As summer blockbusters soar and Ebert and Roeper move on to new opportunities, some people may be wondering just how much of an effect a film critic has on box office sales. It turns out to be considerable, according to a recent study by Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business.
Other studies have concentrated on the impact of critics as a group. Carnegie Mellon Professor of Marketing Peter Boatwright's study focused on how unique contributions of individual critics impacted box office sales.
Boatwright looked at 466 films that came out between December 1997 and March 2001, using weekly revenue and number of screens as data points. He correlated that info with the reviews of 46 individual film critics.
He also set controls for several other factors that have impact on box office performance — like a film's overall budget or advertising expenditures, the presence of a superstar, rating and total number of screens.
"Most other studies have analyzed the impact of critics at the aggregate level, which can be misleading because it is confounded by the underlying appeal of a film," he said. "This new methodology truly isolates the critics from other factors that account for market performance."
The results show that critical acclaim of a film can considerably accelerate early viewership of lesser-known, limited release films. As for wider-release, blockbuster films, kudos from critics mainly serve to slow the natural decline in box office sales.
None of the critics in the study individually increased total box office sales; rather, they influenced the timing of those sales. Critics from the time period analyzed identified as having the most influence on the timing of movie viewership included Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly; Manohla Dargis, then of The Los Angeles Times; Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune; and Lawrence Van Gelder of The New York Times.
Boatwright notes that the implications of his research are not limited to the film industry but have application to any "experience" goods market — such as music, restaurants, wines, video games or books. These are places where consumers seek the opinion of experts and companies use critical acclaim as a promotion tool.
"This study makes it clear that critics covering a wide range of products can serve as market gatekeepers and have different types of impact on product performance, and these markets likely wouldn't be the same without them," he said.
The study, titled "Reviewing the Reviewers: The Impact of Individual Film Critics on Box Office Performance," was co-authored by Suman Basuroy of Florida Atlantic University and Wagner Kamakura of Duke University. It appeared in the December 2007 edition of Quantitative Marketing and Economics.