Critics and fans are constantly at odds. They have totally different agendas. The two major DC movies released this year show us the cavern that exists between critics, fans, and the everyday moviegoer. Rotten Tomatoes clearly demonstrates the divide between the critics and fans. When those groups watch a film, their takeaways are on a different plain:
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice exploded into theaters in March garnering the largest Warner Bros. opening in the studio’s history. Earlier this month, Suicide Squad blazed its way to the big screen and owned the box office top spot for several weeks. Hundreds of millions of dollars rolled into the WB account as people paid to watch these landmark DC movies. Warner Bros. intended to jump-start the DC Extended Universe with these films. Their combined cost was upwards of $735 million. To date, they have made almost $1.4 billion at the worldwide box office.
Two distinct voices of dissent are being placed front and center on media outlets and mainstream websites around the globe. These voices belong to critics and fans. These groups have an over-the-top investment in the product/film that skews their opinions and invokes an overprotective feeling towards the source material.
The largest gap between a critic and the general population is the over-protection of “cinema.” Critics appear to be searching for cinematic excellence. The standard they use applies much more to arthouse films than blockbusters that appeal to the masses. It’s the same scenario in which a food critic might like the minuscule portions of food served at a prize bistro. The delicacies may meet the criteria for his palate but often does not meet the recipe for success that appeals to the majority of people.
The basic break between the critic and the general population is what they are looking for in a film. The majority of moviegoers are looking to be entertained and granted the ability to escape from everyday life. Critics are looking for a formula that weaves directing, writing, cinematography, and sound into a masterpiece of storytelling. This is not necessarily a negative as some critically acclaimed films accrue box office success. Consequently, films not created to achieve this cinematic checklist rarely get that coveted thumbs up from a critic.
Critics took aim at the DC property, Suicide Squad. Interestingly, they are very critical of the film’s influence from the comic community. Critic Colin Covert quipped:
“This is what happens when the comic book fanboys have taken over the asylum. It is damaged goods from the get-go, the kind of film grown in a petri dish in Hollywood.“
I am a fan. My fandoms include 1980s TV, fantasy sports, and anything written by Aaron Sorkin. As a result, I do not recommend depending on me for an unbiased critique of a new Saved by the Bell movie. If you have questions about the content and how it relates to the original, I would be helpful. However, I have too much attachment to the source material to assume my opinion should matter to someone seeking a stand-alone film.
We are seeing this type of protective reaction to the new Batman v Superman film. Many fans are not happy with liberties taken by director Zack Snyder. Like many films, the disconnect happened long before shooting began. The announcement of Ben Affleck as a more mature Batman met with harsh criticism. Legions of fans felt he would not accurately portray their caped hero.
The same rings true for the TV show Game of Thrones. Fans of the Song of Ice and Fire books (which Game of Thrones is based on) often shriek at the liberties that show-runners David Benioff and DB Weiss take. As someone who never read the books, I find it interesting to ask questions of those who have. At the same time, when the show deviates from the books, it does not limit my enjoyment of the series. I can enjoy the television show without feeling robbed of the original content. Fans do serve a purpose and are very helpful when I need clarification or background information. However, book fans have completely different ideas of what should hit the screen than those exclusively watching the show.
Flop or Not?
I am not a comic book fan of anything in the DC universe. The closest I get to anything DC was my love for Super Friends in the ’70s and ’80s (my favorites were Green Lantern and Apache Chief). My Superman is Christopher Reeve, and I have seen many Batmen, Affleck not being even close to the worst. DC films Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad were not my favorite movies of all time. However, they are not disasters. Dawn of Justice got a 67% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Suicide Squad checked in at 70%. That’s not the overwhelming popularity studios are aiming for. However, disasters like Battlefield Earth (11%), Gigli (13%), or Marvel’s 2015 Fantastic Four (19%) all have much lower scores.
Some naysayers point out that these films had the largest one-week domestic box office drops from opening week to week two for any movie that opened at over $150 million. First, the people who usually return to see movies are fans, so that would explain a large part of the drop. Secondly, week two took in over $50 million for Dawn of Justice and $44 million for Suicide Squad. This puts them both in the top 55 of all time for a sophomore week showing, hardly playing to empty theaters. Thirdly, Dawn of Justice opened at $166 million which is higher than any movie ever released in March. Likewise, Suicide Squad‘s $133 million domestic opening was the highest ever in August. These are hardly flops in financial terms.
Who to Listen To?
Critics and fans have their place in pop culture. Each has a sphere of influence that is necessary and sought after, to some extent, by movie studios. These voices do not ring nearly as loud as they once did. Right or wrong, in this current market of blockbuster films, entertainment is valued over cinematic achievement. Once upon a time, I listened to critics and fans when considering movies to watch. Those voices have faded more and more with experience and are now barely considerations when I make my selections.
The negative critiques have not gone without consequence. We’ve already seen a shake-up at the top of the Warner Bros. DC franchise due to negative fan sentiment. On top of that, the almost guaranteed Suicide Squad sequel is no longer a certainty. On the other hand, Captain America: Civil War has absolutely slain the worldwide box office and is still going strong four weeks later due, in part, to a production that paid particular attention to the comic fan-base. In addition, it was the 13th movie in the current Marvel Universe which has a built-in following.
Ideally, you want to appeal to both the fandom and the everyday moviegoer, but appealing to just one doesn’t automatically spell box office disaster. This phenomenon is not exclusive to the DC Universe. Most noteworthy, the blockbuster X-Men: Apocalypse garnered mixed reviews. Rotten Tomatoes has the typical split with an audience score of 70% and under 50% for the critics including a review that stated:
“Comic fans will be mystified. Movie fans will be confused. Everyone will leave disappointed.”
X-Men: Apocalypse turned a $361 million global profit. Those leaving disappointed will probably not include 20th Century Fox executives.