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Does It Matter That Critics See Movies for Free?

For some reason, readers or filmmakers trying to disregard the significance of what critics write about a given movie feel the need to point out that it’s the people who pay for tickets whose opinion actually matters. That’s just another way of saying that general audiences are more important than critics, which is again a differentiation that is unnecessarily divisive, but we’ll get to that later.

More often than not, this point is brought up when readers disagree with the majority of critics’ opinions on a movie. And also more often, it’s when reviews are negative. But why should a critic seeing a movie for free make anyone suspicious or adverse to a negative review? Wouldn’t you be more suspicious about a critic seeing a movie for free and then giving a positive review? That would make more sense, and that does happen occasionally when readers decide they don’t want to believe or buy into a movie that’s good.

My question is, where does this assumption of bias come from and why? It’s the job of a critic to see a movie and write their opinion on it. Are there critics out there who write positive reviews just so they can get their name on a poster, movie trailer or TV spot? Absolutely, but those critics are easy to spot, and it’s not hard to see whose opinions you should take with a grain of salt. If anything, there’s more bias from general audiences who are already excited to love or hate a movie, whether it’s Captain America: Civil War or the Ghostbusters reboot.

One could just as easily say that because a given viewer paid for a ticket, their happiness after a movie isn’t as genuine because they want to believe their money was well spent. Or that their dislike of a movie is worse because they feel like they wasted their money. Those aren’t useful or accurate assumptions by any means, but neither is the notion that critics seeing a movie for free influences their opinion in any way.

Critics see movies for free because studios want them to potentially create good word of mouth for a movie. They take a risk that a critic will not like the movie, and that’s just how the cookie crumbles. It’s the easiest way to get advance buzz for a movie and get as many critics as possible to see it, allowing for a wide variety of reactions and potentially good buzz. But it does not change their opinion in any way, and it certainly doesn’t invalidate it. After all, you’re not forbidden to enjoy a sandwich just because you get it for free.

Roger Ebert

Why Should You Care What Critics Think?

Well, the short answer this question is you don’t have to. But movie critics see a wide range of movies that most general audiences don’t. Some readers think critics get burnt out on seeing movies because they have to watch so many of them. But this is actually what should make people trust critics more. They have a larger sample of entertainment that molds their taste, and this is perhaps why there seems to be a sort of dichotomy between what general audiences and critics think about movies.

Some critics see hundreds of movies each year, not just the ones they want to see. And because of that, they see much more than general audiences do. That gives them more experience with a variety of filmmaking styles, techniques, narratives, etc. So while a movie might feel new and fresh to a viewer, it may also be something that a critic has seen so many times before that it doesn’t feel original and lacks impact. It’s not because critics are uppity and pretentious or they think their taste is superior to yours. It’s just different and more experienced, which again, isn’t elitist. In fact, it’s this part of being a film critic that gets little indie movies like Attack the Block or or (500) Days of Summer noticed by more mainstream audiences. And by association, it’s how some of those indie filmmakers get a shot at directing bigger movies.

Basically, listening to a critic is akin to having a friend who tastes a lot of craft beers or eats out at a lot of different restaurants. Maybe they hate Bud Light because they’ve tasted better beers. It doesn’t mean you can’t like Bud Light, but it doesn’t make their opinion wrong either. But much like you have friends whose opinion you trust on certain subjects more than others, you have to do the same thing with critics.

Continue Reading Batman v Superman & Film Criticism >>

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