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Are Early Movie Reviews Rigged?

October 1, 2008 | Comments Off on Are Early Movie Reviews Rigged?

Based on an analysis of movie review data for 26 movies currently in theaters, early movie reviews are 25% more likely to be positive than later movie reviews.  All movie critics see the same movie, so they shouldn’t be giving different opinions based on when they see them.  That means something smells rotten in movie review land.

The analysis shows that 78% of these “early movie reviews” were positive while total movie reviews were just 62% positive.  I based my analysis on movie review data from 26 movies off of RottenTomatoes.  I defined early as a movie review published at least a week before the movie was released.  The difference may not seem large but it’s the difference between Batman Begins and Hulk or the Royal Tenenbaums and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2.

Why are early reviews coming out positive?  There’s a classic conflict of interest:

  • Early movie reviews get many more readers which means more money for their sites / publications
  • Movie studios and their PR agencies, who want positive reviews, decide which critics review the movie first
  • If a critic dishes out a negative review, they are probably much less likely to get picked next time around

I hope I’m wrong, but the data is troubling.  RottenTomatoes and MetaCritic should both perform this analysis on their full data set.  They will be able to confirm my findings and potentially identify specific movie critics that may be giving biased opinions.

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