We received a number of emails this weekend and comments in the box office section about the audience reaction to Disney/Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The sequel earned its third straight A from CinemaScore after The Force Awakens two years ago and last December’s Rogue One. And on ComScore/Screen Engine, Last Jedi earned an 89% overall positive score and a five-star rating from moviegoers. That’s in the wheelhouse of what Force Awakens earned (90% overall positive/ 4 1/2 stars) and Rogue One (91% positive, 4 1/2 stars). These are scientific, statistically accumulated audience exit polls that studios can take to the bank, and which they rely upon to deconstruct various elements of a film’s opening.
However, readers have asked: How can it be that Last Jedi‘s audience results are this high?
They point to the Metacritic user score of 5 for the film, IMDB’s 7.9 out of 10 rating, and the Rotten Tomatoes’ Audience Score of 56% from 96K reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, Last Jedi‘s user score is also an anomaly. Typically, user scores aren’t that far from their critical ratings. Simply put these are all unscientific means of measuring audience reactions. Anyone can log into these sites several times (anecdotally we played around with this last night) and weigh down the audience grades against a movie. The consensus from non-Disney sources this morning is that “trolling” occurred here in regards to the online reaction to Last Jedi. In addition, there’s no way to filter on these sites whether or not the users have actually seen Last Jedi or not. CinemaScore and PostTrak literally poll moviegoers in real time, as they’re exiting the theater.
In fact, one Facebook user with the page “Down With Disney’s Treatment of Franchises and Fanboys” is laying claim to creating bot accounts that are hacking into the Rotten Tomatoes user score for Last Jedi.
The biggest reality and telling truth of a film’s popularity is that moviegoers vote with their wallets, and business was continually up day after day for The Last Jedi: Thursday’s $45M previews, Friday’s $59.8M ($104.8M including Thursday previews) and then Saturday’s $64M. There’s a huge want-to-see for this movie, and any kind of sour dialogue on IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic stems from cynics or ardent fans battling new fans.
My colleague Anita Busch detailed thoroughly how CinemaScore works. They literally have a Coca-Cola-like statistical formula that they’ve perfected for close to 40 years which accurately projects final domestic box office results off audience reactions. A+ grades generate on average a 4.8 multiple for a movie off its opening and A grades 3.6x. CinemaScore only polls audiences on Friday night from 35 to 45 pollster teams in 25 cities including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Denver, Dallas, Portland, St. Louis, Atlanta, Tampa, Philadelphia, and Memphis. Pollsters randomly choose six theaters in six cities (one theater in each city) to get to an ultimate goal of 400 to 600 ballots. The margin of error is only 6% on 300 ballots.
Screen Engine/ComScore’s PostTrak conducts surveys in the top 20 markets as moviegoers exit the theater, via polling cards and electronic kiosks. A PostTrak report monitors a variety of topics. In addition to a moviegoer’s demographic make-up and their opinion about the movie, PostTrak measures consumers’ attitudes toward a movie’s marketing campaign, when they bought their tickets, and whether they’ll purchase or rent the movie in the home ancillary market.
Speaking about the online user reviews this morning, Disney president of theatrical distribution Dave Hollis said, “Rian Johnson, the cast, and the Lucasfilm team have delivered an experience that is totally Star Wars yet at the same time fresh, unexpected and new. That makes this a Star Wars film like audiences have never seen – it’s got people talking, puzzling over its mysteries, and it’s a lot to take in, and we see that as all positive, that should help set the film up for great word-of-mouth and repeat viewing as we enter the lucrative holiday period.”