Box Office Power Rankings: January 16-19, 2009

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.

Box Office Power Rankings: January 16-19, 2009
Box Office RanksCritics’ Ranks
RankMovieLast WeekGrossPer TheaterRotten TomatoesMetacriticTotal
1Gran Torino19 ($25.6M)6 ($8.6K)9 (77)9 (72)33
2Notorious-7 ($23.4M)10 ($14.3K)6 (52)8 (61)31
3Slumdog Millionaire-1 ($7.0M)8 ($12.1K)10 (95)10 (86)29
4My Bloody Valentine 3D-8 ($24.1M)7 ($9.5K)7 (56)5 (52)27
5Paul Blart: Mall Cop-10 ($39.2M)9 ($12.5K)3 (27)3 (39)25
6Defiance-3 ($10.5M)4 ($5.9K)6 (52)7 (58)20
7Hotel for Dogs-6 ($22.9M)5 ($7.0K)4 (43)4 (51)19
8Marley and Me32 ($7.5M)1 ($2.5K)8 (60)6 (53)17
9The Unborn54 ($10.5M)3 ($4.5K)2 (14)2 (30)11
10Bride Wars75 ($13.9M)2 ($4.3K)1 (12)1 (24)9


Culture Snob’s Box Office Power Rankings balance box office and critical reception to create a better measure of a movie’s overall performance against its peers than gross receipts alone.

The weekly rankings cover the 10 top-grossing movies in the United States for the previous weekend. We assign equal weight to box office and critical opinion, with each having two components. The measures are: box-office gross, per-theater average, Rotten Tomatoes score, and Metacritic score.

Why those four? Box-office gross basically measures the number of people who saw a movie in a given weekend. Per-theater average corrects for blockbuster-wannabes that flood the market with prints, and gives limited-release movies a fighting chance. Rotten Tomatoes measures critical opinion in a binary way. And Metacritic gives a better sense of critics’ enthusiasm (or bile) for a movie.

For each of the four measures, the movies are ranked and assigned points (10 for the best performer, one for the worst). Finally, those points are added up, with a maximum score of 40 and a minimum score of four.

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