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Decoding Movie Reviews

Updated on May 19, 2015
The Razzie Award
The Razzie Award

I remember working for a theatre company and one of their shows received terrible reviews. All of the papers hated this production. Of course, these reviewers came to the preview performances, so when it came time to put out the advertisements to bring the audience in, I saw publicity magic happen. With snippets and keywords from these scathing reviews our publicist was able to turn these negative reviews into glowing recommendations. By using their words and partial facts it was possible to use their feedback as references.

Below are ways to interpret what film commercials and billboards are saying and what they really mean.

The best film of the year.

It's January or Oscar Season

That might be a little unfair of me. Movies are subjective, that is why the Golden Globes and Academy Awards can have different winners. A LOT of films will claim to be the best. They only need one review for them to start saying it's true. Be very wary of this promotional plug, especially when they come in the beginning of the year. They don't have a lot of competition yet. The best compared to what? Mars Needs Moms?

The number one comedy in America.

Replace Comedy with Horror, Drama, or whatever.

This movie was NOT number one at the box office. It might have come in second or even lower. If they have to put the genre of the film in the sentence then they were beat out by another film in a different category. If they expand it even further look out. The #1 romantic comedy most likely not only did not get the number one position but it was also beat by another comedy. When they pull out the best slapstick romantic sci-fi comedy with blue characters you will probably want to avoid it all together.

The number one movie in the world.

This was a big studio film that could afford a huge marketing campaign in the global market. Rather than focus on creating a great film they made sure it was able to get into a large number of theaters all across the world. As of 2011 China only allowed around 20 foreign films to be shown in theaters a year. Those 20 films already have a huge advantage over the competition because of their availability.

This plug would read better as, "This movie has the financial backing to take over international markets".

The First Blockbuster of the Summer!

I didn’t say best movie of the Summer, I said first. Lots of films will claim to be the best and that is fine. However, when a movie brags about being the first you might be in trouble. What they are trying to tell you is that their movie is not good enough to compete with the big money blockbusters of the Summer, so they are rushing it out before there's any competition. You should be skeptical of movies making this claim that come out in May, be afraid if it happens over Spring Break.

academy award / Oscar
academy award / Oscar

Actor or Actress gives the best performance of their career.

This is a very bold statement to make. You will find it used with actors of Meryl Streep's caliber. I am sure they have done an amazing job but is it really their best. This is thrown around with strong actors for a couple reason and none are a reflection on how good the film is. One, the film is crap but at least this actor's performance is amazing. It might be the only good thing about the film. The second reason is they are plugging the performer for an award. The film itself is a separate category.

When the best performance line is used on an actor of a less distinguished career then you need to look a little more closely. This will be used when actors step out of their usual genre. When a comedian does a dramatic role for the first time it will almost always get a performance of a lifetime critique. First, because they have never done drama before and there is nothing to compare it against or because the actor is hoping to expand their career and their personal publicist has gotten involved.

When celebrities and not actors get this review stay as faraway as possible. Acting takes years of training. Mark Wahlberg slowly took on more challenging roles and honed his craft over years to become a good actor. Paris Hilton and Snookie have not.

From the producers of...

Replace producers with writer, director or...production assistant.

This statement has always been my favorite. It is saying that you should watch this film because the people involved had a successful film in the past. We can't say the same for this film but you should watch it anyway. Help support their career so they can keep making movies and maybe one day they will make another good one.

You see this tactic a lot with people like M. Night Shyamalan.adindong. He had some early success. Then things like The Village and The Last Airbender happened.

I never understood the plural producers statement. When you get a single name like Spielberg it makes sense. He is an artistic genius, who has proven himself over the years and can add to the creative side of producing a quality film. The general statement of producers just means the people involved in the business side of getting the film made are also financially in charge of this one. When these plugs happen you start getting things like Scary/Epic/Superhero/Date Movie.

Five Stars
Five Stars

Small Town Newspaper gives this film Two Thumbs Up.

With no reputable magazines or well-known reviewers having any positive things to say, publicists are searching the planet for any feedback they can use. They will look high and low until they find a review that suits their purpose. Be wary when it comes from a small town publication or independent reviewer. How many big publishers did they have to ignore to find that one review from a newspaper you never heard of? This is made even easier with the Internet at their fingertips. After all, everybody is a critic.

Note: If you are an online movie critic you might want to think about giving really bad movies fabulous reviews. You could get mentioned in a movie ad and get yourself some free publicity. Just ask how much your self-respect is worth.

