2011 Winter Movie Scorecard

  • Publish Date: March 7, 2011
  • Comments: ↓ 8 user comments

At least that's over with

Breakdown of 2010 Winter Releases (Min. 7 Reviews)
Good (Metascore ≥ 61) 28 films
Mixed (40-60) 17 films
Bad (≤ 40) 13 films

The arrival of the first weekend in March means that spring has sprung -- at least, according to Hollywood's calendars -- which gives us an opportunity to take a look back at the just-concluded winter movie season and examine the bests and worsts of the year so far. As is typical in winter, there are few "bests" to speak of, especially when we are speaking of wide release films. And, this year, the box office results seemed to reflect that lack of quality on the big screen.

First, however, we start by looking at how the quality of 2011's first films compares to previous years.

Quality measures: A mixed bag

Almost half (48%) of all films with 7 or more reviews released this past winter received positive reviews, which is an improvement over 2010, when just 40% of all winter releases were good.

Comparing Metascores for Winter Movies (Past Three Years)
  Avg. Metascore # Good Score Distribution
Wide Releases
2011 (through Mar. 3) 43.2 bar 1 22,36.5,44.5,51.5,66
2010 (through Mar. 4) 43.5 bar 2 25,33,43,54.5,63
2009 (through Mar. 5) 42.5 bar 1 17,35,43,50,80
Limited Releases
2011 (through Mar. 3) 61.1 bar 27 26,57.25,66.5,69,87
2010 (through Mar. 4) 59.2 bar 18 19,48,64,72,89
2009 (through Mar. 5) 60.1 bar 13 17,44.25,63.5,75.75,87

In the score distribution charts, half of all scores (from the 25th percentile to the 75th percentile) fall within the shaded box, with the vertical line in the middle of the box representing the median. In this and all other charts on the page, only movies with seven or more reviews released between January 1, 2011 and March 3, 2011 were considered. Re-releases and movies with fewer than seven reviews are excluded. A wide release film is one that screens at more than 600 theaters. The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good).

As you can see above, wide releases were very slightly worse than they were in winter 2010, while limited release films improved over last year's output. There were actually more limited releases this winter (40 with at least 7 reviews each, compared to 32 last winter), and many of them had green Metascores indicating positive reviews -- 27 to last year's 18. But it can't possibly be a good sign if Justin Bieber: Never Say Never is the fifth best wide release film of the season, and, indeed, you won't find many good films among this winter's 18 wide releases, as you can see below:

Best Wide Releases - Winter 2011
  Title Genre(s) Metascore Users
1 The Way Back Drama 66 7.3
2 Unknown Drama, Mystery, Thriller 56 6.4
3 The Eagle Drama 56 6.2
4 Gnomeo and Juliet Animation, Family/Kids 53 5.6
5 Justin Bieber: Never Say Never Music, Documentary 52 1.4
6 No Strings Attached Comedy, Romance 50 5.2
7 The Mechanic Action, Drama, Thriller 49 6.4
8 The Dilemma Drama, Comedy 46 3.5
9 Hall Pass Comedy 45 6.2
10 Drive Angry 3D Action, Thriller 44 6.5

Although scores have been rounded to the nearest whole number, movies are ranked prior to rounding. User scores represent an average of scores assigned by Metacritic.com site visitors on a scale from 0 (bad) to 10 (good). All scores are from March 4, 2011.

This year, winter's one and only positively reviewed wide release film was The Way Back, director Peter Weir's historical drama about escapees from a Siberian labor camp in the 1940s. It's the second time in the past three years that only one winter wide release has received positive reviews from critics (last year, there were a whopping two films with good reviews). Here's how The Way Back compares to the top winter releases in recent years:

Best Winter Wide Releases by Year
2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar
66 63 80 64 74
The Way Back Youth in Revolt Coraline Cloverfield Bridge to Terabithia

To find a good movie over the past few months, you would have needed to spend time at your local arthouse cinema. The 10 best limited releases of the winter season are listed below, and few of them -- with the possible exception of the Ed Helms comedy Cedar Rapids -- are instantly recognizable names. Note that at this time last year, there had already been three "great" films with Metascores of 81 or higher; this winter, there were just two: the Korean drama Poetry and France's Of Gods and Men, which centers on a tragedy at a monastery in Algeria.

Best Limited Releases - Winter 2011
  Title Genre(s) Metascore Users
1 Poetry Foreign, Drama 87 n/a
2 Of Gods and Men Foreign, Drama, History 86 n/a
3 Putty Hill Drama 78 n/a
4 The Woodmans Biography, Documentary 75 n/a
5 The Time That Remains Foreign, Drama, History 74 n/a
6 Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune Biography, History, Music, Documentary 73 n/a
7 Lovers of Hate Comedy 72 n/a
8 The Last Lions Documentary 70 n/a
9 Heartbeats Foreign, Drama, Romance 70 n/a
10 Cedar Rapids Comedy 69 7.7

Naturally, there were also bad films aplenty this winter, though this year's lowest-scoring film -- the Martin Lawrence sequel Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son -- is not quite as terrible as last winter's worst film, To Save a Life 19.

