Sunday, May 20, 2012

What the hell is CinemaScore and why does it matter to a film?

Ever read an article online about a movie that just released and you come across a line about a CinemaScore of 'C' on a movie and wonder why did this movie, which I loved, get a low grade? And what the hell does the score mean, because who cares, really?

Well, hopefully this will shed a little bit of light on CinemaScore's and their importance.

First, CinemaScore is a market research firm based in Las Vegas. It surveys film audiences to rate their viewing experiences with letter grades, reports the results, and forecasts box office receipts based on the data.

CinemaScore reps in about two dozen major cities give opening-day audiences a survey card. The card asks for age, gender, a grade for the film between A+ and F, whether they would rent or buy the film on DVD or Blu-Ray, and why they chose the film. The ratings are divided by gender and age groups (under 21, 21-34, 35 and up); film studios and other subscribers receive the data at about 11 pm Pacific Time. Although the data is owned by the studio, the letter grades quickly spread widely throughout the industry and via media.

As opening-night audiences are presumably more enthusiastic about a film than ordinary patrons, a C grade from them is bad news.  Typically, movies don't rate lower than a C. A C is a failure.  The better the grade, the more likely the audience will recommend a movie to family and friends, and thus potentially predict the second weekend box office take.  

It's very rare that a movie is given an F.  Seven films have earned the F grade, including George Clooney's 2002 remake of Solaris (although critics loved it), and six horror thrillers (surprise, surprise): Ashley Judd's Bug (2006), Wolf Creek (2005), Darkness (2002), The Box (2009) with Cameron Diaz, The Devil Inside (2012), and Silent House (2012).

CinemaScore's forecasts for box-office receipts based on the surveys are "surprisingly accurate" as "most of [the company's] picks . . . are in the ballpark".  CinemaScore's in 2009 correctly predicted the huge success of The Hangover and the failure of Land of the Lost.

CinemaScore's are based on audience reaction and not the critic.  You need to remember that it is audiences that drive a films success  through their hard earned dollars and not the critic (see any Transformers movie for proof).  The critic gets to see all the movies for free and thus the paying customer may be more willing to tell friends and family to "save their money".

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