Will ‘Indiana Jones’ triumph? Bad reviews often lead to box office success — and vice versa!

DAVIS, Calif. — Another summer blockbuster season is here, and every major movie studio is hoping they’ll have the hottest film of the year. Unfortunately, not everyone can be a winner — especially when negative early reviews influence movie goers. Even the much-anticipated “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” faces an uphill battle thanks to multiple unflattering reviews online. Movie reviews posted by professional critics are usually a fairly accurate predictor of how a movie will fare at the box office, but researchers from the University of California-Davis are surprisingly turning that notion on its head. Their study actually found the exact opposite; bad reviews often predict hits while positive reviews signal a film will flop.

Earlier studies covering this topic have produced varying results. Some have found good reviews bode well for a film’s box office performance, while others have found negative reviews correlate to box office revenues, and the effect of negative reviews diminishes as time goes on. For this latest project, study authors analyzed both pre-release commentary and opening weekend box office revenues to reach their conclusions. All in all, they believe their work may change how many perceive popular pre-release reviews.

“We contend that it’s essential to differentiate among movie critics, arguing that the influence of reviews on box office performance isn’t uniform across all critics,” says the study’s lead author, Pantelis Loupos, assistant professor of marketing and business analysis for the Graduate School of Management, in a university release. “In our analysis, we demonstrate that not all positive or negative reviews necessarily signal a movie’s success or failure, respectively.”

image of audience watching movie in movie theater
Photo by Krists Luhaers on Unsplash

Researchers analyzed numerous pre-release movie reviews written by film critics on Rotten Tomatoes. More specifically, they focused on discovering if they could successfully predict a movie’s success based on those reviews. Sure enough, a pattern began to emerge.

“Interestingly, when these critics penned positive pre-release reviews, they signaled that the movie would be a flop,” Prof. Loupos explains. “Conversely, their negative reviews hinted towards the film being a success. The stronger the sentiment in either direction, the stronger the predictive signal.”

For example, films such as “Baywatch” and “Tomb Raider” received positive pre-release reviews yet performed very poorly at the box office during their opening weekends. Notably, this pattern even held up among top critics. According to Prof. Loupos, these findings suggest expertise does not always lead to accurate predictions.

“This surprising outcome challenges the prevailing belief that positive reviews equate to better box office revenues,” he adds.

In an effort to better understand this paradox, researchers used text analytics to dive into the writing style of these so-called harbingers of box office failure, gaining further insight into their personality traits and cognitive biases. This led to the discovery that harbinger critics lean toward a formal and analytical writing style, using fewer self-reference pronouns.

“Our fresh perspective on the role of critics’ personalities opens up new avenues in our understanding of the film review space,” Prof. Loupos concludes. “It’s an important acknowledgment that the movie industry is a puzzle of complexity and unpredictability.”

The study is published in the journal Marketing Letters.

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John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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  1. It’s simple- 90% of reviewers are failed Film School Graduates and they think that Film should be ART. The audience is normal people who just want to be entertained and aren’t looking for hidden meanings and societal commentary. It is an extremely rare movie that can do both.

  2. They did a study?? Seriously?? Can I assume that Capitan Obvious was the lead researcher??

  3. It all depends on who’s reviewing the movie. I remember back in the day with Siskel and Ebert, and anything that Ebert liked, I avoided with a ten foot pole.
    And with todays’ very liberal reviewers, anything that they are drooling over, I treat the same way.

  4. Americans are intellectual children with very low IQ’s and fall for the simple tricks of child psychology.

    1. Yet every other trash country like yours follows American trends every time. What’s the last world box office hit your list country came up with? If America is so awful, why do you weirdos fight do hard to get here?

      The irony is you literally failed to understand the complexity of box office success that the study and the journo either purposely or were too ignorant to grasp. Way to look foolish.

    2. After checking out several of your social media accounts across the web, I’ve concluded that you’re a profoundly unhappy person and you deserve pity instead of ire.

  5. So context of bad reviews don’t matter? Funny how critics are bribed by companies, like Disney, tell you what movies you are supposed to like are genuinely awful movies and tend to feel the wrath of of the audience.

    The other side is these critics will give bad reviews to movies that don’t follow the progressive narrative they are trying to push even though the movies are genuinely entertaining.

    Most of the audience no longer care what the critics say because the critics are are not genuine. Most people no that when journos who pretend they don’t and push to divide the audience for clicks while at the same time are delusional that these “studies” mean what the journos say they mean.

  6. This has been true my whole life, and I’m in my 60’s. The professional reviewers love the stinkers and hate the beauties. Hollywood itself loves stinkers, and only makes barely enough beauties to cover their losses on the stinkers. You’d think they’d want to make more money, but it’s never been about money. I’ve always put it down to the arrogance of Hollywood (and its professional reviewers) looking down their noses at the tastes of “flyover country”, and getting their kicks out of trying to make us all eat garbage and miss the good stuff. Just for sport. ‘Cause they were sneering school bullies as children. They’re still doing it, only now in more industries than just movies. So pay to waste your time watching stinkers, and eat zee bugs instead of popcorn. Because the “elites” think you’re their cattle and it’s funny to abuse you.

  7. Someone should get word to John Anderer, the writer, that his name has been attached to a bogus study obviously written by the Disney PR department

  8. A couple of simple reasons for the discrepancy are:

    – we watch movies to take a break from our everyday work and responsibilities. In addition, we get to choose the movies genres we’re watching.
    – the critic must watch and critique all kinds of movies for their paycheck. After awhile, the novelty wears off and it becomes more of a grind…

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