‘The Wolf of Wall Street:’ Is it too polarizing for the mainstream?


Is it morality or aesthetics that drove down the CinemaScore of “The Wolf of Wall Street”?

Or, put more simply, why exactly did people seem to dislike “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Martin Scorsese’s jamboree of sex, drugs and money that opened on, gulp, Christmas Day.

Though the freewheeling film, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the finance-world nihilist Jordan Belfort, took in a solid $9.1 million on its first day in theaters, the movie didn’t exactly delight some of those who shelled out that money. The Paramount release notched a bleak “C” on the exit-poll service CinemaScore, falling far short of the B+ garnered by the other openers “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “47 Ronin” and “Grudge Match” -- and shy, in fact, of most ballyhooed debuts, which tend to notch a B or better.

On Twitter the debate has already raged: Was the grade being skewed by moral conservatives who don’t like what the film traffics in? Or was the thumbs-down coming from perfectly open-minded types who were simply judging the sprawling, episodic movie on the merits?


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As the commentator Devin Faraci tweeted in response to the CinemaScore, “Absolute proof the moviegoing audience is broken.” Some, inevitably, also questioned CinemaScore’s methodology and whether it polls a big and representative enough sample group.

Sometimes a low CinemaScore is evidence of a gap between marketing and film. Basically, it’s what happens when a studio essentially does its job too well, attracting people who aren’t the ideal audience, at least in the opening few days when they typically want the hard-core types who can then spread the gospel to everyone else.

A couple seasons ago, “Drive” was a frequently adored movie that garnered similar CinemaScore dismalness, in part because of some marketing that positioned it a bit more as a “Fast & Furious” mainstream entertainment instead of the artsploitation vehicle that it was, attracting exactly the people it’s not made for. (Remember this character?)

Either way, “Wolf” is all about the American dream, or at least American greed, and the particular, related syndromes that afflict us. In that sense, the movie’s rollout is right on point. Americans are coming out and spending money. And then a few hours later, they’re complaining about what they’ve bought.



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