Addicted to novelty since 2001

Do Critics Care About No Pre-Screenings?

I saw Aeon Flux today.
It’s not very good. It reminded me a lot of Equilibrium,
another generic sci-fi film with a silly premise. As I mentioned earlier in
the week, the
film wasn’t pre-screened for critics
.

This strikes me as a provocative decision. On the one hand, the studio avoids
early bad reviews, and hopes to rely on word-of-mouth to drive attendance. On
the other hand, it signifies a desperate lack of faith in the film’s quality.
More importantly, it seems to piss off the critics. Ebert and Roeper reserve
a special finger for such films, giving them the "Wagging Finger of Shame"
(listen to them lay
on the finger – MP3
).

I got to wondering how impactful such a decision is on a film’s performance.
First, let’s take a look at the four films that I’m aware of that have eschewed
pre-screening: The Amityville Horror, The Fog, In the
Mix
, and Æon Flux. How did they perform on Metacritic (measured
out of 100):

The Amityville Horror – 33

The Fog – 27

In the Mix – 31

Æon Flux – 37

So, not well. If you can think of any other such films, leave a comment.

Given that Æon Flux is at least the fourth Hollywood film to
undertake this practice, I thought it’d be worth looking at the reviews and
see how often the lack of pre-screening was mentioned. Of those reviews I could
read (I skipped short, blurbby ones and those behind subscription firewalls),
7 of 14 mention the lack of pre-screening. In almost every case, it’s in the
first paragraph–often in the first sentence.

What conclusions can we draw? Few at this stage. It will be interesting to
see if this practice becomes more common, and whether a film can succeed on
word-of-mouth alone. After the jump, I’ve listed all
of the reviews from Metacritic
, indicating which ones cited the lack of
pre-screening. [more]

ReelViews
– First paragraph – I’ll never understand why studios sometimes choose to withhold
films from critics.

Slate
– First paragraph – You won’t be reading reviews of the dystopian sci-fi flick
Aeon Flux (Paramount) in the papers today because it wasn’t screened for the
press—and, given that it cost the GDP of a small country and that Charlize
Theron and the director, Karyn Kusama (Girlfight), are critics’ darlings, this
could mean but one thing: A stinker.

Seattle
Post-Intelligencer
– First paragraph – This is the question that has been
obsessing the movie world ever since Paramount announced last week that its
Charlize Theron Christmas movie, "Aeon Flux," would not be screened
for critics, which is tantamount to admitting that the film is a giant stinkeroo.

Chicago
Tribune
– No mention

Washington
Post
– No mention

Premiere
– No mention

Austin
Chronicle
– No mention

Variety
– First paragraph – Giving Charlize TheronCharlize Theron untold opportunities
to slink around in artfully shredded spandex, this kitschy Paramount vehicle
was ushered, sans advance press screenings, into wide release, where it will
likely draw meager male-centric bizbiz before getting lost amid the glut of
end-of-the-year prestige releases.

New
York Daily News
– No mention

Hollywood
Reporter
– First paragraph – While Paramount wisely prevented critics from
getting a sneak peek, the targeted young male, MTV-viewing demo will unlikely
be hanging around beyond "Aeon’s" moderate first frame after word
gets out, foreshadowing a treacherous second week plunge.

Boston
Globe
– No mention

San
Francisco Gate
– First paragraph – "Aeon Flux" was the big movie
to open on Friday, but it was hidden from critics.

Film
Threat
– No mention

New York Post – First
paragraph – "Aeon Flux," which unsurprisingly was dumped into theaters
today by Paramount without advance critics’ screenings, is this year’s "Catwoman"
– minus even the latter film’s camp value.

3 Responses to “Do Critics Care About No Pre-Screenings?”

  1. donna

    I can’t say anything for the others, but Amityville Horror was indeed a steaming pile of something my roommates cat regurgitated.

    You thought the original was bad? Well, granted, this was slightly better than the original. But that’s only because the original is, in my books, one of the Top Ten Worst Movies Ever. Seriously, did anything actually HAPPEN? Oh look, bugs. Aaaand they’re running away. What, why? You’re afraid of bugs? Sheesh.

    The second one at least had a few scary moments at the beginning. And the bugs were a bit creepy in this one. And then… nothing. Utter shite. Little girl on roof, whatever. I disliked the whole group of ’em so much by that point, I was hoping she’d jump.

  2. Jason

    “The Avengers” (the 1998 remake of the old British TV show) also skipped the pre-screening.

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