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Commentary: Do people actually read movie reviews these days?

People may flock to the theater to see "The Batman" before even reading a review on it. But the smaller movies require more pre-theater research.
Credit: Warner Brothers Pictures/HBO Max

ST. LOUIS — Being a writer, you're never quite sure who is listening, or reading. Outside of you and your own mind, all one can hope for is the visitor to make it to the end of the column before judging. But what if they don't even bother clicking? You can't win a fight that gets lost before the opening bell.

Film criticism knows this dilemma all too well. Sure, the ability to extract one's unique thoughts about a movie feels like a win in some way--but influencing someone's movie decision is like winning the pennant. The World Series would be when the check comes through in the mail.

In each of the past three years, I have watched at least 140 new movies and written reviews for 90% of them. A lot of words, head-scratching, and ruminating for what has been told to me is dwindling interest. So, I took the question to the people:

Are people still reading movie reviews, or is it just a Rotten Tomatoes score check and off to the box office? The answer, unfortunately, wasn't surprising.

This was the most popular answer... behind "no, I don't." And I get it completely. Remember that all film critics were once just film consumers like everyone else. We are still that kid, or find ourselves trying to remain loyal to that initial film lover. Whenever I write reviews, it's a battle of wills between "turn it loose" and "be respectful of who hasn't seen the movie."

Every time, I walk that tightrope. This response is good feedback and not negative energy. I need to write something so memorable that the consumer remembers to read a few reviews or an article and/or headline that just ropes them in.


Something that Richard McGill spoke to with his response:

Fair take. It's impossible for a film critic to not at least peek into the second act and give a tease of the third. It always feels to me like a half-measure if I hold back--which is why I write reviews more for me these days than national consumption. Cool Note: Whether he likes it or not, I do influence Richard due to my Rotten Tomatoes certification. I'll take it.

Well, film criticism doesn't have oxygen without an opinion. You either listen or you don't. If I wrote reviews based on how many people will read them, I wouldn't get past the headline.

We live and die on loyal readers like Adam. Think of it as a returning customer in a mom and pop local business. If people don't come back due to trust and comfort, what are we doing out here in the first place? Also, EVERY WRITER needs a Pat Houlihan behind them. A 100% full-time supporter is everything.

Thank goodness for Mark Reardon! Talking about a movie is a double-edged sword. It's taking the cap off the bottle and forgetting where you placed it, which can have all kinds of rewards. Fear and "don't say that" plays into that, but the unpredictable candor of a radio conversation is hard to deny.

This is all we need. Read it, see if it pushes you, and move on to your own decision. Paid or not, a writer is merely trying to extract how a film made him/her/them feel, and why it happened. The details and thoroughness is what should pull you in--not if we agreed on the movie's quality.

Every film conversation should be ongoing, forbidden to normal time constructs. The enjoyment of a film is indeed subjective and reliant on personal history and preference, but the dialogue around the movies and their impact should be an endless discussion afterwards.

Movies like "The Batman" may not require much pre-show review reading, but a small indie needs all the fire it can get. The filmgoer will seek out whatever they can find on a very cheaply made yet rich movie. It goes round and round, as long as Hollywood keeps making original movies--or some of them.

If a film critic has a few readers that aren't just his family or friends, the game remains interesting. At the end of the day, we write these things in order to put our minds at ease, but a voice on the other end sure keeps the flame strong.

So tell me, do you read movie reviews? Tell me all about it @buffa82 on Twitter or drop me a note on Facebook. Thank you for reading the last sentence; it is never taken for granted.

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