According to a recent NYU study, the gulf between critics and non-critics is much wider than you probably originally assumed. NYU Psychology professor Pascal Wallisch and Tisch’s Cinema Studies graduate Jake Whritner surveyed over 3,000 people about 209 movies and compared their rankings with those of 42 professional critics.
The results were illuminating in regards to how movie-goers should utilize things like RT%’s and Metacritic scores.
They found that there was only a very modest correlation in movie preferences among the study participants, suggesting that their tastes were highly idiosyncratic. In contrast, agreement among critics was significantly higher than among the study participants. However, the correlation between critics and non-critics was no higher than among the study participants themselves.
To put it another way, critics are much more susceptible to groupthink than non-critics. The study speculates that it could be the result of similar training and that the goal of a critic isn’t to predict whether or not audiences will like a movie, but rather whether or not they should like a movie based on some seemingly objective standards.
Another possible reason (not from the study) could be that critics simply are in a “critic bubble.” They read other critics’ thoughts on movies and let that effect how they review the same or similar movies. Just like any other industry, there is a hierarchy of popularity/respect amongst critics and those at the top will likely have influence on the critics who look up to them. So if a well-respected critic unfavorably reviews a film or director, critics who admire him/her will (if only subconsciously) defer to their judgment on some level in their reviews as well.
After all, critics are just people so they’re just as prone to the same pitfalls as any other occupation and that includes the same top-down groupthink that befalls pretty much every other industry. Or maybe it could be as simple as it being a specific type of person who becomes a movie critic? This further reinforces that idea that some films can be made aimed specifically at critics to receive critical praise.
Whatever the reason may be, the data seems to indicate that you’re better off asking a random person on the street about a movie recommendation over a critic.
Interestingly enough, the study wasn’t designed to test the gulf between critics and casual movie-goers. It was originally created to explore how our minds create the experience of reality and the use of movies was intended to test those differences:
“Movies are like a piece of virtual reality I can deploy to study your reaction,” Wallisch says. “Let’s say we both watch the same movie. We experience the same situation. But do we even see the same thing?”
The study also debunked some of the widely beliefs that men/women and various age groups have systematic differences in movie tastes. It also intimates that the fresh/rotten, thumbs-up/thumbs-down dichotomous movie ranking we rely on is especially misleading.
The researchers plan on moving forward with further studies to test if there are any personality traits common amongst horror movie fans. They hope to get to the heart of why people debate obviously subjective issues as if they talking about objective facts (something especially germane to discussions about films).
That leaves the role of the “film critic” up in the air. At this point to say, “The movie was favorably reviewed by critics, so I’ll probably like it,” or “Critics hated it, so it must suck,” is empirically not the best stance to take.
That’s not to say movie critics have no place for modern movie audiences; if a particular critic is especially in line with your tastes/preferences or you value their insight into films because they approach it a way you never considered then you’ll be more likely to find films you’ll enjoy.
But please stop looking at RT (or any other aggregated) score – you’re only doing yourself a disservice because you’re likely to miss a film you’ll greatly enjoy. Reminder – Beverly Hills Cop 2 sits at 46% on that site. Think about THAT the next time you’re consulting RT before seeing a movie.
Come at us with your @’s on twitter @Official_FAN with your favorite film that critics destroyed or got an unfavorable score on the almighty RT.