20 Movies With Deeply Confusing CinemaScores

20 Movies With Deeply Confusing CinemaScores
Screenshot: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind/Universal Pictures

Tragedy struck Marvel this week, as the CinemaScore for the studio’s latest release was revealed: It got a B, the lowest in Marvel Cinematic Universe history.

That probably sounds pretty OK, but given that every other Marvel flick scored an A- or better, it’s disastrous. The movie’s Rotten Tomatoes score also puts it at the bottom — it’s currently hovering somewhere around 50%. Studio president Kevin Feige is likely crying…on his way to the bank, as the film still managed the year’s fourth best opening weekend (and two of the top three are also in the MCU). So the question becomes: if people are going to keep showing up and buying tickets, what difference does a CinemaScore make? Critics let us down sometimes, praising films that have no legs and disparaging movies that go on to be classics. But are audiences any better at gauging a film right off the bat?

CinemaScore has a different, and generally better, model than some other film-ranking services. Ballots are provided to statistically randomised moviegoers around the country at the theatre, and collected immediately after the show. There’s no chance of review bombing a movie you don’t like on principle, because you have to have actually seen the movie (and been randomly selected) to score it.

CinemaScores do typically run high: those polled are opening-night moviegoers, which means that the scores come solely from viewers who went out of their way to see a film on the first day. This explains why Marvel movies fare so well: most of the scores come from the biggest Marvel fans, those most invested in the overall franchise. For that reason, the most baffling scores often have more to do with audience expectations that the film itself — someone who paid for a traditional horror movie might be disappointed when they show up to a traumatic head trip like Heredity (CinemaScore: D+). Someone looking for a sci-fi action movie isn’t necessarily going to be thrilled about Solaris (CinemaScore: F).

This is why those initial grades aren’t necessarily reflective of a movie’s long-term reputation, or even its overall box office legs. Movies do poorly, very often, just because they’re challenging, or surprising, or were confusingly marketed. I’m not sure that’s entirely the case with Eternals, which is an uneasy combination of new ideas, (too many) new characters, and stock Marvel plotting — but it’s certainly not as bad as all that, and suffered in part simply because of it broke the formula.

So with that, here are 20 other movies with baffling CinemaScores, given they’re actually pretty good (or great) movies whose only crime is making audiences work for it.

Mother! (2017)

Cinemascore: F

Rotten Tomatoes: 68%

Starting with a Darren Aronofsky movie feels entirely appropriate, as the director’s oeuvre is peppered with films that feel like dares: From Pi, to Requiem for a Dream, to The Fountain, to The Wrestler, to Black Swan, he’s long challenged audiences to follow his characters into thoroughly disquieting psychological nightmares full of graphic imagery and extremely dark comedy. Mother! actually did relatively decently at the box office, perhaps buoyed by an all-star cast (including Jennifer Lawrence in her Hunger Games-era prime), but audiences were clearly not feeling it. It earned the rare and highly dubious honour of being one of just 22 films in CinemaScore history to earn an F rating.

Where to stream: Foxtel Go

Solaris (2002)

Cinemascore: F

Rotten Tomatoes: 66%

A quiet, meditative remake of the Russian original (itself based on a heady Stanislaw Lem novel) shaved over an hour off of the 1972 film’s runtime and yet still didn’t move quickly enough for initial audiences (though it’s funny to imagine what general audiences would make of the original, which substitutes anything approximating action with 10 solid minutes of a car driving through a tunnel). It might have been a matter of expectations: Sexy George Clooney plays a psychiatrist called to a distant space station experiencing strange phenomena, a premise that could easily be the set-up for an outer-space action movie. NOPE

Where to stream: Disney+

Wolf Creek (2005)

Cinemascore: F

Rotten Tomatoes: 54%

With horror movies, it’s quite often the other way around: critics will lambaste a film while audiences are perfectly content to scream along with it. In the case of Wolf Creek, audiences found the movie’s punishing violence and lack of traditional scares to be a bit much, while some critics appreciated its technical accomplishments. Regardless, the film’s held in far higher regard today, with a second sequel reportedly on the way.

Where to stream: Stan

Bug (2006)

Cinemascore: F

Rotten Tomatoes: 62%

Just 90 minutes+ of Michael Shannon and Ashley Judd hanging out in a hotel room, convinced that they’re part of a government experiment involving bugs. What’s not to love? For many critics, the mastery of tone and evocation of paranoia classify this one as peak latter-day William Friedkin (with a script by a freaking Pulitzer winner), but the synopsis makes clear why this one might have been a tough sell for audiences.

Where to stream: Stan

Hereditary (2018)

Cinemascore: D+

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

This one is baffling. Hereditary is one of the most intense horror movies of the past decade. It might be a bit more or a psychological trip than a straight-up kill-fest, but the trailer gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Where to stream: Foxtel Go

Battlefield Earth (2000)

Cinemascore: D+

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

This one is here for context: D+ is pretty poor as Cinemascores go, but it’s a better score than was received by the above films from Steven Soderbergh, William Friedkin, and Darren Aronofsky. Opening night audiences for one of the cinema’s most iconic disasters were disappointed, but not as disappointed as they should have been.

