Another late-summer weekend, more terrible news at the box office: according to Box Office Mojo, last weekend was the worst for movie-going in two years, and barely better than the worst of the last decade. The main reason: nothing to see, since the sole new wide release was a bizarre bit of faith-based Elvis fan fiction called The Identical. It couldn’t even crack the top ten, grossing a miserable $977 per screen, and who’s to blame? Film critics, who drubbed the movie (it’s currently sitting at four percent on Rotten Tomatoes) — at least according to co-star Ashley Judd, who used her Twitter feed to call The Identical “a beautiful, heartfelt movie cynics wait to excoriate & non critics/real people adore it!!”
Ah yes, the old “real people adore it” argument. You know what I’d like to see, just once? The makers of a movie that gets good reviews and favorable feedback shrugging it off with a humble, “Well, we didn’t make it for critics.” In the meantime, sneering at elitist professionals and taking on a humble, “just-for-the-folks” stance is a reliable go-to response to films that send scribes gagging from the theaters. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the history of precious film artists who aren’t making their movies for the critics.
Micheal Bay (Director)
Few filmmakers have made “I don’t make movies for critics” more of a professional mantra than critical punching bag Michael Bay, who started this little incantation clear back in the Pearl Harbor days. “We don’t make movies for critics,” Bay said in 2001. “I’ve done four movies; there’s millions upon millions upon millions of people who’ve paid to see them. Somebody likes them. My greatest joy is to sit anonymously in a dark theater and watch it with an audience, a paying audience.” (Those damn critics, getting into movies free — more on this later.) Three years later, while promoting The Island, he was still at it: “I don’t make movies for critics: I make them for the average person to just go there and forget about their problems for two hours.” (The recurring “turn off your brain” element of these arguments says a lot about Mr. Bay’s work.) And in 2011, it still needed to be said: “Critics have a field day making fun of me, but people go to my movies in droves. I don’t make movies for critics. You’ve got to do movies that you like and you feel in your gut and hopefully the audience likes.” He’s right; people do go to his movies in droves. So if critics matter so little, why does he have to keep assuring us that he doesn’t care what they think, hmm?
Charles Bronson (Actor)
Bronson was an early adopter of this notion, and it’s tough to blame him — after the surprise smash of 1974’s Death Wish, he spent a good portion of the next two decades cranking out disposable, interchangeable thrillers that got increasingly negative reviews. It’s an old quote and hard to verify, but the line that’s most often attributed to him is this: “I don’t make movies for critics, since they don’t pay to see them anyway.”
Amy Holden Jones (Screenwriter)
The sleek, sexy, and utterly ridiculous Indecent Proposal was the surprise hit of spring 1993, grossing over $100 million (back when that number was a big deal) and coming in sixth for the year. But it was also widely panned by critics — so much so that the film’s screenwriter, Amy Holden Jones, penned an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times headlined, “A ‘Proposal’ Intended for People, Not for Critics.” (Contrary to popular belief, we critics are also, in fact, people, and not some alien life form.) “The fact is, audiences love the movie,” she wrote. “They watch with rapt attention and laugh in all the right places. Sitting in the dark, they are swept away by a great big Hollywood entertainment. They are moved as we intended them to be, and when they leave the theater they are satisfied… By definition, paintings are flat, sculpture is three-dimensional and Hollywood movies are mass entertainment. This is something that critics consistently fail to understand. If a film appeals only to a narrow elite, gets great reviews but does not attract an audience, by Hollywood’s definition the film has failed. That’s reality.”
Philip Anschutz (Producer)
Wealthy entrepreneur Anschutz’s Walden Media has bankrolled several films targeted at family audiences, including Holes and the Chronicles of Narnia series. But it was while introducing a special international screening of their 2006 historical epic Amazing Grace that Anschutz slammed the “majority of films” in the Hollywood system as “tasteless, irrelevant, demeaning and potentially damaging to our society.” Of his company’s socially responsible work, he insisted, “Sometimes the critics like the movies I make, and sometimes they don’t. I suppose it is better if they do, but in the end it doesn’t make much difference to me, because I already have a full-time job outside the movie business, so my livelihood isn’t dependent on the movies. And I don’t make movies for critics – I make movies for people. People like you, me and our families.” And such unity is vital, since everyone, young and old, could agree that holy cow, Amazing Grace was a total snoozer.
Rob Schneider (Writer/Actor)
The former SNL player and Deuce Bigelow star has never been a critical favorite, but he got particularly defensive around the time he released the 2005 sequel Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo. In an interview with Stuff magazine (no longer archived, sadly), he said, “I don’t like Roger Ebert very much… I don’t make movies for critics, but he irks me.” And why? Because (aside from his scathing reviews of Schneider’s movies), “He’s an ass. I’m told he’s not nice to the people he works with.” Asked for comment by the New York Daily News, Ebert replied, “I don’t think he’s an ass, but if he’s going to persist in making bad movies, he’s going to have to grow accustomed to reading bad reviews.” Turned out, Scheider wasn’t making European Gigolo for audiences either (it would gross barely a third of its predecessor’s take). But there’s a happy ending here: Schneider and Ebert would subsequently bury the hatchet.
