January 2009 Archives

slumdog.jpgSlumdog Millionaire has slipped in and out of the Box Office Power Rankings since the weekend starting December 19 — spending four of those weeks in the rankings and two weeks out.

It seems telling that this past weekend, Millionaire again came out on top of our rankings, five weeks after it initially won. In both cases, Slumdog’s victory accompanied a significant increase in the number of venues at which the movie was playing — 169 to 589 on December 19, and 582 to 1,411 on January 23.

But there’s also evidence that the Danny Boyle-directed movie has been able to maintain public interest and enthusiasm over an extended period of time, beyond simply expanding its release. In each of its four appearances in our rankings, it has been in the top three for per-theater average.

That six-weekend performance is pretty amazing when you consider the cultural half-life of most movies now can be measured in days; Slumdog Millionaire has a staying power that rivals The Dark Knight.

Consider it one more reason the movie is approaching being a shoo-in for the Best Picture Oscar.

Continue reading for the methodology and the week’s full rankings.


Culture Snob joins Twitter: Who says I’m not an early adopter? Next, I plan to check out this CD thing. It’s an up-and-coming technology.

(Follow Culture Snob on Twitter.)

wrestler.jpgWhen people talk about Oscar snubs, they’re usually speaking emotionally. But we can quantify snubs, at least when it comes to Best Picture.

You’ll need to accept one major assumption: that critics in the aggregate are good arbiters of the quality of films.

Here is a list of movies — the Best Picture nominees (in bold), other serious contenders, and a few never-weres — ranked by their combined scores from Rotten Tomatoes (listed first) and Metacritic:

WALL•E (96, 93: 189)
Slumdog Millionaire (95, 86: 181)
The Wrestler (98, 81: 179)
Milk (93, 84: 177)
The Dark Knight (94, 82: 176)
Iron Man (93, 79: 172)
Frost/Nixon (91, 80: 171)
Rachel Getting Married (87, 82: 169)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (88, 78: 166)
Kung Fu Panda (88, 73: 161)
Ghost Town (83, 72: 155)
Tropic Thunder (83, 71: 154)
In Bruges (81, 67: 148)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (72, 70: 142)
The Reader (60, 58: 118)

We all know that certain types of movies are Oscar-y and others aren’t, but consider the excitement around a Best Picture lineup of WALL•E, Slumdog Millionaire, The Wrestler, Milk, and The Dark Knight.


Which of these would you have most liked to see nominated for Best Picture?

View results

notorious.jpgA reliable rule for critical aggregators is that Rotten Tomatoes will almost always be a more extreme number than Metacritic. Put another way, the Metacritic number will generally sit between the Rotten Tomatoes number and 50. This is a function of the up-or-down Rotten Tomaotes system compared to the shadings allowed by Metacritic. (A three-star review is fully positive to Rotten Tomatoes, but only three-quarters positive to Metacritic.)

There are so few significant exceptions that it’s worth noting when they crop up. In this week’s Box Office Power Rankings (won, for a second consecutive week, by Gran Torino), there are two: Notorious and Defiance. They both scored 52 at Rotten Tomatoes and significantly higher (61 and 58, respectively) at Metacritic.

The obvious explanation is that while critics were roughly evenly split on the movies, those who liked it liked it more than those who didn’t like it didn’t like it. Less stupidly, each got marginally negative reviews and enthusiastic positive ones in equal measure.

But I wonder if these special cases speak to some sort of critical fear. My theory is that these outliers reflect that critics were afraid to dislike these movies, or perhaps more accurately that a significant segment of critics felt obligated to “love” them. The Holocaust movie about heroic Jews, and a bio-pic of a slain African-American rapper. I could see it.

Alternatively, maybe they’re simply exceptions. I dunno.

Continue reading for the methodology and the week’s full rankings.


Among the Best Picture Oscar nominees, which do you think should win?

