Metacritic's studio report card: Big studios barely pass the test
Normally I take time out in January to offer up my Studio Report Card, which grades the major studios on the performance of their films, both in terms of commerce and quality. But I took a break this year, since it seemed as if everywhere I looked, there was an obvious knockoff of the idea floating around on the Web. In fact, Metacritic, one of the most popular aggregators of reviews of new films, TV shows and music, has just released its own Studio Report Card, including its own grades for a host of film distributors' 2009 performance in terms of commerce and quality.
It's no surprise to see that the top box-office performance winner was Warner Bros., which racked up $2.10 billion in domestic grosses and $1.85 billion in foreign grosses. But what intrigued me the most was Metacritic's report card on film quality, which graded a host of film distributors based on the aggregated review scores their films received. As you might expect in our era of mass-hypnosis marketing, there was little correlation between box-office success and film quality. In fact, shockingly, none of the six major film studios earned better than a C in quality.
The only distributors to receive an A grade were tiny Zeitgeist Films and Sony Pictures Classics, whose releases (Zeitgeist with nine, Sony with 20) averaged more than a 70 on Metacritic's 1-100 grading index. Focus Features and IFC Films, two of the few surviving specialty film companies, each earned a solid B. The industry's leading specialty division, Fox Searchlight, scored an embarrassing C-minus, an indicator of what an off year the company had.
But the major studios had nothing to brag about. Of the Big Six, Disney and Paramount earned a C, Warners got a C-minus, Universal and Sony had D-pluses, and 20th Century Fox brought up the rear with a lowly D. (The industry's top indie distributor, Lionsgate, was also near the bottom, getting a D-plus for its releases.) I wish I could say that I was shocked. But as any critic will tell you, with the exception of the tiny awards-season window at the end of the year, if you're looking for quality films, you shouldn't be looking for movies with a big-studio logo on the front of the picture.