Just as critical acclaim doesn't always buy you crowds, critical failure doesn't guarantee your movie's dead.
There's been a lot of discussion this week over whether critics can really kill or save a blockbuster through their coverage of it. It began (at least this week) when stars Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski attacked American critics for their treatment of The Lone Ranger, claiming, among other things, that the media was "gunning for" the film ever since its budget woes were made public, that critics were "reviewing the budget" rather than the movie, that critics made up their minds about the film as soon as they heard that Depp, Verbinski and Bruckheimer were working on it together, and that the film didn't get the love it deserved because it was "original." Then future Transformers 4 star Mark Wahlberg stoked the fire a bit, claiming that the media is now "targeting" blockbusters, while also pointing a finger at the studios for spending too much money on effects-driven films that "pull the wool over the audience's eyes."
While critical acclaim, or a lack thereof, is certainly a factor in the performance of a film, it's only one of many. Marketing, built-in audience interest, star power and accessibility all play roles, along with countless other things, and yet even if most of those things are executed perfectly, a film is still not guaranteed hundreds of millions of dollars. So, with all those factors in mind, what, or who, do you blame when a film fails? Obviously, the answer to why a film fails can often be just as multifaceted as the answer to why a film succeeds, and critical failure is simply one part of the puzzle. Time and time again we've seen films take a brutal beating at the hands of critics, then simply dust themselves off, laugh in the critics' faces and go make millions.
To prove just how many times we've seen films shrug off critical thrashings, we went searching for effects-driven genre hits that had lower Rotten Tomatoes scores than The Lone Ranger's 28 percent (as of Aug. 8, 2013, keeping in mind that those scores can fluctuate somewhat while a film is still in release). We also tried to search only for films that studios spent serious money on, to address the claim that the media targets FX-heavy, blockbuster-style flicks. We found more than a dozen films made in the past 15 years, all of which reportedly cost at least $50 million, that received less critical acclaim than Lone Ranger and still managed to be, to some degree, box-office successes. (And this isn't all of them, either. We only pulled one film per franchise, for example, and we left out less expensive movies that earned big bucks.)
What are we calling success? It's tough to define in Hollywood. After all, the true budget of a film is often never made public, and we often never really know just how much is spent to market and distribute the film, or just how much of the earnings theater owners manage to claim. So we simplified, and called a film a success if it was able to make at least double its reported budget in worldwide box office (though many of these films managed to do a good deal better than that).
Now, with all that in mind, take a look at these 16 films that took a harder critical beating than The Lone Ranger and still managed to do pretty well at the box office.