Erik Lundegaard discusses the importance of movie critics.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
July 3 2008 5:33 PM

Let's Review

Erik Lundegaard discusses film criticism and the link between a movie's popularity and the press it receives.

(Continued from Page 2)

Detroit, Mich.: With the price of a movie ticket these days, it's a wonder any film is successful anymore. Have you done any research into what the threshold may be for moviegoers before they just give up going to the theater altogether? $4 gas is bad enough. If movie tickets go beyond $10.50, I can say with certainty that I'm done with them. It's way too easy to rent a movie online and watch it at home on my flatscreen HD TV!

Erik Lundegaard: With the price of anything these days. And no, no research on when moviegoers leave the game, although I'm sure the studios are doing research on it. Yet, with DVDs, they still get them in the end, so maybe they don't care.

Who cares? I care. Moviegoing should be a communal experience. In the 1980s I ushered at a movie theater in Minneapolis called the Boulevard (now a Hollywood Video), and I still remember the great bursts of laughter during the last reel of Toostie, or, when watching the Australian film, The Man From Snowy River, the way the audience, as a group, all leaned back in their seats when they saw how steep the incline that the hero was riding his horse down. What fun. You don't get that at home.

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Columbus, Ohio: I read today that the cast of Friends is finally ready to make a big-screen reunion movie based on the success of the Sex and the City movie. But as far as I can tell, the SATC movie bombed. Would you call SATC a success? What even qualifies as a success anymore as far as films go?

Erik Lundegaard:Sex and the City didn't bomb. I didn't particularly like the film—five episodes strung together, with Miranda even more obnoxious than usual—but it's done great business. $140 million? Something like that? Fifth for the year so far.

A Friends movie does nothing for me.

In a way, the problem with SATC, for me, was the same problem I had with Spider-Man 3. The previous incarnation (the TV show for SATC, Spider-Man 2) gave us a happy ending. Carried had Big, Peter had Mary Jane, all was right with the world. So what next? For both, the solution was to break up the main characters only to put them back together again. Didn't work for me. In either case.

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Seattle: Do you think the studios are paying attention to this kind of numbers analysis? Perhaps it could help get better movies out there.

Erik Lundegaard: It's my assumption that the studios know all these numbers and more. It's my assumption that they're way smarter than I could ever be. But they're also timid, fearful for their jobs, and rely as much as possible on the sure thing.

In Bambi vs. Godzilla, David Mamet takes apart audience testing, which the studios rely as part of their safety net, and as part of the mechanism by which they make their movies more palatable and anodyne. But it often backfires. In television, anyway, Seinfeld had one of the lowest audience test scores in NBC's history. So did the British version of The Office with British viewers. So did the American version of The Office with American viewers. All innovative shows. All huge future successes. All future cash cows. And all nearly squashed but for the stubbornness of the show's creators and an indulgence of an executive or two.

One wonders how often you don't have that indulgence. You wonder how often the cash cow gets slaughtered as a calf.

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AJ900: Per-screen averages could be misleading because theater owners manage their theaters and screens on a weekly basis, taking from lower-performing movies and giving to top performers. Could you look at per-screen averages on opening weekend only? Assuming theater owners book based on expectations, before reviews come out, particularly low or high per-screen averages on opening weekend could reflect critics' impact. It might also be interesting to see screen dropoff from first to second weekend ranked against critic ratings. It's always interesting to see this type of analysis.

Erik Lundegaard: I don't have those numbers but it's certainly an interesting idea. Ditto drop-offs from opening to second weekend.

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Erik Lundegaard: Thanks everybody for all your questions and comments. Keep the discussion going. These are our stories we're talking about.

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