See this movie as it was meant to be seen. On Blu-Ray...In Theaters...In 3-D

This movie is terrible.

There is no plot. The acting is horrible. The dialogue will make you cringe. They spent tons of money on special effects and did not worry about anything else. If the producers do not make their money in its initial release they will lose everything. There are no positive reviews available and word of mouth marketing is non-existent.

Michael Bay films will usually fall into this category.

The Best Sci-Fi Film since...

Insert genre and film of your choice.

What they are really saying is...this movie has no original ideas so we will sell it by using a more popular film from the past. Do they really expect us to believe that there have been no amazing romantic comedies since When Harry Met Sally, sci-fi films since Star Wars, or that The Godfather has been the only memorable mobster film?

Based on the Best Selling Book

Look out when the book is getting more publicity than the movie. As any English teacher will tell you, “Watching the movie is no substitute for actually reading the book.” Hollywood is notorious for buying the rights to a book and then creating a whole new story that is loosely based on the characters or events. Starship Troopers got a major overhaul. They even made some male characters female and wouldn’t you know they found a way for them to have sex. Even when movies attempt to stay true to the book time constraints force major edits to happen. Many important scenes are deleted or characters are combined. Did you know Dobby was a central character in the Harry Potter books? If not you probably didn’t read the books and know nothing about S.P.E.W. (Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare). Sometimes studios know that no matter how bad a movie they make it will be guaranteed to make a profit. They can fill it with terrible actors and cheap special effects with no consequences, except for fans complaining as they see it for the third time in the theaters. The latest trend has been to split one book into several films in an attempt to leach as much money as possible from the die hard followers of these stories. Do we really need to see Kristen Stewart stare off blankly and pout for two films instead of one?

Based on True Events

This word “true”, I do not think it means what they think it means. Perhaps that is why they use the word “based” before it. This phrase means one of two things. Either, the story has one event that actually happened and then everything else was made up or there was a rumor that something might of happened and, like any reputable tabloid magazines, someone ran with the story and wrote a script. If a head actually turned around 360 degrees while simultaneously spewing projectile vomit, I doubt people would still be questioning the existence of God or the Devil. The other thing to keep asking yourself is how much do they really know when these people were “never heard from again”. Did they have a séance?


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    • Geekdom profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago


    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Very original article Geekdom, you give some insight on how reviews work in the movie industry, very helpful information! Voted useful and tweeted out!

    • Geekdom profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Glad you enjoyed it. I love your lights out comment. :)

    • DREAM ON profile image

      DREAM ON 

      6 years ago

      You put movies into a whole new light. I have been buffaloed all these years. That's why they dim the lights at the movie theatre so nobody will see each other at bad movies. Then months later you can brag about a movie and say to your friends remember that movie it really .........!!!!Not admitting openly you went to see it as soon as it hit the theatres. Thanks for the inside information great job separating facts from fiction.

    • Geekdom profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Good Luck. :)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Ha! I think I will start reviewing bad films.

    • Geekdom profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thank you.

    • rjbatty profile image


      7 years ago from Irvine

      Your assessment of marketing movies is very adroit and accurate. Over the years I've adjusted my Geiger counter to adjust for all these variables. It takes a certain writing/editing skill to take a scathing review and turn it into a positive. You have to pity the poor souls who are saddled with this task. One who is adept in the art of reading movie poster reviews can readily get a handle on whether the picture is something worth seeing or a piece of trash. My favorite tactic is the one where the studio proclaims that Nothingville gave the film five stars or that Alexi Alexivich (from Ukraine) found the film to be the most entertaining piece of work since Hitchcock's "39 Steps."

      Very smart to tear this schlock to ribbons.

    • Geekdom profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Nice! I like the comment about "stock footage of people sitting in the dark, being surprised".

      But let us not forget Harrison Ford was a Bellboy. :) Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

    • Mr Deltoid 1966 profile image


      7 years ago from New Jersey

      All very true, well done. I always get a kick out the come on's for some movies, like.......From the person who served coffee on Raging Bull, Comes the #1 Giant rat movie in America....a film critic you never heard of said "WOW" watch this stock footage of people sitting in the dark, being surprised!

    • Geekdom profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Glad you enjoyed that reference. I believe Michael Bay is a brilliant second unit director but needs a lot of work with anything that involves actual human emotion.

    • nuffsaidstan profile image


      7 years ago

      Michael Bay films will usually fall into this category.

      ha ha brilliant!


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