7 tips to avoid watching a crappy movie.

by Paul Michael on 4 June 2008 17 comments
Photo: Desi Italy

How many of you do your research before you rent a movie or go to the cinema? I usually read a bunch of reviews and ask friends. Sometimes I’ll see a movie without reading any reviews, but those ones are usually adorned with independent film awards. Which makes me wonder…why did I just waste my time on one of the worst movies ever made?

It’s something that happens to me once in a blue moon. I’ll go to my local RedBox armed with the two or three movies that I want. If my first choice is not available, my second usually is. But this time, all three of my choices were unavailable.

That left me staring at the screen like a dog being shown a card trick, leaving my movie-viewing choice in the hands of the marketers. Trained professionals, like myself, who only show something in its best possible light. They produce the movie trailers that make the most rancid film seem like a genuinely good romp. They include stellar reviews on the front cover, but upon closer examination you see that the review came from the Podunk Weekly Gazette.

With this in mind, I decided to forget the fake reviews and phony trailers I had seen and go for actors I really liked. That’s how I arrived at my choice – Strange Wilderness. And after 10 minutes of exhausting, mind-numbingly bad ‘comedy’ I decided to stop the film and check out the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s arguably the best place to check, as it combines all reviews and gives an average score.

SW

The average score for Strange Wilderness – 0% .

I ejected the movie and threw it back into the DVD case with disdain. I then drove to my local library and decided to rent a movie that I already knew had excellent reviews; City Of God – average score 92% (94% from the top critics). I wasn’t disappointed, it’s a fantastic movie and one I’ll see again.

So, what does this all mean? Here’s my check-list to avoid renting a big bad dud.

1) Do your homework. Rotten Tomatoes is a great resource, anything that gets over 60% is considered worth your time and money. If it gets below that, check out the top critics rating. If they give it a much higher score, it's probably still worth a look.

2) Don’t trust the trailers. If you’ve seen a great trailer and think ‘that looks great’ then you may be seeing all the best parts of the movie condensed into 2 minutes. Comedies are notorious for this.

3) Read reviews carefully. If a known entity, like a well-known newspaper or reviewer (Ebert) says something like “Best Movie Of The Year” then it’s probably a safe bet it’s a good flick. If you see words like “Outstanding” or “A Must See” then look a little closer to see where that quote came from. If you haven’t heard of the person, publication or website, forget it. And if there are multiple quotes that all come from the same place, that’s also a warning sign.

4) Star power and box office numbers don’t mean anything. City Of God did around $8 million total, and has no stars – but it’s an amazing movie. Legally Blonde 2 took in $90 million and stars Reece Witherspoon – Average score 38%.

5) Known entities don’t mean a guaranteed hit. In my case, Strange Wilderness was a mix of stars I liked and a production company I knew well (Happy Madison). I figured it would contain a laugh or two. I was wrong.

6) Ask your mates. They’re your friends because (usually) you have lots in common. Chances are, if they liked the movie you will too.

7) Don’t be afraid to walk away empty handed. If the movies you want aren’t in, and nothing looks good, there’s no need to settle. Dig out one of your favorite movies from home, that’s a sure thing.

Hopefully, this advice will help you avoid those movie landmines. And remember, RedBox offers free rentals (see my article here ) and the library is a great resource.

Additional photo credit: Rotten Tomatoes
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Guest's picture
Cedric von Monkey

I agree with the methodical approach to selecting a movie. To waste 2 hours is an offense.

If you are stuck on an airplane, all these rules are void. Just watch whatever you can.

Guest's picture
droptop67caddy

Another great resource is metacritic.com. They similarly compile professional and user reviews into one score (also for music, video games,and tv).

Guest's picture

Too often nowadays when we want to sit in the dark & watch a movie we stare at the marquee and realize that there's nothing there worth spending the $ on - I increasingly feel foolish having spent $ on a movie - only to see it pop up later on cable! So we spend that part of our entertainment $ on cable TV - TCM and the Sundance Channel and so on. I do scan the reviews to keep up and can catch the films I was interested in later - the types I like go in & out almost to quickly to catch them, anyway! But there is still sitting in the dark - we also have gone to free movie screenings, just to have that experience!

Guest's picture
woj

keep a list - any article, story, conversation that mentions a movie I may be interested in - I jot it down. Then, when it comes time to pick (from the library, RedBox, whatever...), I've got a pretty good idea that my choice will be ok. Plus, it gives me backup choices in case my first pick is not available.

Guest's picture
Cindy M

You guys need to check out www.watch-movies.net. I haven't had to even hit the library for the freebies since I found this. Some don't load great, but it's a pretty good place to start if you aren't extremely particular, and free is free if you don't mind watching on your own PC.