Marlon Wayans (Actor/Writer/Producer)
With a filmography that includes White Chicks, Scary Movie 2, Little Man, and Dance Flick, Mr. Wayans is not exactly a critical favorite. And that doesn’t bother him one little bit; when asked whether critics would enjoy his 2013 film A Haunted House (spoiler: ten percent on Rotten Tomatoes), he told The Chicago Tribune, “Some will think it’s a guilty pleasure. Others will be too embarrassed to say they liked it. And some, it just won’t be for them. Comedy is all subjective. I’m not going to say that critics don’t matter. When you get good reviews, you get excited. But I don’t make movies for critics. I make them for audiences.”
Todd Phillips (Writer/Director/Producer)
Todd Phillips’ 2009 smash The Hangover was actually quite well received by critics; its 2011 follow-up, not so much. While promoting the third film, Phillips said that reaction hadn’t stopped him from returning to the franchise: “Not to be defensive, but you don’t make movies for critics. It’s a hard thing when you think about it; to make a movie for someone who gets paid to see the movie. You never want to force a person to see a movie. The movies are made for people who want to see the movies.” Which is semi-insane, since many of us who hated the second film did, in fact, want to see it, since we liked the first one so much. We just didn’t want to see what amounted to a scene-by-scene remake of the first one.
Tyler Perry (Writer/Director/Producer/Actor)
If there’s any doubt that Tyler Perry isn’t doing this for critics, consider this: since the horrified reaction to his surprise hit Diary of a Mad Black Woman, only a handful of his many, many movies have even screened in advance for critical appraisal. He’s not interested in what they think — in a 2012 blog post before the release of his (widely panned) Good Deeds, Perry wrote, “A friend of mine, who has always been honest with me, told me that this is my best movie yet. Tell me what you think. I’ll be on Facebook and my message board all weekend long waiting for the true critics to speak, and that’s you.” A post later that year, before the release of his big action movie Alex Cross, used similar language: “Be sure to check your ticket stubs to make certain they say Alex Cross and whatever you do, drop me a message to let me know what you thought. I love to sit by the message board and read your comments. You’re the real critics.” You’re the real, true critics, moviegoers, not those assholes who do it for a living.
John Lasseter (Writer/Producer/Director)
Pixar head Lasseter has spent much of his career turning out movies critics love — with one notable blind spot. Cars and Cars 2, which he directed and co-wrote, made tons of money but earned the animation company its worst reviews to date. When asked about this during a special screening in Paris, Lasseter went on the defensive: “We’ve had a lot of bad reviews, for a lot of movies. When Toy Story came out, everybody seems to forget this, but many critics hated Toy Story. They seem to forget that.” They do, perhaps because it’s not really true. Anyway, back to Lasseter: “So we’re not, you know, this is not the first time. The first Cars was not liked, by the critics either. But, I’m glad to tell you, I don’t make movies for film critics.” And the audience applauds wildly, of course, and after the translation, he adds, “I make the movies for the audience, and, um, I’m very proud of Cars 2.”
Kevin Smith (Writer/Director/Producer)
And we end on the strange tale of Mr. Smith, whose talky, low-budget early efforts (Clerks, Chasing Amy) were championed by critics, many of whom were subsequently puzzled by his slack 2010 action/comedy Cop Out. When they let their dislike be known, Smith went on Twitter and kinda lost his mind. “You wanna enjoy movies again?” he tweeted. “Stop reading about them & just go to the movies. It’s improved film/movie appreciation immensely for me. Seriously: so many critics lined-up to pull a sad & embarrassing train on Cop Out like it was Jennifer Jason Leigh in Last Exit to Brooklyn.” Gang rape comparison complete, Smith threw down a gauntlet: “[F]rom now on, any flick I’m ever involved with, I conduct critics screenings thusly: you wanna see it early to review it? Fine: pay like you would if you saw it next week. Like, why am I giving an arbitrary 500 people power over what I do at all, let alone for free? Next flick, I’d rather pick 500 randoms from Twitter feed and let THEM see it for free in advance, then post THEIR opinions, good AND bad. Same difference. Why’s their opinion more valid? It’s a backwards system. People are free to talk shit about ANY of my flicks, so long as they paid to see it.” He basically skipped media screenings altogether on his next film, Red State, but then he kind of bypassed theatrical release altogether on that one anyway (to its ultimate detriment). But his next film, this month’s Tusk, is getting a traditional release — and just yesterday, I got my critics’ screening invite. There’s no mention on it of the admission cost. Should I just cover my bases and bring a hundred bucks or so?