Scathing critical reviews have had little bearing on film performance these days as movies with poor Rotten Tomatoes scores have found major success at the box office.
In the latest example, Sony Pictures' "Venom" managed to beat critical darling "A Star Is Born" for the top box office spot, debuting in first place in North America with $80 million and topping the previous October opening weekend record by more than $20 million, according to figures from measurement firm ComScore. The previous record holder, the sci-fi thriller "Gravity," opened with $55.7 million in 2013.
"The disconnect that seemingly had gone away between critics and audiences is now back in full view," said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior analyst at ComScore. "It just seems that people are looking for a fun, escapist time at the movie theater and they're not really paying attention [to critics]."
A Marvel film, “Venom,” which cost an estimated $100 million to produce, opened above analysts' predictions of $55 million to $70 million. In the origin story, following an encounter with a parasitic alien symbiote, journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) becomes the titular villain, a menacing beast and frequent nemesis of Spider-Man.
"Venom was such a popular character as a comic that over time, [though] he started out as a pure villain, he evolved into this kind of antihero," said Steven O'Dell, president of international releasing distribution at the studio.
"What we're so happy about is the way audiences reacted to the film after we opened. It spoke volumes about what the film's overall potential is. We're just really happy that audiences are so pleased with the film."
Despite a positive B-plus audience rating on CinemaScore, the film earned negative reviews from critics, with a 32% "rotten" score on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, reflecting the recent trend of films like "The Nun," "The Predator" and "Night School," which all had rotten scores but proved successful at the box office.
"The common thread between all those movies is that you're either having a brand, genre or star that audiences love and that transcends any bad reviews and made those films box office hits," said Dergarabedian. "Anytime you have that Marvel brand attached, they're literally review-proof. How can you, as a superhero fan, not go see the movie? Reviews be damned when it comes to Marvel."
In second place, Warner Bros.' "A Star Is Born," already being floated as a best picture front-runner, debuted with $41.2 million (special event sneaks screenings pushed it to $42.6 million), above analysts' predictions of $30 million to $35 million.
"It's a movie that you almost have to see, because it's going to be one of the leading films in the Oscar race," said Dergarabedian.
The $40-million film is the fourth iteration of the classic Hollywood story, which previously starred Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in 1976. The new "Star Is Born" features Bradley Cooper (who also directs and co-wrote the screenplay) as a fading rock star who discovers and falls in love with a talented young singer-songwriter (Lady Gaga). It earned positive reviews from audiences and critics, with an A rating on CinemaScore and a 91% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
"It just touches your heart in an indelible way," said Jeff Goldstein, the studio’s distribution chief. "It's emotional, it's relatable, it's raw and it's real."
In third place, the studio's "Smallfoot," now in its second weekend, added $14.9 million in domestic receipts for a cumulative $43 million.
Universal's "Night School," also in its second weekend, came in fourth, adding $12.3 million (a 55% drop) for a cumulative $46.7 million.
Rounding out the top five, the studio's "The House With a Clock in Its Walls," now in its third weekend, earned $7.3 million for a cumulative $55 million.
Also new this week, Fathom's "Met Opera: Aida" came in at No. 10 with $1.2 million.
In limited release, Fox's "The Hate U Give" opened in 36 theaters with $500,000, a solid per-theater average of $13,889. Amandla Stenberg stars in the PG-13 drama about the aftermath of an officer-involved shooting. The film earned a 96% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
"This being a record October weekend with a Marvel movie and an Oscar contender at the top, those two movies kind of sucked all the oxygen out of the room," said Dergarabedian. "By the time 'A Star Is Born' and 'Venom' have burned off some of the box office in the next couple weeks when 'The Hate U Give' goes into nationwide release, it should do quite well."
This coming week, Fox opens the thriller "Bad Times at the El Royale," Universal debuts the drama "First Man" and Sony Pictures premieres the comedy "Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween." In limited release, Amazon Studio opens the drama "Beautiful Boy," and Roadside Attractions reveals the comedy "The Oath."