I can’t remember when I first noticed CinemaScore ratings, but once I started researching the organization, I quickly realized what a joke it is. I can’t believe that anyone takes these surveys seriously.
For those of you who might not know what I’m talking about, CinemaScore is a company based in Las Vegas that polls audiences from movie theater screenings. Reps ask exiting viewers for personal ratings of the films they’ve just seen, reasons why they went to see those movies in the first place, and demographic information. Since 1991, the results have been published in Entertainment Weekly, but nowhere else. Despite being founded in 1982, the company doesn’t have a web site. Its history is vague and you can only read about the organization on Wikipedia.
First off, what kind of credible company doesn’t have a web site? I have a hard time believing a company’s scoring when there’s no way to find out anything about how it’s calculated. Although CinemaScore apparently had a web site up and running in 1999, it’s nowhere to be found now. If you want to see what rating was given to an old title and don’t have a running archive of Entertainment Weekly magazines, you’re out of luck.
Secondly, polls are taken from 400-500 moviegoers in three of CinemaScore’s base-of-operation cities. I’m no statistician, but when taking Math 1030 at college, I remember learning about statistical bias, which can definitely be found here. Aaron Peck and I run a little Salt Lake City-based web site (The Reel Place) where we give out free passes for advance screenings in the area. We also attend the screenings that we offer passes to, which are the same types of regional screenings where CinemaScore polling is conducted. I can tell you that people only attend these screenings if they’re already interested in seeing a particular film. Would you really believe that an audience that attended ‘Grindhouse‘ would later go out of the way to attend a screening for ‘The Vow‘? No, of course not.
Finally, who actually answers these surveys? People who find Adam Sandler movies entertaining aren’t going to give high ratings to Oscar-winning films like ‘The Artist’ or ‘No Country for Old Men‘. By the same token, art house snobs are unlikely to give fluffy studio flicks good ratings. Why should I trust either group?
CinemaScore surveys are not truly movie reviews. Its ratings are rendered invalid by bias and ignorance, and you can’t find them published anywhere but Entertainment Weekly. Personally, I’ll stick with Rotten Tomatoes, which is a ratings system based on reviews from proven critics, people educated in the ways of film. If I want to know if my car is running well, I wouldn’t poll a bunch of people who just drive cars; I’d ask people who actually know something about cars. There’s a big difference between the two.