View results

Best Picture Winner


Among the Best Picture Oscar nominees, which do you think will win?

Voting is now closed for this poll, but here are the results:

Total votes: 14

New Host

Culture Snob just shifted its operations to a new host, and while I think almost everything is in working order, please contact me if you find something amiss.

grantorino.jpgIn 2008, only one movie got a perfect score in the Box Office Power Rankings: Iron Man, twice in May.

In the second weekend of January, we already have our first perfect score of 2009: for Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino.

At the outset, I will note that a perfect score says more about a movie’s circumstances than it does the movie itself. The Dark Knight was, by a hair, a better move than Iron Man in critics’ eyes, yet it opened with WALL•E in theaters, thus blocking its chance at a 40 in our weekly contest.

Gran Torino joins the rarefied company of Iron Man and The Bourne Ultimatum with its Box Office Power Rankings perfection. (Our rankings were launched in mid-2007.) But it’s the lesser of the three. Eastwood’s movie has a combined Rotten Tomaotes/Metacritic score of 148, compared to Bourne’s 179 and Iron Man’s 171.

From that, we can see that Gran Torino benefited from relatively weak competition in the box-office top 10.

Continue reading for the methodology and the week’s full rankings.

marley.jpgIn last week’s Box Office Power Rankings, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button finished two points ahead of Marley and Me. They were third and first, respectively, in overall box office, and one point apart in the per-theater standings.

This past weekend, they were again third and first in box office, and again one point apart in per-theater average. Nothing opened wide. So how did Marley and Me catch Button to create a tie for this week’s crown?

The distance between them was only two points, so it didn’t take much — just a few critics, in fact.

The first point came when Marley’s Rotten Tomaotes score rose between the compilation of last week’s rankings and this week’s; the jump from 55 to 57 tied it with Valkyrie and earned it another Box Office Power Rankings point.

The second point came when Curious Case’s Metacritic score fell from 70 to 69. That dropped it out of a tie with Doubt and cost it a point in our rankings.

So despite what you might have read, every critic does matter.

(Note: Because of a typo, last week’s rankings incorrectly shorted Doubt’s Rotten Tomatoes score. Doubt finished fourth, not eighth as listed; the order [if not the rank] of all other movies remains the same. The chart has not been corrected.)

Continue reading for the methodology and the week’s full rankings.

benjamin-button.jpgAs 2008 exited, withered and old and tired, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was birthed into theaters, fully formed as a Best Picture favorite. Among the major contenders, it’s the only conventional Oscar bait to have been given a wide release at this point. (Ignore The Dark Knight and WALL•E, which are first and foremost popular movies that just happened to garner a lot of passionate praise, and hence Oscar potential after they were released.)

So how did David Fincher’s latest fare in the final Box Office Power Rankings of the year? Well, it won, but not by much, challenged by the scrappy Marley and Me. That does not necessarily portend Oscar doom for Curious Case — it opened among some serious competition — but we might have expected more from a wide-release Academy hopeful that’s eager to be a cultural flash point.

As you no doubt know, Button is the resurrection of Forrest Gump the movie, but it doesn’t appear to be a resurrection of Forrest Gump the phenomenon. And that, I wager, hurts its Best Picture chances.

Gump opened in 1,595 theaters on July 8, 1994, and earned $24.5 million in the U.S. that weekend. Button opened in 2,988 theaters on Christmas day 14 years later and earned $38.7 million over a four-day holiday weekend. If you remove Christmas day, Benjamin only took in $26.9 million in its first weekend. When you consider ticket-price inflation, the number of venues, and production budgets (with the new movie costing nearly three times Gump), The Curious Case looks curiouserly infirm.

(Note: Because of a typo, the rankings here incorrectly short Doubt’s Rotten Tomatoes score. Doubt finished fourth, not eighth as listed; the order [if not the rank] of all other movies remains the same. The chart has not been corrected.)

Continue reading for the methodology and the week’s full rankings.