The Power Of Positivity: Screen Gems' Gamble On Good Reviews

It seems only yesterday that I was reading this article about the death of film criticism. To be fair, it could have been yesterday. An article like that one - which mourns the death of 'proper' film criticism and describes print critics who throw their lot in with the online lot as 'sleeping with the enemy' - seems to pop up once every few months. A similar article which, admittedly, takes a different stance, can be found without too intensive a search through the annals of Google. Its publication date? 2001.

Perhaps the most pertinent article though came with this version of 'Is Film Criticism Dead?' in January 2011. Although taking a similar stance to the plethora of other writers who have attempted to cover a topic well and truly saturated, the Guardian piece does reach a logical conclusion; criticism isn't dead, its just disseminated. Freely available through modern media. Even more freely available through the power of speech and personal recommendation.

Positivity. Sponsoring movies since 1901.

The point though (and there is one, I promise) is that where positivity is concerned, why does it matter how its delivered? Positivity - towards a film, a brand, a type of toilet paper, a leafy country park - will guarantee you an audience. And that guarantee is, in true The Simpsons' terminology, guaranteed to work at least eighty-five percent of the time.

The reason this is pertinent now is down in no small part to the decision last week of Screen Gems to take the risk of distributing Attack The Block for US audiences. And make no mistake: it is a risk.

Even at the time of its first UK critics screening, just one day after director Joe Cornish had finished cutting the film, voices were raised in concern over the 'localised' nature of its dialogue and its setting. After its showing at SXSW, the possibility of using subtitles was raised by potential buyers. Some even publicly suggested that the film should be completely remade for an American audience.

Screen Gems are ignoring all of that. Screen Gems are gambling on the power of positivity.

Attack The Block: Screen Gems gamble on positivity?

This is because the other thing that has surrounded Attack The Block since its SXSW showing has been positive reviews, reaction, tweets, voices and interviews. In the online media it has been described as 'an instant genre classic', an 'intense, entertaining, alien invasion pic' and a 'high-octane sci-fi film with as many laughs as there are kinetic action sequences'.

What Screen Gems are doing are betting that, with this level of positivity and a relatively meagre budget of $16million, Attack The Block can't fail.

Of course, they're hoping for another The King's Speech or Slumdog Millionaire; a film that makes many more times the cost of its production and distribution. It is unlikely they'll get it. Genre pictures don't make those sorts of numbers. But nor, when they cost $16million, do they need to and Screen Gems should turn a small profit. All because of positivity.

How much of Sucker Punch's perceived box office failure can be attributed to negative reviews?

As a case in point, take Sucker Punch. Although it was hailed as being original in terms of its look and script, its very existence was based on the fact that the director, Zack Snyder, had hit box office pay dirt with two of his last three films (Watchmen and 300 both took over $50million on their opening weekends). Sucker Punch took just $19million. Why? Arguably because of reviews like this one.

The crucial point is that, as the Guardian article points out, it ultimately doesn't matter where the critical reaction is coming from when there are so many voices in the marketplace. In the end, most voices will fall down on one side or another, generating a positive or negative vibe towards a property. And positivity is positivity, no matter how you dress it up, sell it or monetize it. Positivity puts bums on seats. Positivity is why Sucker Punch failed and why, Screen Gems hope, Attack The Block will succeed. And, in a time where studios are doing everything they can to get people to watch their films and where the UK box office is £15million below where it was at the same point last year, isn't it nice to see someone putting their faith in the fact that positivity (and therefore, quality) equals prizes.


  1. You are right and Kevin Costner's Waterworld is a classic example of this. It wasn't a bad action/fantasy flick it failed commercially because of the adverse critisim it recieved.

  2. I think it's a really interesting debate. Sometimes, critical reaction seems to have no bearing on how much money a film takes (I'm think specifically about the PIRATES sequels) but other times (like Snyder, possibly like ATTACK THE BLOCK) it seems really tied to it.

  3. office take in itself is no measure of whether a movie is any good or not.