A couple weeks ago I pondered the question: does the opinion of a bunch of white film critics matter when it comes to a film like Madea's Family Reunion? Three weeks of box office later, the numbers tell me the answer is a resounding, "Hell, no!" To date, Madea has raked in an impressive $60 mill at the box office (although this week there was a serious drop off - the film only made $5 million in the last week), off an estimated budget of $6 million. Pretty darn impressive take for a film that has a less-than-impressive 30% over at Rotten Tomatoes. The film's success pretty much guarantees we'll be seeing a lot more Madea, and Tyler Perry, no doubt, is chuckling all the way to the bank. Big Momma's House and Big Momma's House 2, which also targeted primarily African-American audiences, also ripped up the box office in spite of being panned by critics. The original Big Momma, with an RT score of 30%, took in $117.5 million off a $30 million budget. Big Momma 2, with a dismal 6% over at RT, still managed to make a $27 million profit ($67 million on a $40 million budget).
If the success of Madea and the Big Momma films are flukes, it would be one thing, but they aren't. Year after year critics and movie fans alike bitch and moan about how much crap comes out of Hollywood, and year after year the critics try their darndest to point audiences to what they consider to be good, even great films, only to watch, befuddled, as audiences flock to the dreck with relentless tenacity. Hollywood, meanwhile, continues to churn out heaps of mediocre (or worse) films, because all too often, mediocrity is what brings in the bank, and it takes lots of cash to support Hollywood in the opulent lifestyle to which it's become accustomed.
Another case in point: "family films". This category is a major cash cow for Hollywood. I don't know if it's because studios (and parents) think kids are stupid and therefore believe they will enjoy anything that's on a big screen in front of them, so long as they have a bucket of popcorn and a mega-sized orange drink, or if parents are so desperate to find something to do with their kids that they'll torture themselves by sitting through some truly retch-worthy films, but there are a lot of parents taking a lot of kids to a lot of crappy movies. For instance, Scooby-Doo. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 27%, but it raked in $153.2 million. Jinkies! How about Garfield: The Movie? Rotten Tomatoes critics slapped that one with a 13% (and I suspect those 13% were either smoking something or wrote their reviews in their sleep) but parents shelled out $75 million to take their kidlets to see the annoyingly mouthy kitty in action. Then there was Daddy Day Care. Only 29% of the RT critics liked the Eddie Murphy vehicle, but parents paid for that one to the tune of $104 million. And let's not overlook that classic children's film, Baby Geniuses, which scored a big, fat goose egg with Rotten Tomatoes, yet still managed to make $27.2 million off a $13 million budget. Baby Geniuses. $27 million. I'll just let that sink in for a moment while all you dedicated indie filmmakers out there ponder how many years you'd have to work at your day job to make $27 million.
Meanwhile, Duma, a family film which has been almost universally lauded by critics (RT critics give it a 96% rating, with only two bad reviews - and one of those is from the Village Voice's Ben Kenigsberg, who also hated one of the best films I saw all year, Innocent Voices, so take that for what you will), has struggled mightily at the box office in those cities it's actually screened in. March of the Penguins seems to be the exception that proves the rule, with a 95% positive RT rating and a hefty $77.5 million at the box office, but if the success of the penguins was solely to do with what the critics said, Duma should be solid box office gold as well, and it's not. Penguins aside, though, the bottom line is that parents don't seem to listen to what critics have to say about family films. Maybe there aren't enough good family films for parents to chose from; maybe the kids are making the movie-going decisions and dragging their parents (and their parents' wallets) to the 'plex; maybe it's all the fault of those evil co-branded toy marketing deals with McD's and BK; or maybe it's just that parents assume critics aren't going to have anything positive to say about a kiddie flick anyhow, so they don't factor reviews into their decision from the get-go.
Action/sci-fi/superhero films also seem to be pretty much immune to the ire of the critics. Plenty of films from these genres bring home big paydays, even those loathed by critics. In this category we'll find films like Bad Boys II, which took home an astounding $138 million in spite of a measly 25% Rotten Tomatoes score. Unfortunately, the film cost a hefty $130 million to make (Will Smith and Martin Lawrence blowing lots of stuff up = big bucks), so the film's profit wasn't as big as it could have been, in spite of lots of folks who went to see it. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider fared a bit better, thanks largely to the scintillating presence of Angelina Jolie in revealing costumes. Tomb Raider scored a pathetic 17%, but raided the piggy banks of geeks and fanboys everywhere to the tune of $131 million on an $80 million budget.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the coin, here are nine films with perfect 100s on RT: The Sweet Hereafter; The Winslow Boy; The Secret of Roan Inish; Henry V; Drugstore Cowboy; Red Rock West; Paris, Texas; Of Mice and Men; and A Bronx Tale. Now, consider - the box office take for these nine films combined is $54.7 million - less than Madea took in its first three weeks in theaters. Let's just ponder that for a moment. Is it any wonder Hollywood keeps churning out films that critics hate? Not so long as the movie-going public will shell out nearly 10 times the bank to see Madea over artsy flicks.
So what gives? Are critics so out of touch with mainstream America that their collective opinions just really don't matter to the average movie-goer? Do we need more diversity among film critics to give a broader view on movies that appeal to the masses? Do film critics tend to dismiss mainstream films while painting over the flaws of indie and foreign films? And most importantly - are there really that many people out there who think most of the films showing at their metroplex are the bee's knees? Or is it simply that we should hold mainstream films, or movies aimed at discrete markets, like most kiddie fare or Madea, to a different standard than arthouse films?