Paul Michael's picture

I checked that out, to me it seems highly illegal. Most of the time, the videos available are hand-held cam footage that's been taken in a theater. Other good versions are illegal DVD rips. I can't imagine that place will be around for much longer, and I'd advice against it for ethical reasons and also the bad quality. Try hulu.com as a good source of free, legal online streaming movies. They also serve up TV shows.

Guest's picture
Cindy M

come on, unethical?? Oh brother. I think the site's been around for awhile, and not every movie is there once the powers that be find out about it, but I see nothing terribly wrong about this. And not all have been copied with hand-held cameras. I can understand in your position here how you might not want to recommend it, but I'm personally tickled to death to have found it. No, the quality ain't the greatest, quite a few don't download properly but it's like a smorgasboard. You can find out quickly if you'd bother blowing even a buck to rent a movie this way.

Another recommendation for finding movies you might want to see is to have a favorite actor/actress list of movies. You can check out the IMdB for this, very handy for reserving movies at the library.

Guest's picture
Cindy M

Don't blame you if you remove all the above, just meant to post the disclaimer at the end, sorry. I do apologize.

Guest's picture
Guest

One of the great benefits of Netflix is that over time you build up a community of people that like the same movies you do. Those reviews are much more reliable than any "experts." And even if you happen to get a dud, you can return it more easily because you don't feel as though "I paid $5 for this movie, I have to watch it." You just put it in the mailbox and get another... the sooner the better!

Paul Michael's picture

What's ethical about sneaking a camera into a movie theater and then putting the video footage out on the web for all to see?

Guest's picture
jez

My way is to check the average rating on IMDB... nearly always good results

Guest's picture
Cameron

I've found that review sites are not at all reliable, even ones that take reviews from a variety of sources. I checked out some of my favorite movies on Rotten Tomatoes, and the reviews were mediocre at best. Some other movies I thought were horrible had fairly good reviews. As soon as one relatively respected reviewer comes out with a review one way or the other, it becomes trendy to either agree or disagree. It's the whole Jar-Jar Binks phenomenon. It became trendy to absolutely detest the character, when at best he was only mildly annoying and actually fit in with the movie just fine. I tend not to bother with reviews any more. I might read them occasionally, but I certainly don't let them influence my watching decisions. Sometimes they're dead on, but just as often I completely disagree.

Guest's picture
Guest

I just can't believe you thought "Strange WIlderness" looked good...

Guest's picture
Guest

Watching movies online is a tragic when if we don't know where to turn on. At the beginning date of my hobby of watching movies online it is more than hours I have wasted to find a correct information. Some times I have given it up. Sick of running hire and there but when I using blogs and reading and guiding by articles found this site called http://www.80millionmoviesfree.com from time been I used it is so far so good. Think you may try it out too. Because I know the importance of correct details and source

Guest's picture
Guest

I've never gone wrong following Jay Sherman's rules:

1) If it used to be a TV show, just don't go.
2) Give it a rest after roman numeral II.
3) If it's a remake of a classic, rent the classic.

Guest's picture
ERic

I watched my last CGI/Big Star/Holey Plot/Crappy Dialogue movie a couple years ago.

I've gone to just downloading them off torrents or to the free movie sites out there.

Seriously, movie produces are interested in making a huge profit off a blockbuster so they throw in a few big named stars, a bunch of CGI effects and, whip out a script that even a 14yr old would think is lame.

Example would be GI JOE. That movie looked like a bunch of computer geeks were sitting around making CGI movies of lazers and jet planes and thought "Hey lets turn this into a movie! Just throw a script in there and lets sell it!"

I would have paid to see Dark Knight in theaters, but I had been let down so many times, leaving the movie theater feeling like I wasted 2hrs of my life and $10.

Yeah, maybe the movie industry will go the same route as the music industry, buts its their own fault. Sell the people crap disguised as strawberries long enough and they'll stop buying.

Guest's picture
Nick

I want to give a shout-out to the recommendation for metacritic.com. Two things make this distinct from rotten-tomatoes. First, it consists entirely of reputable critic sources. Second, it rates the film in a 1-100 scale, as opposed to a Good/Bad scale. Which makes it a lot more accurate. Years ago I saw "Lincoln Heights", a small coming-of-age movie that scored a 100 on rotten-tomatoes, and was somewhat disappointed with the hype. Only upon a closer look, it was because it was as if it scored 100% on positive 3-star reviews. By contrast, metacritic would have more accurately focused on its rating (at which point it would receive a 75% (3 stars)).

Second, note how movies have sometimes changed over time (or, perhaps we change). Some movies got notoriously bad reviews upon initial release, only to be discovered of their greatness as our society changes (John Carpenter's The Thing, Bonnie and Clyde, etc), or a director's cut is released that improves upon the theatrical release (Kingdom of Heaven, Leon:The Professional). A good place to keep tibs on these sorts of films are on imdb.com's Top 250 page.