The Worst Films of 2011 So Far
  Title Genre(s) Metascore Users
1 Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son Comedy 22 3.4
2 The Roommate Drama, Thriller 23 3.6
3 Immigration Tango Comedy 26 n/a
4 Waiting for Forever Drama, Romance 26 n/a
5 Season of the Witch Adventure, Drama, Fantasy 28 5.3
6 Just Go with It Comedy, Romance 33 6.3
7 The Chaperone Comedy, Family 33 n/a
8 Certifiably Jonathan Comedy 34 n/a
9 I Am Number Four Action, Sci-Fi 36 6.4
10 The Other Woman Drama, Comedy 37 n/a

Money matters: Winter's biggest successes and flops

Well, "successes" might be too generous a word to describe winter's highest-grossing releases this winter. At this time last year, eight winter films had exceeded $55 million in domestic revenues, with three of those surpassing the $90 million mark. This year, those totals are just five and one, respectively. Despite poor reviews, Michel Gondry's The Green Hornet is the year's highest-grossing film to date, though its domestic take is well below its estimated production budget of $120 million (a decent foreign take of over $128 million to date means that the film should be profitable, however). And the 3D animated Gnomeo and Juliet should also turn out to be a modest success; its $83 million to date suggests that the film will finish near the $100 million mark. The quickly-made Justin Bieber concert film Never Say Never will also be a profitable venture, grossing nearly $70 million so far on a relatively tiny budget of $13 million.

But the season seems to be lacking any breakout hits like last winter's Valentine's Day and Shutter Island or 2009's Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Taken. And the last few months have seen a steady parade of underperforming films, including the Farrelly brothers comedy Hall Pass, the sci-fi adventure I Am Number Four, and, most notably, the recent Nicolas Cage vehicle Drive Angry (which had a miserable opening weekend of just over $5 million despite higher 3D ticket prices). Even Unknown, which had a decent start, has faded rapidly, especially when compared to star Liam Neeson's previous winter action film, Taken.

Highest Grossing Films, Winter 2011 (Through March 5)
  Title Release Metascore Users Domestic Gross
1 The Green Hornet Jan 14 39 6.1 $97,035,000
2 Just Go With It Feb 11 33 6.3 $88,200,000
3 Gnomeo and Juliet Feb 11 53 5.6 $83,694,000
4 No Strings Attached Jan 21 50 5.2 $69,654,000
5 Justin Bieber: Never Say Never Feb 11 52 1.4 $68,876,000
6 Unknown Feb 18 56 6.4 $53,129,000
7 The Dilemma Jan 14 46 3.5 $48,475,290
8 I Am Number Four Feb 18 36 6.4 $46,440,000
9 The Roommate Feb 4 23 3.6 $36,860,000
10 Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son Feb 18 22 3.4 $33,270,000

The above table includes movies released in 2011 only. Note that all of the above films are still in theaters. Source of box office grosses: Box Office Mojo.

The result of all of these lackluster films is a huge box office slump. Attendance and domestic grosses are down quite a bit compared to recent years, marking the second consecutive winter of box office declines. While domestic grosses for winter releases dropped by more than 17% compared to films released in winter 2010 (and down nearly 19% when you include holdover films that were released late in the previous year and are still in theaters), ever-increasing ticket prices have cushioned the decline somewhat. The number of tickets sold has actually declined 20% compared to last winter, bringing attendance down to its lowest point since 1995.

Winter Season Box Office Comparison by Year (in Millions)
Year Total Domestic Gross - New Films Total Domestic Gross - All Films
2011 (thru 3/3) $822.6 $1,325.1
2010 (thru 3/4) $996.3 $1,631.3
2009 (thru 3/5) $1,217.2 $1,780.1
2008 (thru 3/6) $1,053.2 $1,582.5

The New Films totals Include movies released during the winter only (i.e., excludes movies released during the previous calendar year that carry over into the following year). The All Films totals do include those carryover movies from the previous year. Source: Box Office Mojo.

Will things get better anytime soon? Only Battle Los Angeles, Red Riding Hood, and Sucker Punch would appear to have any chance at major box office success out of spring's first group of releases, and none of those films should come anywhere closing to approaching last spring's incredible box office success story that was Alice in Wonderland. So expect 2011's numbers to continue to trail behind last year's, at least until summer.

What are your favorites?

Have you seen any good movies yet this year -- or any terrible ones? Let us know in the comments section below.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (8)

  • Khaled M.  

    Shouldn't The Company Men be on that list?
    Its official release date is Jan 21

  • Jason Dietz  

    @Khaled M.: The Company Men is indeed a January release, but it never played in more than 277 theaters, making it a limited release. It is the 11th highest-scoring limited release of the season, so it just missed the chart. (It has the same Metascore as Cedar Rapids, but the latter's score is higher before rounding.)

  • Benny J.  

    Well, at least spring has come off to a good start with Rango. Heard that was pretty good.

  • Chris  

    Will executives blame this slump on film pirates again? Or maybe the recession? Of course it can't be that they just turn out such garbage time and time again and as the years go by, they just seem to churn out worse garbage. Can't be their fault. Everyone's fault but their own for financing crap. Even with 3D causing ticket prices to go up, they still can't seem to convince people that it's worth their money to goto a theater and not just wait for it to be on VoD or Netflix.

  • jayhawk  

    My favorite movie of 2011 has been Cedar Rapods-it is a shame it hasnt gotten the wide release or success it deserves.Also likes no strings atached and gnomeo and juliet

  • MattW  

    I look at the listings, calculate time, effort, and expense to go to the theater, look at the quality of the offerings, and easily choose watch those Mad Men catch up DVDs from Mad Men. Slump? Movie quality is way down, TV quality is way up, consumers are willing to pay for convenience, and with all the great serial dramas on cable, 2 hours seems like a paltry time to spin a story, particularly for $10 or more.

  • Stratus  

    Funny to see that comparatively the total gross/box offices is getting smaller. More downloads, more LCD TVs, less tickets?
    Honestly I wouldn't think it's bad that instead of 20 million the actors would have to make a humble starving artist living with 5 million per film, i.e.
    I guess we all should adapt to internet times.

  • Stratus  

    It's also funny to see that none of the top box office movies had an averege above 5.6. Good movies are for smaller crowds. It would make sense that they should cost lower, then. But then again, it's not necessary a lot of money to make a good film.

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