Critic-Proof 

Movies with built-in audiences are immune to so-so reviews.

Critics were not overly kind to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, but Johnny Depp would tell them to walk the plank. The reviews were also not particularly great for The Hangover Part II, but the boys on the bender could not care less. Those two movies, each surpassing $200 million in domestic box office gross receipts, join the long list of summer blockbusters that are simply critic-proof: Bridesmaids, Kung Fu Panda 2, Fast Five. When each opened, they had the security of built-in audiences--moviegoers who didn't give a rip what the reviews said. Either a previous incarnation (almost all of them are sequels) or a successful ad campaign (Bridesmaids had tremendous pre-opening day buzz) lured in millions of viewers worldwide.

I struggle with film critics who give thumbs up or thumbs down on big blockbusters. What's the point? The review will have little to no influence on the ultimate success of the movie and whether the franchise will continue. A good critic doesn't simply offer a synopsis of the plot. Rather, a critic needs to seek out filmmakers who advance the art form, taking filmgoers to new or adventurous places, examining the human condition without being hurtful or cruel.

For the record, Super 8 is this summer's exception. It's a big-budget, major studio release. But with no stars, an original script and a trailer that left more questions than answers, it was a significant gamble, and it paid off (BW, Screen, "Abrams' Instant Summer Classic," June 15, 2011).

I believe there are two types of movies: good ones and bad ones. I love a big, populist movie as much as anyone. This year, I found much to admire in Pirates of the Caribbean and Fast Five. I laughed my ass off at all of Bridesmaids and a good amount of Hangover II. I'll be among the first in line to see the next Harry Potter installment, but there isn't much I can bring to the party--it has a built-in audience with high expectations.

Conversely I believe it is a critic's responsibility to champion smaller films or provide insight into more complex efforts. Movies such as The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, Sideways and Little Miss Sunshine never would have enjoyed their success if critics didn't discover them first.

In just the past year, BW readers learned about The King's Speech and Black Swan six months before they became Oscar winners and eventual box office successes. And that's the biggest difference: These movies were offered on their merits and never jammed down an audience's throat. Why do we not always critique the big films? Because it's too easy. Why are we so tough on smaller films? Because we expect more.

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