* I don't think polarization is a good signal for poor quality; I would rather suggest it means a more niche product, more highly focused. That the niche being served is largely adolescents is unfortunate.
* I think big-budget movies have been getting more conservative and predictable, but I would hazard a guess that it's due to financial industry turmoil and consequently less desire for risk taking.
Ever seen the Poochie episode of The Simpsons? The producers try to boost the ratings of Itchy and Scratchy by adding a ridiculous character designed to appeal to everyone. Near the start of the episode they hold a focus group (text from snpp.com):
Man: How many of you kids would like Itchy & Scratchy to deal with real-life problems, like the ones you face every day?
Kids: [clamoring] Oh, yeah! I would! Great idea! Yeah, that's it!
Man: And who would like to see them do just the opposite -- getting into far-out situations involving robots and magic powers?
Kids: [clamoring] Me! Yeah! Oh, cool! Yeah, that's what I want!
Man: So, you want a realistic, down-to-earth show... that's completely off-the-wall and swarming with magic robots?
Kids: [all agreeing, quieter this time] That's right. Oh yeah, good.
That actually sounds like the first few seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I would have given any of several other examples, but you specified that there must be "magic robots", which narrows things down a lot.
The kids' desires aren't actually contradictory, if you've got the writing skills to pull it off.
We think one interesting way to observe the above is via polarization.
That is the power of the high school date movie crowd at work.
College kids have lots of other things to spend their money on, like booze and, uh, booze. Once you're past that age, the odds of having kids goes up and then going to a movie becomes a major outing. For my wife and I to see a movie in the theatre now, we'll have to shell out close to $80. It's just not worth it, especially as home theatres keep getting better and better.
What this data shows is that lots of people are giving these films a chance (and paying money to do so) who aren't really that engaged with the genre, or niche. That's a big validation of the studios' design strategy for the films.
An illustrative example I can think of that isn't in the top 20 is District 9: a very familiar 'niche-y' core genre, a fairly predictable plotline, but with enough influences from other genres to keep a diverse audience interested. The Dark Knight would probably be another.
I think they just mean that polarizing may be explained by the re-use of old materials. Re-use = bad movies.
I do think that plotting, which is only one element of a film, tends to get more predictable as viewers age. There are only so many basic dramatic situations, and nowadays genre tropes are so well-defined and well-known that almost anything is going to look familiar and derivative to somebody, and be blogged about in such terms. On the other hand, a good film can be enjoyed repeatedly, despite the element of surprise being gone after the first viewing; the pleasure is in the quality of the execution rather than in the novelty of the story development.
But still, movies are (generally) business first, and art second. They don't even want to be "new"... just "fresh".
You'd be crazy to make a movie, and not try and pull on the well known well loved plot lines. It'd be like trying to make music with chords no one has ever heard; it'd be terrible. People want something familiar.
Did you watch The Social Network? Did you like it? I think we all knew how it ended, it was the writing, cinematography, etc. that account for its popularity. And the fact that the writers stretched the truth so the story would be somewhat fresh :)
Actually I'd argue that they changed the story to make it less fresh, but more understandable/appealing to the non-tech audience. After all, who doesn't understand jilted love as a motivator? Whereas the "hacker's ethic" -- try something to see it it'll work -- is tougher to convey to a general audience.
(For the record, I thought it was still a great movie.)
Major studio economics have changed in recent years and it is now critical that movies have a global, universal appeal.
Their major profit centres are evaporating before their eyes (back catalog tv licencing and dvd sales), along with declining domestic audiences.
In order to turn a profit the movies must be as generic and acceptable as possible: lots of children, the hero's journey and other myths, no sex or swearing, "fake" comic book violence or none at all.
Any kind of NC-17/Restricted rating is the kiss of death. Anything controversial will be a flop.
The problem is the death spiral of risk-aversion, unoriginality, and plot refinement to the point where the "movie" will be perfected and there will be nothing left to film.
Lord or the Rings is the new mythology.. the archetype of the Hero's Journey. Once you print it to film.. what's the point of retelling the story?
I don't disagree with you in other respects at all.
1) Critical meta-ratings as THE measure of quality
2) The Top 20 popular movies per year as a representation of the entire year's quality.
The author's final result seems to be that movie studios prefer to make movies that have a built-in audience (at least for big-budget blockbuster movies).
Whilst people feel the need to use ranking systems to express their dismay at Avatar not being the experience they'd hoped for and correct their teenage daughter's friends' belief that the Twilight Saga is deep and insightful, it's mostly the people that actually consider themselves fans of Adam Sandler and Hugh Grant's stock characters that bother to go and rate Happy Gilmore and Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Either way, nice visualization and it's always fun to read catty reviews about bad movies.
1. Polarization as a measure of quality
2. Choice of the top 20 movies as a selection measure.
The article should really be title: "Popular movies are becoming more polarizing". Though I concede that blogs like this are written to attract hits and "Movies are getting worse" is probably more likely to achieve that.
Think about this years movies:
The Social Network
The Kings Speech
Will all almost certainly become classics.
