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Do movie critics still matter?

Moviegoers watch the French film "Iznogou" in Richmond, Va.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Is anyone paying attention to movie critics anymore? It's not a new question but it is one that seems particularly relevant lately. Three recent films — Ghost Rider, Wild Hogs and 300 were pretty roundly panned by film critics, but they did very well at the box office. Mike Speier is the managing editor at Daily Variety. Mike I know it's not a critic's job to gauge a movie's popularity, but when they don't like what millions of viewers do like, do they risk becoming irrelevant?

MIKE SPEIER: They really do risk becoming irrelevant. I mean, a lot of people don't listen to critics anyway, but if you have a movie critic who's so out of touch with what a person, what a general person wants to go see at the movies — not in terms of what the movie is about, not in terms of the critical aspects, but if you can't have someone honestly say "Look, this movie is a real bomb, but at the same time it's gonna make a lot of money," or it's a real dog, but it's gonna . . . then you risk becoming not in touch with the average reader. And that's a problem.

THOMAS: For studios with a lot at stake, they've gotta love this. Because a bad review from critics doesn't necessarily mean a box-office crash.

SPEIER: I'll even go one further and say that when you have a very big movie and you get a bad review from critics, I bet there are some people at the studios who say, "I think we got a winner on our hands." If there's a critic who says there's just another popcorn movie, another summer blockbuster, another movie full of effects . . . I think they look at each other and go 'that's exactly what we want.'

THOMAS: Here's another side of the argument. If I'm paying $10, $12 for a movie ticket, I want a good payoff for my investment of time and money. Don't I want to know what critics say about the film?

SPEIER: The critics can help one particular film. The critics definitely are there to support and help the small, quality film. Those are the movies like Good Night, and Good Luck. Those are the movies like Brokeback Mountain that start off small, get the critics' round going, everybody's excited about it. And that's what starts the push and the word-of-mouth towards a small movie making a decent amount of money and people going to see it.

THOMAS: With movies in theaters for a shorter period of time before they make the jump to DVD, how important are film critics for the studio's bottom line?

SPEIER: They still screen movies and premiere movies for a reason. And they still go around the country and show things early for a reason. And with the windows shrinking — and that's the time between the theatrical release and the DVD release — you want to get what you can get. And so critics, of course, if you get a good review, you can at least rest easy knowing that part of the game is over. But, like we said before, getting a bad review isn't gonna hurt something that's Pirates of the Caribbean 2. That movie got slaughtered — it's one of the top five movies in the history of movie-making.

THOMAS: Mike Speier is managing editor at Daily Variety.

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