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Reviewers rate movies lower than audiences do

by CATHERINE RAMPELL New York Times News Service on August 17, 2013 10:10 AM

Critics are perennially accused of being out of touch with audiences. “Grown Ups 2,” for instance, was almost universally disliked by critics, with just 7 percent giving it positive reviews, according to the movie website Rotten Tomatoes.

But the film has brought in more than $124 million in domestic box-office receipts since its release on July 12, and at Rotten Tomatoes it is liked by 3 of every 5 people who have weighed in.

So the question: Can the gulf in tastes between critics and the general public be measured?

The New York Times compared the views of critics with those of visitors at Rotten Tomatoes on movies released over the last decade that brought in at least $2 million in domestic box-office receipts, when adjusted for inflation — more than 2,000 movies in all.

And yes, the reviewers are a tougher audience, far more critical on average than general audiences are. Or, put another way, the public is far more willing to bestow praise.

Yet what is also interesting is the types of films on which they differ or don’t.

Among all films analyzed, the average picture received a positive review from almost half of the “approved” critics surveyed by Rotten Tomatoes. But 62 percent of the readers who weighed in gave the average movie a positive review (which means rating the film with at least 3.5 of 5 stars).

The gulf between audience scores and critics’ scores varies significantly depending on the movie, but in almost every genre the public rates a movie more positively than the critics do.

The only exceptions are black comedies, like “In the Loop” and “Adventureland,” for example, and documentaries, like “The Queen of Versailles” and “Super Size Me.”

Critics routinely rate films in these genres more highly than Rotten Tomatoes users do.

The genre with the biggest critical disconnect is romantic comedy. The average romantic comedy is rated positively by 57 percent of Rotten Tomatoes users versus just 36 percent of Rotten Tomatoes-approved critics.

“Valentine’s Day,” for example, was liked by 18 percent of critics but 51 percent of Rotten Tomatoes users.

Audiences and critics tend to have more similar views on Westerns and on concert/performance films, which both groups rate relatively highly. The average film in both genres got positive feedback from about two-thirds of both general moviegoers and critics.

However, these are also the two smallest genres: of the films analyzed, only 12 were categorized as concert/performance and 11 were Westerns, based on groupings created by the film data provider OpusData.

Of course, one reason that members of a general audience might rate films more highly on average is that they choose what they want to see.

And they probably pick films they think they will enjoy, which improves the likelihood of them giving those films favorable reviews.

To some extent critics have some leeway in deciding what to review.

But in the main they are obligated to review many films that they would not seek out on their own, which might explain why their ratings on average are lower than those of people who watch movies purely for fun.

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