‘Batman V Superman’ And The Myth That Box Office Repudiates Critics

Batman V Superman opened this week to massive box office ($424 million worldwide), even after being panned by most critics (29% on RottenTomatoes). To hear most outlets report this, you’d think critics experienced this while screaming into our mirrors, as everything we thought we knew crumbled around us. We’ll get you for this, fanboys! We’d scream, taking long drags on our inhalers.

The following response was fairly typical, and keep in mind, these are the leading industry trades:

‘Batman V Superman’ Defied Dismal Reviews –The Hollywood Reporter

“…reviewers watched helplessly as “Batman v Superman” smashed records” –Variety, under a “do critics matter at the box office” headline that gets reused at least three times every year.

As Amy Adams said of the movie, it’s for the fans! They didn’t make it with critics in mind. Warner Bros domestic distribution chief Jeff Goldstein went back to that old industry standby, the “audience-critic divide.”

“Clearly, audiences have embraced it and we are already seeing repeat business. It’s just fun. Often, there’s a disconnect between critics and audiences.”

Meanwhile, Aquaman Jason Momoa reposted a terrible meme on Instagram about “critics who can’t act or know comics are a bit hypocritical.” (Incidentally, his Instagram name is prideofgypsies, which seems important.) I won’t spend any more time breaking that down than he spent reposting it, but even that’s to say nothing of the strangely numerous DC Comics cheerleaders online who seemed to think critics were “bias” [sic] against DC movies.

Okay, so for the sake of intelligent discussion we can throw out the random tweets, because if you scrape the bottom of the internet pond, you’re obviously going to find scum (those were fun though, right? I didn’t include them for nothing). But clearly, there’s an idea out there that if a poorly-reviewed film does well, it means critics don’t matter, or that those critics will be mad about it.

This doesn’t seem complicated, but apparently it bears explaining: a ticket is something you buy to get into a film, and a review is something you write after you’ve actually seen the film.

If there’s a disconnect between sales and reviews, it’s because those two acts are inherently unconnected. People love to draw a distinction between “fans” and “critics,” while designating everyone who buys a ticket “fan.” If you haven’t seen the film yet, what would that make one a “fan” of, the marketing? “We made this for people who enjoyed our marketing campaign and can’t express opinions afterward!”

1. Are “critics” and “audience” opinions really all that different? This idea of ticket sales as proof of “disconnect” is idiotic on multiple levels – which most people probably know intuitively – but the idea of disconnect gets thrown around so often that some people actually start to believe it. What do these critics know of the common man!?

This is dangerous business, studios. Reviews may not hurt sales for most big budget movies, but they can sure help smaller movies come awards season. Are you sure you want to be repeating this lie about reviews being out of touch when you’re just going to be selling your “acclaimed” films again in six months? Be careful riling up the neckbeards. You may eventually reap what you sow (amber waves of dandruff).

The facts: Batman V Superman scored a 29% recommended rating on RottenTomatoes. That doesn’t mean most critics “hated” it, it means 71% of those polled gave it at least a mild negative. The average rating was 5/10. Basically, the average critic’s reaction was “meh.” As for the “fans” (whatever that means – is it really fair to call anyone who’s curious enough to see a movie a “fan?”): according to the ticket buyers polled by Cinemascore, Batman V Superman received a B. Which sounds suspiciously like a “meh” to me. Some historical context: among comic book movies, Batman V Superman‘s B is the same score as Elektra, Catwoman, Daredevil, Green Lantern, and Batman Returns (which I love), which scored 10%, 9%, 44%, 26%, and 80% recommended on RottenTomatoes, respectively. A divide? It sounds like critics and audiences are largely in step. It’s weird how many “fans” turn into “critics” after they’ve actually seen a movie.

[The films with worse Cinemascores than BvS? Ghost Rider: The Spirit of Vengeance (C+), Batman and Robin (C+), Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (C), and Fantastic Four (C-)]

2. Just as specious as the “ticket sales mean critics don’t matter!” argument is the idea that critics are somehow upset about people seeing a movie they’ve panned. Now, sure, it would’ve been nice if one of Michael Bay’s Transformers turds did poorly enough that Paramount stopped making them after one or two, but for the most part, critics are happy for audiences to see movies we don’t like. When’s the last time you saw something you hated and didn’t want someone to complain about it too? This is anecdotal, but I think for the most part, we take a “Dave! Come taste how terrible this is!” approach to people seeing bad movies. This is human nature. If you see something truly sucky, you want others to know first-hand how sucky it is so you can complain about it without feeling insane. So studios, by all means, make lots of money on movies I hate. Use all that critical backlash money to finance Charlie Kaufman’s next batsh*t vanity project.

Honestly, this is all so painfully obvious that I can’t believe I’m writing about it, but for all the “audience vs. critics!” articles that have been written in the last 50 years, this week might hit a new high. Please, don’t click on them. Remember, websites treat clicks like movie studios treat ticket sales, the ultimate justification.

Lots of people wanted to see Batman V Superman. Then they did. A lot of them, both critics and paying audience members, thought it was sort of “meh” (though not as monolithic bloc, we don’t vote on these things). Judging by most of the evidence, the proportions of lovers and haters in each group weren’t that dissimilar.

Vince Mancini is a writer, comedian, and podcaster. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.