Debate Club: great movie, terrible cinemascore

Debate Club: Great movies that audiences hated, according to CInemaScore

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Tim Grierson
Aug 1, 2018

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

In this week’s installment, we’re sticking up for some great movies that got absolutely savaged by audiences — specifically, audience members who gave them bad grades on CinemaScore.

First off, we have to ask: What the heck is CinemaScore? According to its website, it’s a company that gauges moviegoers’ reaction to new films: "The company calculates its 'CinemaScore' movie grades for major movie releases in the U.S. and Canada by polling a regionally-balanced and statistically robust sample of opening night moviegoers."

Most films receive something in the A-to-B range — Incredibles 2 got an A+ — but a handful of movies get terrible grades, which often indicates that the opening-night crowd felt angry and betrayed by the movie they saw, which wasn’t what they expected. And those poor scores are certainly not always indicative of the film’s actual quality, as we’ll demonstrate with the below list.

With all five movies, which are listed alphabetically alongside their CinemaScore, the filmmakers took chances and pushed the boundaries, subverting a particular genre or daring to offer an unhappy ending. That risk-taking annoyed the CinemaScore respondents, but it resulted in distinctive, often brilliant films.

Cloverfield (C) (2008)

The marketing for Cloverfield was so clever and groundbreaking that many audience members might not have even realized it was entirely a found-footage film. They discovered it immediately upon watching the film, though, and had the sad realization that T.J. Miller’s voice was going to be accompanying them the entire way. Still, the found-footage gimmick was relatively new when Cloverfield came out, and many audiences left feeling nauseous from all the erratic camerawork. Time sure has proven the Cloverfield lovers right, though: Even with the woeful last installment, the franchise remains strong more than a decade later.

Drive (C-) (2011)

You could be forgiven if, upon walking into Drive, you thought you were going to get Ryan Gosling as cool Steve McQueen, a sleek driver doing sleek driver things with Albert Brooks and Walter White. He does a little of that, sure, but he also beats some people’s brains in with a hammer and barely talks. Oh, and Albert Brooks has some crazy ideas of his own.

A Nicolas Winding Refn film was always going to be a bit more than your multiplex audience can handle, and it’s no surprise that the ultraviolence here wasn’t going to play in Topeka. But if audiences thought this was weird and off-putting, they should have tried his next two movies.

Hereditary (D+) (2018)

Considering how actively assaultive Ari Aster’s horror hit is – it’s the sort of movie where you’re already hiding under your seat at the 40-minute mark – it’s almost impressive that Hereditary only got a D+. This is a classic “we wanted a horror movie, but maybe not this much horror movie” horror movie, and distributor A24 did such a great job marketing it that many mainstream audiences might not have realized what they were getting into until it was too late. Put it this way: If you thought you were getting The Purge and you got this... you might not be feeling too kind on your grade sheet either.

Mother! (F) (2017)

It looked like one of the most intriguing films of the 2017 awards season: Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence teams up with Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky to make a psychological horror film with shades of Rosemary’s Baby and Aronofsky’s own Black Swan. Sounds pretty creepy and cool! Instead, Aronofsky delivered his most impassioned and nutty allegory since 2006’s The Fountain. (That movie, by the way, got a C- on CinemaScore.)

Mother! is a horror film, but it’s also an intricate metaphor for ecological destruction, the creative process, gender inequality, marriage, and motherhood. Lawrence astounds as a woman who discovers she may very well be trapped in the house she occupies with her self-centered poet husband (Javier Bardem) as crazier and crazier things happen. And, man, does Mother! get crazy: Audiences rejected this film’s darker-than-dark final third, and even critics were divided on this audacious, immersive experiment. (Even Grierson & Leitch are torn on Mother!: One of us hated it, the other put it on his Top 10 of 2017.)

Solaris (F) (2002)

Director Steven Soderbergh is no stranger to bad CinemaScore grades: His terrific action-thriller Haywire got a D+, and the sharp character study The Informant! received a C-. But his adaptation of the Stanisław Lem novel (which Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky also used as the source material for his 1972 movie) scored even lower, becoming one of the few movies of the CinemaScore era to get a straight F. No surprise, really: Solaris is an intentionally icy drama about a psychologist (George Clooney) mourning for his dead wife (Natascha McElhone) who travels to a remote space station to determine what happened to the crew — only to have his beloved spouse appear out of the blue. He’s hallucinating, right?

Impressionistic and moody, Solaris was an art film disguised as a studio movie released during the busy Thanksgiving holiday. (That’s usually when we get fun Pixar movies.) Audiences were baffled and angry — but for Soderbergh fans, Solaris represents one of his more moving explorations of loss, memory, and denial.

 

Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

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