Blog: The Score with CinemaScore

by Ken B.

In case you don’t know, CinemaScore is a U.S.-based-polling service which hands opening day moviegoers a card like this


and asks them to pull back the corresponding tabs to record their reactions. Most movies in this country open theatrically on Fridays, and by each Sunday night, we have a result on how the general public reacted to the film. Wikipedia tells me that in data polled from 1982 to 2011, 52 movies have received a perfect A+ average. Eight films have received an F.

The man behind this is Ed Mintz, who had the idea to poll regular people after being disappointed by the film The Cheap Detective. (I assume critical reaction was higher upon its release – it has a score of 50% on Rotten Tomatoes right now). His idea quickly gained traction and is now regularly consulted by major trade papers.

It’s a good idea – there are times when the critical impression varies from the public’s, and it’s good to see the other side of things. But there’s a problem, and Mintz himself acknowledges this: People seeing a movie opening day are obviously enthusiastic about it, and will typically rate higher. But if we expand the sample data to, say, opening week in general, the results will be released at a time far too late for studios to care.

When you get into it, collecting data like this with the intention of reflecting what the people say is ludicrous. It is impossible to successfully achieve. Mintz has repeatedly specified that a “C” (50%) or lower should be considered a failure – Paranoia, which has bombed at the box office and received scathing reviews, has a “C+” (58%). R.I.P.D., another box office and critical failure, also has a “C+”. Considering these statistics, it would make more sense if a “B-” (67%) or lower would be considered a failure – it did enough disappoint an excited audience, either partially or totally.

CinemaScore is doing the best it can in a strange profession. It’s fun (or at least interesting) to look at the results, but can’t be taken as a literal meter for public reaction to a movie.


Further Reading: (Jun. 2013 Yahoo article on the studios’ preference for CinemaScore statistics, at least with higher ratings.) (Aug. 2013 New York Times blog post I tweeted a few days ago on the growing phenomenon of moviegoers and theatre patrons rating higher than the critic.) (Dec. 2010 blog post with a first hand look at the service from a screening of Black Swan (Aronofsky, 2010).) (CinemaScore home page, featuring the latest ratings.)