmaker who had taken the studio to the brink once before had now missed. On December 10th, the reviews broke – one rave after another (with several exceptions). “It is easy to forget the trouble surrounding ‘Avatar’ before its release,” says Gross. “It was about to sink like the Titanic; instead it soared like ‘Titanic.’ It took only one week to turn around, and that was in 2009 – reviews are moving even faster and more forcefully today.”
The industry leader is Rotten Tomatoes. Rotten Tomatoes classifies each review as either positive or negative and then tallies up the percentage of positive reviews – that is how they derive their score. Reviews that have 2 stars out of 4 and C grades are considered negative. C+ is also negative and you will sometimes find 2.5 out of 4, B-, and 6.5 out of 10 negative.
This distorts what the critics said. In reality, C grades and 2 out of 4 stars are neither positive nor negative, they are in the middle. Critics are aware of the grades they give – if they select a middle grade or describe a movie in middle terms, then that is what they have chosen to say.
When the final score is tallied, this makes an enormous difference. By treating these middle reviews as worthless (they have no value, same as an F grade or 0 stars), the effect is to devalue average reviews and average movies. “Negative reviews happen – we have plenty of them on Movie Review Intelligence – but trashing movies with middle reviews is not an accurate reflection of critics' opinions,” says Gross. “These are movies that many moviegoers enjoy, if not at the theater then on DVD and pay-TV. Today, review scores stick with a movie when they appear on rental and purchase sites. Distorting these reviews steers people away from movies they might like.”
This is also a problem for critics. Over time, seeing the review scores, many moviegoers become alienated from critics. Moviegoers think, “Why do the critics hate so many popular movies? They are so negative, movie after movie. The critics are definitely out of touch with my taste.” In reality, that is not the case.
Rotten Tomatoes' average review score for wide releases is between 37% and 39%, below the middle-point of the scale and below Movie Review Intelligence’s average of 51.7%. This is not an accurate reflection of movie reviews in the real world.
Metacritic covers a narrower selection of U.S. and British critics. The reviews are weighted according to prestige. “The prestige approach is the traditional approach, where moviegoers are told which reviews are best,” says Gross. “Who are we to determine which critics are the most prestigious and best? If the idea is to provide moviegoers-at-large with an accurate picture of movie reviews, then moviegoers can show us which reviews are important – it is the reviews that moviegoers themselves choose to see and read.”
By excluding the mainstream publications that moviegoers see and read the most, such as People magazine, Us Weekly and the Associated Press, and by weighting the reviews according to prestige, Metacritic’s average review score for wide releases runs in the mid-40% range, below the middle-point of the scale and below Movie Review Intelligence’s average of 51.7%. Like Rotten Tomatoes, this is not an accurate reflection of movie reviews in the real world.
Movie reviews will continue to play a prominent role in the presentation of movies. Today we are still at an early stage of the transition to digital movie delivery. As the transition continues, movie reviews’ profile will continue to grow.
Gross, a former studio executive with 25 years of movie marketing experience and a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, says, “Movie reviews are not everything, but they are important. Movies are one of America’s great industries. $62.4 billion was spent on movies worldwide last year, 41% of it in North America (IHS). The current system of reviews is working at cross-purposes -- with movies, with moviegoers and with critics. This is hurting the industry. We can do better with movie reviews. Hopefully at some point in the future we will.”
Thank you for your comments...
"I will miss your site as it is the most dependable source for reviews I have ever found. The other sites suggested are 'weak tea' in comparison to the service you have been providing."
"I was alerted to Movie Review Intelligence (MRI) almost three years ago and have been an enthusiastic and consistent user ever since. I have also recommended it to anyone who asks how to go about finding 'other than mainstream' movies. For me it was the '...go to...' source to research any movie. It contained the reviews of numerous critics which when blended together and distilled, as only MRI could, rendered an excellent screen for me to pick interesting movies. I will sorely miss this valuable resource..."
"I'm so sorry to hear this. I use the site all the time. Seems we're living in a big box world now and forever. Alas."
"What’s a movie goer to do without the flawless guidance of Movie Intelligence?! MRI was absolutely my go to site for making movie choices."
"I just wanted to tell you that I found your approach excellent, with good statistics and a very informative layout."
"To know that Movie Review Intelligence is closing down saddens me to no end. It's there that I've gone first to gauge if I wanted to head out the door on Fridays. It's there that I've sent my own readers, friends and family. And when in doubt at MRI, I might have used Tomatoes or MetaCritic to supplement what I've seen on your site. It's your site that helped me define what critics I tend to agree with or, whose opinions I have come to trust as more in line with my perspective on movies than any other critics."
"I'm the Treasurer of a very small not-for-profit that provides the big screen experience in rural, upstate NY. We depend on your reviews and scores to help us select the films to screen. I always go to your site first, and much prefer it to Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic. I'm really sorry to learn you are discontinuing your work..."
"It is really too bad your website is coming to an end. I have relied on it for many years as a solid guide to making my decision to attend a movie or not. It has been so accurate that I couldn’t wait until Friday to begin reading each film review."
"I am very sorry to learn that MRI is closing up shop. Like many of the other comment makers responding to this sad news, I have been relying on MRI for quite some time, as it has been extremely useful for me in my 40 year position as Director of The Ross. Your site always provided me with valuable insight when considering movies to program. You will be missed by me and quite obviously many others. Thanks very much."
"I only relatively recently discovered your site and am sorry it will be closing down. MRI is very much ahead of the rest of the pack in my humble opinion."
"As a radio disc jockey, my listeners and I have relied on MRI for many, many years to help keep us informed on what is hot and what is not. Your straight forward, easy to use service has been much appreciated and will be sorely missed by moviegoers and by people like me, who dole out the information TO those moviegoers."
"I am thankful for even one month more, and I have my fingers crossed that you will manage to keep this fantastic and unique website going. I will keep watching for further updates as I will, of course, keep using the website for all the invaluable information gathered here."
"Please don't go. Thanks for this site and all the work and heart and soul that you put into it."
"I have to add to the chorus of fans begging you to find a way to stay. First Roger Ebert and now you guys -- the two worst things that could have happened to the world of movie reviews. I just can't get my overview of films anywhere else, RT and MC do not even approach the level of intelligence you do actually bring to aggregating reviews. Anyway, here's to hoping you guys stay around..."
"This has been my top internet discovery in years. I will miss this site dearly if this indeed is its last hurrah. It has been more than a breath of fresh mountain air, it's been an inspiration. If this resource is indeed gone, please please find a way back, before someone else references this example and attempts to repeat it poorly, which they would invariably have to."