Do movie reviews matter anymore?

Poster-sized Variety review of 'The Incredibles' on display at the Variety Screening Series in 2004.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: So the Hollywood summer blockbuster season is upon us. Mike Speier is managing editor for Variety. I asked him why The Da Vinci Code and X-Men did so much better at the Box office than expected.

MIKE SPEIER: In the case of The Da Vinci Code, that was a movie that was kind of baked to be a hit to begin with. That book was, around the world, a huge best seller and based on that pre-sold property, the movie came out and did extremely well, that wasn't a surprise. The fact that it's done so well internationally, I think has taken people by storm. I think people realize now the power of a major, major blockbuster, based on a major, major book when it gets released around the world at the same time.

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Speaking of storm, why did the X-Men do so much better than expected? Again it was expected to do well, but not that well.

MIKE SPEIER: Right and that's the surprise. The movie had always done well, it was the third in the series, so yes it was supposed to do very well, but that it broke records, that it broke into the top two or three in every kind category you can imagine was a very, very big surprise. And that probably has a lot to do with the changing marketplace, the fact that the property went up against nothing else this week. In other words it didn't have any major competition for another opener.And it was just its time, that's all.

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: So are people not paying as much attention to film critics anymore? They were unkind to Da Vinci, they were unkind to X-Men; we're also hearing about more films that are being deliberately released without being screened by critics first.

MIKE SPEIER: You know the business of film criticism is one that will never, never be answered. It's kind of like The Da Vinci Code itself. You never know. It can help a movie when it's a small independent film like Good Night, and Good Luck. Those kinds of movies, they need the critics to build on, to work with and then they can use those in the marketing campaign and all of a sudden you mushroom into something. Brokeback Mountain was a great example. But do people listen to film critics when it comes to Harry Potter, when it comes to Lord of the Rings, even though those reviews were generally good, but X-Men and The Da Vinci Code wasn't so all you can say is when it comes to big, big motion pictures usually people know what they want to see going in. Maybe critics can help or hurt a movie in the second week when it gets rid of the audience that wanted to see it no matter what and then comes the audience that is on the fence. And that's where critics, if people read them, can matter.

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Pixar seems to have the magic touch. Do you think Cars is going to continue the streak of The Incredibles and Finding Nemo — and if it does well but not great is that going to be seen as a setback for Pixar-Disney?

MIKE SPEIER: Pixar right now is about as hot as you can get. They were just ranked on a recent power list as being the most powerful entity in Hollywood. I think Cars will continue the huge winning streak. Now, Hollywood is a very fickle place with fickle audiences and there will always be people ready to knock people down. And if Cars comes out and does $180 million, but if it doesn't hit phenomenal numbers like Shrek, people get crazy. People start saying, what's happening? It's not quite fair, it happens, everyone weathers the storm.

Entertainment industry commentator Mike Speier is managing editor for Daily Variety.

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