The social network is of it's time and will date really badly, to the point where no one will watch or mention it ever again.
True Grit is a remake so specifically cannot be included as it had to be good enough to have been remade.
Inception isn't ever going to be a classic a la The Matrix.
The Kings Speech will definitely have longevity; Black Swan I'm not convinced will float above just being another film you can pick up for £3 in HMV in a couple of months but then think "well, will I ever watch it?"
If you compare it to nominated movies ten years ago, Braveheart, Apollo 13, I think they are comparably great.
Additionally, box office returns seem to be at all time highs. Black Swan and True Grit are two films that typically would be destined for "niche" audiences, but have returned hundreds of millions for reasonably small budgets.
Also, I think that Inception will be almost as influential as The Matrix, except in a smaller genre of films (eg: Matrix built upon action movies, whereas Inception was more of a psych thriller) - in my opinion.
I totally agree that The social network is of it's time but totally disagree that will date really badly.
The social network is about its time, and has excellent structure and dialog too. Time will tell if it becomes a classic, but as a snapshot of .dot com boom era it's excellent, and will remain so. How can one write a social history of the years 2000-2010 without mentioning social networks and facebook in particular?
So was the 1939 Wizard of Oz.
> Inception isn't ever going to be a classic a la The Matrix.
And you know this because...
True Grit while good was such a pale movie compared to the original John Wayne version.
And in the reviews I read, it was better than the John Wayne movie, because it was more of an adult film.
> Inception -
Cool story and nice effects, very captivating movie, made me think a little bit, but the ideas of the movie are too far fetched.
> True Grit -
I didn't see the original, couldn't work out whether it was fiction until near the middle, and then it just went downhill, for me the girl did the best acting.
Worth watching? Definitely, become classics? Probably not, they're all missing the extra magic sauce.
I would assume that there are more movie critics now, or at least critics are more visible. Thanks to sites like Rotten Tomatoes, even a local newspaper critic can have global reach.
Due to this visibility, it's harder for critics to stand out. The easiest way to stand out is to be extreme or contrarian which would lead to more polarization.
If, as everyone seems to agree, movies are becoming more 'safe', more 'lowest common denominator' on average, reviews should be becoming _less_ polarized in response, not more.
That the opposite is happening suggests that reviews are progressively carrying less and less 'truth' than they once did, and this is likely the case even when they may be in general agreement on a given film.
But according to the graph, Toy Story 3 was the least polarizing movie of 2010 and that seems like a prime example of a movie "safely" manufactured for an existing fanbase.
I think this is likely due to that fact that Toy Story 3 was superior to Toy Story 2, leaving people pleasantly surprised.
(It is actually unexpectedly complex. The first scene features the toys calmly discussing and preparing for their own deaths. It's quite stark.)
I'd say a film having a budget of $22k is pretty safe, as far as the rest of the films on that list are concerned. While not a non-trivial amount of debt for a handful of people to take on, it's roughly in the same price range as a new car, which most people are capable of taking on.
Their graph shows that "polarizing" movies are strongly correlated with low ratings by Moki users (not just critics), and that both are increasing over time (i.e. getting worse).
Moki does not claim one causes the other, or try to psychoanalyze users based on their ratings. They simply note that it does exist.
Some people love death metal and some hate it. Some people love classical music and some hate it. Polarization is hardly a quality indicator. Indeed, it seems more like an indicator of memorability.
IMO this is a weak argument - you could say the same thing about startups. When it comes to creative work, it's all about the execution.
Just because a story is being retold doesn't automatically make it bad. Similarly, just because a story has been told before doesn't mean you can't tell it again.
Boy meets girl.
The little tailor.
The man who learned better.
A niche film should be as highly opinionated as possible, with the objective of both catering to your chosen market and excluding all others intentionally.
For example, the musical act Prodigy do not do TV performances. This is a mainstream marketing method that does not appeal to their audience. By avoiding it, they increase their appeal to their true fans, while ignoring uninterested listeners. Likewise, the singer Adele does not perform at music festivals for the same reason.
The ideal niche product would repel exactly half the critics and attract the other half. This would create a core of hardcore evangelists, a bigger group of fans, a big group of uninterested bystanders and a small group of haters. The haters and bystanders can mostly be ignored, making marketing super-efficient.
Lack of polarization is a measure of beauty and popularity. Beauty is a measure of average-ness and normality. The most beautiful person in a given society is the one that looks the most an average of all the people. The most popular movie is the one that everyone can relate to.. the most profoundly average.
Case in point.. the Shawshank Redemption. This is a movie that is consistently voted one of the best ever made, but it's highly rated because of its familiarity. It's a near flawless execution of common mythologies that everyone can relate to: fall from grace, redemption, justice, freedom and so on.
Toy Story is another example. Pixar's entire methodology is to distill the world's archetypes and mythologies down into the "perfect" movie with every "i" dotted and every "t" crossed. The result is profoundly familiar, yet kept fresh with just enough plot twists and humour to keep it interesting.
