How to Save a Bad Movie

Is a bad movie review even worse than no movie review at all? Studios often refrain from pre-screening movies for critics if they believe the movie will get bad reviews, but does the policy pay off? Thomas Bartlett cites a recent paper by Alexander Brown, Colin Camerer, and Dan Lovallo that claims it does. The authors found that “cold opening appears to generate a box office premium (compared to similar-quality movies that are pre-reviewed, and including many other controls), which is consistent with the hypothesis that some consumers are overestimating quality of movies that are opened cold.” [%comments]

Eric M. Jones

To those who have been fooled into attending "preview theatres" in Hollywood, where film-makers show their is like watching sausage being made. One leaves with the depressing understanding that the movie is only a product, not art, barely entertainment.

It's all a sort of flim-flam...there's the setup, the suspension of disbelief, and the bumpy return to reality. You can now do this online. Oy....

But movies can be sorted into interest groups where no reviews have much effect. There are the Chickflix, Sci Fi, Kung Fu, Super Hero, Teen Heartbreaker Subcategory of ChickFlix, Merchant Ivory, Ship-of-Fools, Comedy, Disney, Star-Vehicle, War Movie.

These are "brands" that cater to a certain audience.

I once dated a woman who said her three favorite movies were:

Victor, Victoria;
Mrs. Doubtfire.

This confession caused my head to explode.

BTW: Lest we forget: "Sticks Nix Hick Pix"


Trailer Trash

I've seen trailers for movies that, of course, make them seem fantastic. I tend to wait to see the movies, however, until I read reviews. There is usually a reason that some films are released in February and not in November or June.


On a similar note, I always make a point of never going to see a movie that has been awarded, or even nominated, for an Oscar. They are terrible.

Robot Mistake

The data set contains all 890 movies widely released7 in the U.S. in their first weekend, over the 612yearperiod from January 1, 2000 to June 30, 2006

No mention in the entire paper that some very good movies are released without preview as to avoid spoilers. The Sixth Sense type movie.

Jonathon K.

Trailers can be edited to change what the movie looks like - anyone see the Office Space trailer redone so that it looks like a murder suspense film?

Of course a bad review can damage a film. Rule of thumb, never see a movie that gets tons of hype beforehand but then does not screen for critics and opens on impressively wide release (I.E. - when Godzilla was remade in 1998).


@Eric M. Jones,

Sounds like dating that woman was a real drag.

Mojo Bone

@#1: you left out fish out of water, buddy flick, sports/cheerleading story, comic-book retread, TV retread, teen sex comedy, slasher flick and date movie, AKA romantic comedy.

I'm not sure why we needed this study; the major studios don't do (or not do) anything that doesn't make 'em a nickel, and their research is probably better than ours.

Adam Kennedy

The other interesting question here is, does cold-opening the movie actually make the movie better?

By knowing less about the movie, are you in a more advantageous position to suspect disbelief and accept some horrendous plot point that the reviewer might have told you in advance sucks.

Eric M. Jones

@7- Mojo Bone:


I also left out Westerns, Sword and Sandal, Song and Dance, Road Films, etc., etc.

And "Films converted from stage plays where all they do is talk, talk, talk".


One wonders if this trick only worked while "word of mouth" was too slow to reach those planning on seeing the movie.

With pervasive social networking surely the "word of mouth" moves fast enough to limit this effect. It's not hard to imagine someone updating their status or tweeting while still in the cinema about how truly bad the film is.