How Important Is Story—Do Movie Ratings Shed Some Light?

by | Writing | 3 comments

“There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”  — Ursula K. LeGuin

file000616480266.jpgHave you wondered why in the past few years many movies have received critics’ Rotten Tomatoes ratings of less than 30%?

I’ve noticed I easily “fall asleep” during some movies, yet easily stay engaged in some films that aren’t as well done. I’ve been asking the question: Why is that?

I’ve realized my “sleep meter” is driven by the amount of story present in a film. I need story.

Here are qualities that raise the dial on my sleep meter. Keep in mind: I don’t intend to drift off. And I like movies in some of these genres that have story.

file0001340280878.jpgZoe’s ZZZzzzzz Ratings

  • Putting tights and capes on men, coloring their skin green, and having them fight evil in a few situations, isn’t enough story. ZZZzzzzz.
  • Relying on spectacular special effects is interesting for a while. Often the show starts out with an interesting premise and effects and then sags to a series of special effects. Not enough story. ZZZzzzzz
  • Filling a couple of hours with vehicle chases; mile-high exploding structures; sword, Uzi, and karate battles; empty curses; and gallons of blood seldom sport this introduction: Based on a true story. Story being the key word. ZZZzzzzz
  • Experiencing one rowdy party after another, bodily noises, and nights of ogling and scoring leaves the heart’s dial on zero. Lacks relationship story. ZZZzzzzz

I know why I drift off, but critics seem to think little of the current movies as well.  Look at the ratings below from this week’s movies in theaters. Not too unlike last month’s ratings. Note the two above 90% under Critics. One was based on a true story and the other was a family movie.



16% 67%
17% 69%
21% 83%
25% 48%
31% 54%
34% 52%
49% 63%
56% 73%
57% 62%
74% 62%
75% 90%
76% 78%
89% 89%
92% 90%
96% 91%

This week the critics considered 60% of the movies splats. The average percent of critics liking the movies in that 60% was 34%.

file3441270327326.jpgIn general, audience ratings moved with the critics. When critics’ percentages are low, audiences’ are also relatively low, and vice versa. The audiences’ percentages of liking movies will be higher than critics’ because people attend movies of the types they like. For example people who like chases, bombs, battles, and blood will go to that type of movie and usually like it better than general audiences.

I usually suspect a movie is good if at least 80% of the audience likes it. In the table, that happened only four times, and that’s from audiences tending to be heavy on viewers who like the types of these movies.

I’d like to know if in general critics’ low ratings are caused mainly by substandard:

  • acting, directing, filming, or special effects;
  • humor, romance, or suspense; or
  • stories that fail to touch people’s emotions?

Could it be:


  • Too many of today’s moviemakers direct their creativity to everything except good stories?
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Why do you think movie critics are giving so many low ratings?

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  1. Laurean Brooks

    I’m with you on the reasons. Today’s humor isn’t even funny. It’s usually a put-down on someone–a sarcastic remark, or one with sexual overtones. If you want really good laughs you have to watch reruns of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Sandford and Son”, “Green Acres” or “Andy Griffith.”

    As far as touching the heart with emotion…that is the first thing I want in a movie. If it doesn’t evoke some kind of emotion, be it laughter or tears, I feel like I’ve wasted my time and money. Michael Landon had the knack for this. I want to pattern my writing on his heartfelt touch.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Laurean, I think you do well to pattern your writing to touch hearts. We Netflix a few more current shows, but often I stop after one or two seasons, because it seems the story is over, but the show tries to stay alive with repetition or ramping up things other than story.

  2. Jane Foard Thompson

    Yes to the above, plus there is so little creativity. And then, there is the whole “Hollywood thing” with not much in the way of moral standards and an agenda I don’t agree with. Thus, to join my husband in an activity he enjoys, I watch a few select TV shows that we record, so we can skip the deluge of commercials, and very rarely watch movies. (I record the Hallmark Channel special movies. At times they’re sappy, but are usually well-done — and I love their commercials!)

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