How big movie franchises are bypassing the critics

Last year, we mentioned the idea of a post-plot movie, where property-driven movies transcend the need for strong narrative drive. Bryan Bishop at The Verge has noticed an odder, more troubling trend: the post-critic movie.

Films have historically depended on advance screenings for critics to generate positive buzz. This is especially true for smaller or less-promoted films, which can capitalize on high marks on Rotten Tomatoes to generate pre-release attention. Now, rumors indicate that the upcoming Star Wars film will not screen for critics… because it doesn’t need to. Bishop points out that major franchises like Star Wars or Marvel have seized on fans and online communities to generate hype, and for movies with stratospheric expectations like The Force Awakens, studios have no reason to put more information out early.

There’s a separate but adjacent phenomenon where studios won’t screen bad films to hide their quality (see this summer’s Fantastic Four), but this is different. The worry isn’t bad publicity: it’s losing control of the publicity. If you already have loyal fans at Comic-Con and pop culture sites sharing every trailer, why let critics change the direction of the conversation?

Bishop makes a convincing argument of why this is happening and what it portends for the future of the film. The short version is that people who will see The Avengers in theaters on opening weekend don’t care about the quality, so expect more direct marketing to those fans instead of indirectly through reviews. The doomsday scenario Bishop predicts in which non-fan cultural media vanishes is a long shot, but we’re definitely steeping in that direction.

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