Where to stream: Stan

American Psycho (2000)

Cinemascore: D

Rotten Tomatoes: 69%

I get it. Mary Harron’s American Psycho (from the Bret Easton Ellis book) is hard to pin down: Is it a comedy? A gruesome slasher flick? A social satire? It’s all of that, of course, audiences can be forgiven for not knowing what to make of it initially. More people seem to get it now.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Cinemascore: D-

Rotten Tomatoes: 76%

Audiences and critics were split on Eyes Wide Shut when it was released way back in 1999: was this Kubrick’s final masterpiece, or an uncharacteristic misfire? I think the advertising (most of which had Kubrick’s approval) let the movie down here — audiences were sold on a wildly erotic glimpse into the sex lives of then-power couple Kidman and Cruise, but instead got a surreal dreamscape involving weird sex clubs and a troubled marriage.In hindsight, it’s clear Kubrick never lost his touch, even if it took a while for audiences to realise it.

Where to stream: Foxtel Go

Cats (2019)

Cinemascore: C+

Rotten Tomatoes: 20%

C+ isn’t a great score, but probably a bit better than you’d expect given the movie’s reputation and the associated discourse around cat buttholes. The movie was already a bit of a joke before it showed up on a screen, so I suspect that audiences largely knew what they were in for — an instant camp classic. On that front, it certainly delivers A-level work.

Where to stream: Netflix

Saw (2004)

Cinemascore: C+

Rotten Tomatoes: 51%

The Saw franchise released its ninth movie earlier this year, with a 10th on the way (as well as a planned TV series). This first film in the series was the best received, critically, and tends to top fan rankings. Still, initial audiences for the movie that launched the endless franchise weren’t terribly impressed, offering up a low-ish C+ score. It’s likely that they just weren’t quite ready for the intensity of the modern torture porn sub-genre the film launched.

Where to stream: Stan

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015)

Cinemascore: C

Rotten Tomatoes: 14%

C seems like a perfectly respectable score for the sixth in a Paranormal Activity series that had run through its bag of tricks several movies back. Again, it’s about expectations: early audiences for The Ghost Dimension knew what they were in for, and were inclined to be (slightly) forgiving.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime

Boogie Nights (1997)

Cinemascore: C

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights quickly became a critical and popular favourite, doing decent money at the box office and earning three Academy Award nominations. This Cinemascore is, therefore, baffling — this was only Anderson’s second film, so his idiosyncratic style wasn’t something people were used to, but it’s hard to imagine that audiences were so thoroughly “meh” on a movie that becomes such a touchstone.

Where to stream: Stan

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Cinemascore: C-

Rotten Tomatoes: 81%

The Royal Tenenbaums is delightful; movie audiences circa 2001 need to get their heads out of their asses.

Where to stream: Dsney+

Shutter Island (2010)

Cinemascore: C-

Rotten Tomatoes: 68%

Without spoiling anything, I have a feeling the low score here has to do with the movie’s gut-punch of an ending, which could easily have left audiences still scratching their heads while filling out their comment cards. While it’s not Martin Scorsese’s very best, it is unquestionably an impressively atmospheric and inventive thriller.

Where to stream: Netflix

Drive (2011)

Cinemascore: C-

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

An art house movie on speed. I can see why audiences were a bit thrown by Drive…but I can’t begin to fathom that C- score. This is one that quickly developed a cult following, Cinemascore be damned.

Where to stream: Foxtel Go

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Cinemascore: B-

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

B- isn’t a terrible score, but definitely on the low side given the film’s reputation as one of the most interesting and innovative movies of the aughts. Given that there’s not much else out there quite like it, this one’s clearly a case in which audiences didn’t know what to expect going in, and blame the presence of Jim Carrey for that. (Except don’t, because he’s excellent in it.)

Pearl Harbour (2001)

Cinemascore: A-

Rotten Tomatoes: 24%

The film that inspired an entire musical number in Team America (“Why does Michael Bay get to keep on making movies?”) did pretty well with audiences and is mostly remembered today as a regrettable relic of a bygone blockbuster era. Huh.

Where to stream: Disney+

Ghost Dad (1990)

Cinemascore: A-

Rotten Tomatoes: 6%

It would be easy to revise our view of Ghost Dad based on everything that we now know about Bill Cosby but, the fact is…nobody ever really liked Ghost Dad. It was a notorious flop that ended both Sidney Poitier’s directing career and Cosby’s aspirations to feature film acting. When I say “nobody,” though, I’m clearly exaggerating, since opening-night viewers ranked it as top-tier entertainment.

Where to stream: Youtube Movies

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

Cinemascore: A

Rotten Tomatoes: 35%

I suppose that the third Transformers movie is about as good as the Michael Bay series about robots who fight a lot gets…but an A seems like a bit much, frankly.

Where to stream: Netflix

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Cinemascore: A

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%

For all the online vitriol and controversy surrounding The Last Jedi, the film’s CinemaScore puts it alongside or ahead of the other Disney-era Star Wars films, and its Rotten Tomatoes ranking places it in the top tier of the series as a whole. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but it does suggest that our perceptions of a movie are more mutable and easily influenced than we’d like to think — before everyone started complaining about it on Twitter, audiences and critics likes The Last Jedi quite a bit.

Where to stream: Disney+

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