Ever noticed that critics tend to be out of step with everyone else? The NYT did.
At Rottentomatoes.com, a Web site that quantifies movie reviews on a 100-point scale, the aggregate score for “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” stands at a sodden 54. Metacritic.com, a similar site, crunches the critical prose of the nation’s reviewers and comes up with a numerical grade of 52 out of 100. Even in an era of rampant grade inflation, that’s a solid F.
Meanwhile, over at boxofficemojo.com, where the daily grosses are tabulated, the second installment in the “Pirates” series, which opened on July 7, plunders onward, trailing broken records in its wake. Its $136 million first-weekend take was the highest three-day tally in history, building on a best-ever $55 million on that Friday, and it is cruising into blockbuster territory at a furious clip. As of this writing, a mere 10 days into its run, the movie has brought in $258.2 million, a hit by any measure.
Why does this happen? It's pretty obvious. Critics are people who tend to be really passionate about movies. They also tend to have seen many, many movies and will rapidly grow tired of run-of-the-mill plots, shoddy acting, and explosions. Instead, they applaud new, strange, and inventive filmmaking with interesting plots and richly-developed characters. I'd also speculate that many film critics are more highly educated than the average American, and therefore appreciate a higher level of humor than that present in, say, White Chicks.
Typical Americans, on the other hand, see only a few movies a year and probably choose to watch them for a "good time" or for an escape from real life. Joe Six-Pack wants to see cute "chic-flicks" (only with the wife, of course), explosive "save the world" movies, and "humorous" buddycomedies.
The same thing goes for music, fine art, and writing. Tell me how many professional critics love this song, this painting, or this book. They won't win any awards, but they sure sell well.
I agree with your argument that the average American watching a movie and the average critic watching a movie are looking for different things, and therefore may have very different reviews of the same movie...however I disagree with the Times' example. They are comparing critic's reviews AFTER they saw the movie with tickets sales, and I don't know if you've noticed, but you typically pay for a movie BEFORE you see it (side note: we should figure out a way to change that and then I think the major studios would stop releasing so much crap). They are comparing apples and bananas...now if they compared critic reviews to reviews of movie patrons AFTER they saw it or percent of repeat viewers or something, then we'd have a comparison.
I think movies that do well at the box office appeal to the lowest common denominator in society, but they also have a ton of money put into the promotion machine. How much did Disney spend to promote Pirates 2? How much was spent on the critically acclaimed Thank You for Smoking? Getting word out and generating buzz is extremely important for a film's bottom line and studios pay a lot to do that. And without Pauly Shore, we never would have experienced Encino Man, buddy.
Sure, you pay for tickets before you've seen the movie, but you do so AFTER seeing the trailers/previews. And in all honesty, the trailers do show "all the good stuff" (e.g. explosions, fart jokes, and the occasional "oh no you didn't").