For as long as there have been movies, there have been critics. That’s because, as the saying goes, “everyone’s a critic.” Everybody emerges from a motion picture, or finishes reading a book, or concludes a brand new record with an opinion about what they’ve just experienced. Whether you have high standards for your art or low standards, you are have an opinion and you are thoroughly entitled to it.
But of course, professional film critics are a little different. Professional film critics are people who love movies so much that they dedicate their whole lives to writing about them, usually for little pay (often none at all), and almost always without health benefits or any hope of retirement. A professional film critic may not like every movie they see – because honestly, who does? – and they’ve probably seen so many movies that their standards are pretty high now, but they also represent many of the biggest movie fans in the universe. No sane person would do this job if they didn’t love movies, full stop.
Which is why many film critics – myself included – have been completely baffled by filmmakers who, after their latest movies receive bad reviews, claim that that they don’t make movies for critics. Alex Kurtzman, the director of The Mummy (16% on Rotten Tomatoes), has defended his movie by claiming “We made a film for audiences and not critics,” according to a recent interview with Business Insider. Dwayne Johnson recently tweeted, in defense of his new comedy Baywatch (19% on Rotten Tomatoes) that “Fans LOVE the movie. Critics HATE it. What a glaring disconnect.” Johnson also tweeted about what he called a “big disconnect w/ critics & people,” which may have been an off-the-cuff remark, but certainly goes quite a few steps further by differentiating between film critics and actual people.
And while it’s fair to say that a critic, who watches hundreds of new films every year, might expect more from blockbusters like The Mummy and Baywatch than the average moviegoer, it’s not healthy for filmmakers to make such a gigantic distinction between “critics” and “fans” – or worse, between “critics” and “audiences,” or “people” – because it implies that their biggest fans, and audiences in general, have low standards… and that those are the only people who could possibly like these movies.
“We made a movie for people who don’t care if we make bad movies” is not a defense, it’s an insult. And if the disappointing box office numbers for The Mummy and Baywatch are any indication, audiences aren’t exactly foaming at the mouth to be pandered to nowadays. It’s actually been an excellent year for high quality blockbuster entertainment, with genre films like Wonder Woman, Get Out, Logan and The LEGO Batman Movie earning rave reviews and gargantuan box office success.
Critics mostly love those movies, and general audiences are following suit. Our collective standard for quality entertainment is being elevated lately by filmmakers who haven’t taken the low road. Making movies for people who love movies, and who might actually know a good one when they see it, is paying off. Making lowbrow, low concept, low quality pabulum isn’t. It’s not the fault of film critics that they can tell the difference, and if the low box office numbers for the latest stinkers means anything, it probably means audiences care about quality too. The word of mouth isn’t exactly spreading about The Mummy, and yet Wonder Woman keeps raking in the cash week after week. That’s probably because Patty Jenkins made a movie that everyone can love, whether or not they check their brains at the door.
And for the record, the conception of film critics as a snooty secret society that loves everything with subtitles and hates everything with an explosion has been false for decades, if it was ever all that true to begin with. Even the vaunted Cahiers du Cinéma – the publication that gave birth to some of the most highbrow filmmakers ever made (François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, et al) – famously defended Alfred Hitchcock’s most popular, populist thrill rides as high art, back when it was enormously unpopular to do so.
Audiences should not have to accept everything filmmakers give them, and for the amount of money we all have to pay for a movie ticket lately, it’s only reasonable to expect to get something genuinely worth watching in return. A big part of a film critic’s job is to watch as many movies as possible and report back to general audiences, who by-and-large don’t have the time and financial resources to see every single film for themselves, and who may want to reserve those hard-earned dollars for a film that might conceivably be worth the expenditure.
That is why, like it or not, there will always be critics. If the “film critic” occupation vanished, people would still want to know about movies they haven’t seen yet, and they would still turn to people who have actually seen those movies to find out what they thought. The people who will get asked for their opinions the most will be the people who see the most movies, and the people who see the most movies will tend to have higher standards than others because they witness the best and worst of what the art form has to offer.
Film critics aren’t a vestigial element of the entertainment industry, nor are they a sinister cabal. They are a natural extension of any art form. They are the biggest fans in the world. They are the people who care more about the movies than they do about financial security. If filmmakers actually made movies for “the fans” they would be trying to reward those fans with high quality movies, but instead, some filmmakers are claiming that the only real fans are the ones who don’t care about quality at all.
And again, that’s an insult. It’s an insult to you and it’s not very flattering to themselves. Intentionally making movies for people with low standards is nothing to brag about, and it’s not a noble defense. Everyone in the audience deserves good films, and we shouldn’t let filmmakers hide behind the flimsy excuse that some of the people in the audience can’t tell the difference yet.
Top Photo: Universal Pictures
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.