Niche movies are just popular movies for specific groups instead of a general audience. Polarization is a measure of how effectively they achieved the goal.
Interestingly, I liked the Matrix sequels, the 3rd Spiderman movie, and thought the Star Wars prequels were pretty good (though not as good as _Empire_). And having been around at the time depicted in the latest Indiana Jones movie, late 50s early 60s, I enjoyed it tremendously.
I'm in my early 50s, and one of the things I've noticed over the years is that I become _less_ critical of movies and literature as I get older. That is to say I'm much more tolerant of elements in a movie or story that would drive me nuts when I was younger.
When you are very young, everything is new and wonderful, then you become an adult and suddenly you start to notice that "hey, I've seen this type of story before. And I liked it better then!" Of course most likely the story wasn't all that new when you saw it first, but it was new to _you_. There are very few truly new storie.
As you get older, though, you often start looking not at the flash and the surface of stories, but at the quality of execution, at the subtleties of exposition, and the nuance of character. You also can view the story in a larger context, both your own context, and the context of history. And, more importantly, you stop comparing the _qualities_ of works to the _feelings_ you had when you were twelve years old. I can tell you for sure, _nothing_ is ever going to be as much fun as whatever it was that was pushing your buttons when you were a kid.
As they used to say in old school science fiction fandom, "the golden age is twelve."
Sad, but true. In compensation, though, you do get a possibly deeper appreciation, and, if you let it happen, a broader range of tastes. If you had told me 30-40 years ago that one of my favorite genres would be josei anime and manga I would have laughed in your face; once you'd explained to me what that was...
Having said all that, the vast bulk of movies at any given time follows Sturgeon's Law pretty closely. Mostly shit. We remember the gems of the past and in aggregate they seem to add up to a larger sum than the current year's turkeys. I seem to go to the movies about as much as I did in my 20s and seem to be enjoying them at about the same rate.
It takes time and patience and a lot of effort to create a story like the The Lord of the Rings. And the movies that are really good are ones with a great story behind them.
Hollywood seems to be just mining stories from the past. Its gonna run out at some point and all we'll get are sequels.
There needs to be some infusion of creativity. "Contemporary" creativity. Ie new but compelling and interesting stories. It seems to be a lost skill.
Seriously? Pick up a book, that's so far from true it isn't even funny.
> It takes time and patience and a lot of effort to create a story like the The Lord of the Rings.
Sure, and there's a ton of them already out there in the form of books.
> Hollywood seems to be just mining stories from the past. Its gonna run out at some point and all we'll get are sequels.
You can't run out of mining stories from the past; more great stories have already been written than will likely ever be able to be put on film.
> There needs to be some infusion of creativity. "Contemporary" creativity. Ie new but compelling and interesting stories. It seems to be a lost skill.
Or you're simply misdiagnosing the problem. Perhaps movies just suck more recently because exec's have gotten really good at shooting for the lowest common denominator to gain the largest audience and thus revenue.
Making money is not a guarantee of a great movie and great movies are quite often box office failures because they're too niche, by necessity.
The more the business folks pull the strings, the worse the movies will be artistically, but their goal is money, so they don't care, nor should they.
Movies will become great again, when Avatar style technology drives down the cost of making one to the point that making cheaper niche movies can be profitable.
That Michael Bay movies continue to make big bucks is a travesty, but that's today's market. I'd much rather watch Man from Earth than any movie he's ever made, but one can't deny his movies make execs lots of money by being dumb and going for every cheap laugh, big explosion, overdone effect he can think of.
I do have to agree with AndrewO though, there are many movies that I consider to be of the highest quality that I would consider as eliciting heavy polar reactions. Primer is perhaps the best geek example.
Sensationalist title and a data visualization that's useless. Try average Rotten Tomatoes score or something, not some random stat with no formula made up on the spot. Seriously, what does "polarizing" actually stand for?
This kind of thing has been going on since the beginning of time and will continue until the end of it. Sorry, nothing to see here.
"We looked at how polarizing each movie is by measuring the standard deviation of the ratings for each movie."
That's pretty clear, even if it's still a bad measure. There are plenty of valid criticisms of this survey; you don't need to make stuff up based on skimming it before you post your predetermined conclusions.
-Animal Kingdom (Australian crime film)
-True Grit (Western)
-How to train your dragon (Pixar film)
Pixar is currently in the sequel game. Toy Story 3 last year, and Cars 2 scheduled for this year. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Pixar_films
If they were rated recently then there is obvious bias there. Yes/no?
PS: the Firefox UI freeze on ajax calls seems to be a Mac specific problem.
Never tried 4. In benchmarks it's way faster than 3.6. Downloading it now.
Oldboy (Korea), City of God (Brazil), Pan's Labyrinth (Mexico), and Spirited Away (Japan) are all on those, and that's not an exhaustive list.
By my research Bollywood's total annual revenues are barely a third of Hollywood revenues for theatrical releases alone (aside from dvd, broadcast, and digital distribution revenues).