Ever go to Rotten Tomatoes to check on the reviews for a movie about to come out, only to see “no score yet” instead of ratings/reviews? And you’re like, WTF – this movie comes out in a few days, how are there no reviews yet? Some other movie coming out the same day has been up there as 92 percent fresh for like two weeks. What gives?
What gives is the least well-kept secret in Hollywood. The movie with no rating yet sucks ass. And the studio/distributor knows it. They’ve known it ever since they got a look at the first cut of the movie months and months earlier (and they might even know well before that). So they very purposely hold off on letting any critics see/review it until the last possible moment, because they don’t want the stink to get out too soon. Maybe they can trick a few unwary fools into buying tickets before word gets out (and it gets out fast thanks to social media).
But that’s just business. The real story is all of the lies that go with that business decision. That’s the part no one ever talks about. That’s the part that should make those studio folks feel like they need a shower (it doesn’t though – you think they give a shit if you waste your hard-earned money on Like A Boss?) Does McDonald’s care that the nuggets you get look and taste a lot sadder than the ones they advertise on TV? It’s just business, nothing personal.
But it’s one thing to know you have a shit product and say nothing, or even advertise it for the sad people whose bar for entertainment is so low they enjoyed the remake of The Grudge. It’s another thing to blatantly lie.
The first recipients of the lie-fest of course are the hapless filmmakers. Now what you have to understand is that they made this piece of shit – so there’s an argument to be made they deserve to be lied to. Not to mention the fact that they think it’s fucking good! So first the studio lies to them about how much they like it and believe in it (all the while suggesting all kinds of changes they hope will marginally improve it and save their jobs). The suits leave it to “test” screenings with audiences to deliver the first hint of truth. But there’s even some shady tactics there because not all test audiences are created equal. The deck can be stacked somewhat, and locations matter.
But generally, a stinker of a movie will be outed at least somewhat in those test screenings. Which spares the suits from having to tell the filmmakers what they really think. The charade will continue all the way through post production and promotional meetings where the suits will keep giving the filmmakers the impression that they believe in and are supporting the movie – but in fact are dumping it and trying to shave costs wherever they can.
The worse lies are saved for the public. The PR department works feverishly to spin how great the movie (that they know is so bad) really is. Suits will be quoted in the press saying things like, “Sure, we know Star Wars will beat our movie opening weekend, but we think there’s an audience for our film and it can play all through the holidays – we have a really special movie, it’s fun for the whole family”… or “Our movie isn’t for critics, it’s for audiences – and audiences are loving it”. “It’s a popcorn movie”. So it’s made out of popcorn? That would’ve been a better movie.
All of that talk is code for this: “Stupid people and people who are really, really easily entertained won’t totally hate our movie. And even if they do, they probably won’t hate it as much as most people will. Plus, some people just like getting out of the house for a couple hours, so, you know, watching this movie is better than getting in a car accident. Maybe. Anyway please go, for me – I love my fancy studio job and my kids are in private school.”
Everyone involved at the studio level is encouraged to play along, it’s in everyone’s best interests. When friends ask you about the shitty movie, find something good to say about it. Or just lie. No one can know how bad it is because then it will be all over the socials and the movie’s inevitable flop will only worsen.
When they have a great movie they are not shy in telling the world. The RT score is up there early and they beat that score into your face through ads. And they make sure to call out the “important” critics – “TIME MAGAZINE CALLS OUR MOVIE SO AMAZING THAT IF YOU DON’T SEE IT OPENING WEEKEND YOU MUST BE A NAZI”, “FIVE STARS”, “SEE IT WITH 20 FRIENDS AND PAY FULL PRICE!”
When they don’t have an impressive critic behind it you’ll know. Instead of seeing a big TIME or ROLLING STONE logo you’ll have to squint really hard to make out the source, like “Richard Doolio, Mesa Arizona Shopper’s Guide”. Cause if Doolio likes it, why wouldn’t you? He’s tougher than Simon Cowell. Also, he thinks Ernest Scared Stupid was a little too high-brow.
You might recall some years back Sony Pictures got in trouble for actually faking quotes in their ads. They literally fictionalized some reviewer names and made up the quotes themselves. Some people who paid to see the movie actually sued over it (nothing frivolous about that). But the funny part is that it doesn’t matter if they are “real” reviewers or not. The studio can always find a Doolio somewhere who will say something nice, and all they have to do is give him free tickets to a screening and send him home with a keychain that has the Jexi logo on it.
Smarmy, right? Then again, there’s an argument to be made that if you fall for the lies more than once, and pay to see crap movies, well – it’s kind of on you.
Or maybe you’re just easily entertained.
Have fun at Cats. I hear it’s great.