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March 14, 2007

Movies are getting worse and I can prove it

This chart plots the average rating of movies by year, using data from Rotten Tomatoes, going back thirty years. 1

First, a few disclaimers. Movies are, of course, a subjective experience. One man's Casablanca is another man's Battlefield Earth. But the fact that I can reference Casablanca and Battlefield Earth like that means there is a certain amount, however slight, of objectivity in movies. I also realize that Rotten Tomatoes isn't infallible, for any number of reasons, but as far as I know, there's no better option. (Metacritic has less data to go off of, and I don't entirely trust their rating system anyway.)

The other real problem with that chart is that it goes back to 1977, but Rotten Tomatoes didn't start until 1998. People aren't going to bother reviewing thirty year old movies that outright sucked, the only movies people are still talking about from back then are the good ones, so for a somewhat more accurate picture, here's 1998 to 2006. (I'm excluding 2007 because its ratings so far are ridiculously low, I assume because studios put out their worst stuff in January.)

It seems like the users, while the least critical, are reacting the most, dropping almost ten points. The cream of the crop, overall the most critical, have been going almost straight down since 2002, though not as much as the users overall. Regular critics don't seem to care and are probably just happy they get paid to watch movies.

I made these charts because lately, movies have been seeming to get dumber and dumber. Or is it just that I'm getting old and I'm not in their target demographic anymore? I mean, when I was young I went and saw Twins in the theater and thought it was perfectly fine. If that movie came out today, you couldn't pay me to see it. These numbers certainly aren't as drastic as I would have guessed, but they do seem, at the very least, to reveal a trend.2

So what do you think clubbers? Am I making this decline up or have you been going to the movies less and less too?

1. I got these results by writing a perl script to crawl Rotten Tomatoes and letting it run for a few days. Here are Rotten Tomatoes explanations for cream of the crop and average rating. Critic and user should hopefully be self-explanatory. The cream of the crop line disappears for a few years because those years had no movies that had enough cream critic reviews.

2. Statisticians out there can feel free to check my work, here's a csv of the raw data

Posted by Will at March 14, 2007 11:03 PM


Nah, tastes are getting better.

Posted by: Levi at March 15, 2007 2:59 PM

I think society is getting collectively more jaded. Movies are actually better than ever, but everyone is too much of an asshole to admit it.

Also, don't you ever... EVER call me a "clubber" again!!!!!!!

PS: !!1

Posted by: Keith at March 15, 2007 5:32 PM

I have a suspicion that the variation you are showing in the second chart is pretty well within the standard deviation and that the difference between the starting point and the endpoint is statistically insignificant. (Especially the "average" line.)

But while the previous sentence proves me an utter nerd, it does not make me a statistician. Maybe one of the ones currently trolling your .csv file could tell us whether I am right.

Oh, but movies totally suck.

Posted by: Dan at March 15, 2007 7:05 PM

Dan, I'll be honest, I didn't take a stats course in college, I don't know how to calculate standard deviation, but I wouldn't be surprised if you were right. And if I really wanted to prove my point, I probably should have taken out those basically flat critic and avg lines, and just left in the user and cream lines. And Keith, you're so jaded, you can't even accept that you're a clubber.

Posted by: Will at March 15, 2007 11:43 PM

Fortunately we live in NYC. The solution is to stop seeing the major studio movies and go see many of the fantastic indie, foreign and repertory films that play here every day.

Seriously, you could probably see an excellent move every single day of the year if you break free of the multiplex.

Posted by: Peter Steinberg at March 16, 2007 2:30 PM


I bet you never even watch any movies except the popular ones. JEEZ!

Posted by: Rachel at March 16, 2007 3:20 PM

What's the point of seeing a movie if Will Smith isn't it and Michael bay didn't direct it?

Posted by: Will at March 16, 2007 5:37 PM

What? But esteemed Vassar College had a quantitative studies requirement that ensured that we would have a thorough understanding of mathematical principles and ... oh, wait. I fulfilled that by taking intro Psych. My bad.

Posted by: Dan at March 18, 2007 11:25 PM

Oh, and the term "cream lines" is disgusting.

Posted by: Dan at March 18, 2007 11:26 PM

And I minored in math. Go figure.

Posted by: Will at March 18, 2007 11:48 PM