Bohemian Rhapsody’s box-office gold? It’s the year of the criticproof movie

What matters these days isn’t what the critics think but how well-established a brand is

The official trailer for Bohemian Rhapsody, starring Rami Malek as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, has been released. Video: 20th Century Fox

 

Critics get it wrong again! Despite many negative reviews – although not from The Irish Times, as it happens – the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody has been a huge hit. The film took an estimated €45 million in the United States at the weekend and has already made more than €120 million worldwide. But it currently scores just 49 per cent on Metacritic, which aggregates critics’ reviews, and a barely respectable 60 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes which measures the proportion of positive reviews. Yet, according to Rotten Tomatoes’ audience score, 95 per cent of people who saw it liked it.

So how useful are we critics? It’s a question worth asking given how regularly poorly reviewed movies are becoming box-office hits. Take the Spider-Man spin-off Venom. About the best thing Donald Clarke could say about the movie – which did “not seem completely terrible” – was that Tom Hardy was so over the top that the film never got boring. And Venom gets just 35 per cent on Metacritic and 29 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes. But, again, Rotten Tomatoes’ audience score is 87 per cent, and the film has made more than €400 million. Critics’ weapons are useless against them, and they know it.

It used to be the star power of actors that drew in audiences and defied critics. Now it is the star power of the people they’re playing

If you had asked me if Bohemian Rhapsody was going to be a hit I would have said yes. Despite the film’s long and troubled production – Sacha Baron Cohen was originally slated to play Freddie Mercury but dropped out in 2013, and the movie’s credited director, Bryan Singer, was replaced by Dexter Fletcher late in the production – one thing many criticproof hits have in common is brand recognition. You know what you’re getting, and triply so with Bohemian Rhapsody: an iconic star (Freddie Mercury), a medley of familiar Queen songs and a straight-ahead rock-biopic format. Barely any movies find success without being a sequel, a franchise instalment or a reboot. It used to be the star power of actors that drew in audiences and defied critics; now it is the star power of the people they’re playing.

Critics do sometimes get it “right” – hits such as A Star Is Born, Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War were all positively reviewed – but there’s so little correlation that we might as well be picking names out of a hat.

This is where the movie industry begins to look archaic. If we don’t like a TV programme we can watch a different one at no extra cost. We can listen to music before we decide to buy it. Most retail items are refundable. But with movies you’re still paying a lot of money up front for an experience you may not enjoy. If people actually listened to critics they would go to even fewer movies and the industry might collapse altogether. And then we would be out of a job. So, er, don’t listen to us. – Guardian