2012 Winter Movie Report: Highlights and Lowlights

  • Publish Date: March 6, 2012
  • Comments: ↓ 3 user comments

How does 2012 compare to past years?

Film quality

There is good and bad news on the quality front, though on a whole it appears to have been a fairly decent winter compared to what we're used to seeing this time of year. On the positive side, 2012's winter season of January and February has produced more good films (defined as scoring at least 61 out of 100 based on reviews from professional critics) than any of the previous four winters. And it isn't only the arthouse films that are earning solid reviews; six wide releases (i.e., movies screening in at least 600 theaters) have scored 61 or higher this year, more than in the past three winters combined.


The average Metascore per winter release in 2012, however, is 55.0, down a bit from 2011's 56.0 (though better than the averages for both 2010 and 2009 winter seasons). If you look only at wide releases, the 2012 average drops to 47.1 , but that's actually a marked improvement over last winter's 43.2; in other words, mainstream movies got better this year, but they still aren't very good as a group.

In all, 47% of this winter's new movies earned positive reviews from critics, down from 49% the previous winter. If we consider only wide releases, the distribution of positively reviewed, mixed (scoring 40-60), and negatively reviewed (scoring 39 or below) films looks like this:


As you can see above, the percentage of mainstream movies this winter that were flat-out terrible is much smaller than in previous years. We consider that a step in the right direction. Also encouraging is that this year's best-reviewed wide release matched 2009's Coraline for the highest winter Metascore in the last five years among mainstream films:

Best Winter Wide Releases by Year
2012 2011 2010 2009 2008
Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar
80 66 63 80 64
The Secret World of Arrietty The Way Back Youth in Revolt Coraline Cloverfield

Box office performance

While early 2012 demonstrated considerable improvement (nearly 18%) over the disastrous 2011 winter season, this year's winter grosses didn't quite return to 2008 numbers, even after establishing an all-time record for the month of February:


Because the winter season runs until the first Friday in March rather than to a specific date, some Hollywood winters—such as 2008 and 2009—are longer than others. Still, if you average those box office receipts by day, 2012's average of $26.9 million per day is still below those of 2009 ($28.7) and 2010 ($27.7).

The figures above include all movies screening during the winter months, including films that originally opened the year before during the holiday season and remained in theaters into the new year. If we look only at those new films actually released during the first two months of 2012, then the situation improves considerably. Total domestic grosses for winter 2012 releases come out to be $1,110.6 million, higher than last year's figure by over 20 percent and more than any previous winter save for 2009 (which holds the record at $1,220.5 million). One major reason for that increase, however, was a jump in the number of winter films this year. In fact, more films opened in 2012's winter months than in any previous winter other than 2008; as a result, the per-film average in 2012 is only ordinary (though up slightly compared to 2011).

This year's highest-grossing winter film, The Vow, did manage to out-perform last winter's top grosser. Here are the highest-grossing winter releases for the past five years:

Highest-Grossing Winter Releases by Year
2012 2011 2010 2009 2008
Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar
43 33 63 39 35
The Vow
Just Go With It
Shutter Island
Paul Blart: Mall Cop

* Still in theaters

The best and worst of 2012 so far

Winter's best films

We already mentioned that an unusually high total of six wide releases this winter earned positive reviews from critics, but only one of those films—the Studio Ghibli animated import The Secret World of Arrietty—cracked our overall top 10 list. Other positively reviewed mainstream films not listed below include Chronicle 69, Haywire 67, The Grey 64, The Woman in Black 62, and Big Miracle 61. However, note that only one winter release achieved a score of 81 or higher this year (that's the cutoff we use to separate good from great), which is by far the lowest total in the last five years. Also note the lack of English-language (and American-made) films in the list below, save for a few documentaries. (Arrietty, of course, is Japanese as well, though the Disney-released version has new English-language dialogue).

Best-Reviewed Movies Released in Winter 2012 (Min. 7 Reviews)
  Title Genre(s) Metascore Users
1 This Is Not a Film Foreign/Documentary 89 n/a
2 The Secret World of Arrietty Animation/Family 80 8.4
3 The Turin Horse Foreign/Drama 80 n/a
4 Once Upon a Time in Anatolia Foreign/Drama 78 6.9
5 The Hunter Foreign/Thriller 75 7.8
6 Chico & Rita Foreign/Animation/Family 74 6.5
7 In Darkness Foreign/Drama 73 n/a
8 Sing Your Song Documentary 73 n/a
9 Declaration of War Foreign/Drama 73 n/a
10 Undefeated Documentary 72 8.8

Movies are ranked by Metascore prior to rounding. In this and all other charts on the page, only movies first released between January 3, 2012 and March 1, 2012 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). All scores in this report are from March 5, 2012.

Winter's worst films

It might be a bit too early to start looking for worst-movie-of-the-year candidates—after all, we have yet to see Eddie Murphy and Adam Sandler's latest films—but the last two months did produce some stinkers. Supernatural horror film The Devil Inside and the latest film from triple-threat actor/writer/director Eric Schaeffer (After Fall, Winter, the literally titled sequel to 1997's little-seen Fall) both managed to beat out Katherine Heigl's latest critical failure (One for the Money), while Nicolas Cage starred in only the eighth-worst movie of the season (Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance).

Worst-Reviewed Movies Released in Winter 2012 (Min. 7 Reviews)
  Title Genre(s) Metascore Users
1 The Devil Inside Horror 18 2.0
2 After Fall, Winter Drama 19 n/a
3 One for the Money Comedy/Crime 22 5.3
4 Beneath the Darkness Horror 22 n/a
5 The Divide Sci-Fi/Thriller 28 n/a
6 Don't Go in the Woods Horror/Musical 29 n/a
7 This Means War Action/Comedy/Romance 31 6.5
8 Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Action/Fantasy 32 3.8
9 Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston Documentary 34 n/a
10 Loosies Comedy/Crime 35 n/a

The hits

Interestingly, winter's three highest-grossing films (led by Channing Tatum-Rachel McAdams romance The Vow and the Denzel Washington-starring Safe House) were all released during the same mid-February weekend. Of course, the biggest hit of the year so far looks likely to be The Lorax, though that film is not listed below, since it was released during the first weekend of the spring season.

Highest Grossing Films Released in Winter 2012 (Through March 4)
  Title Release Metascore Users Domestic Gross
1 The Vow Feb 10 43 5.8 $111,623,496
2 Safe House Feb 10 52 6.5 $108,355,425
3 Journey 2: The Mysterious Island Feb 10 41 5.6 $85,233,873
4 Contraband Jan 13 52 6.0 $66,362,065
5 Underworld: Awakening Jan 20 39 7.0 $62,321,039

The above table includes grosses through March 4, 2012 for films released between January 1, 2012 and March 1, 2012. Note that all of the above films are still in theaters. Source of box office grosses: Box Office Mojo.

The flops

What's missing from the list of highest-grossing winter films above? For one thing, comedies; there isn't a single one in the top 10. One problem is that there were few comedies even released this winter; the Jennifer Aniston-Paul Rudd flop Wanderlust 53 was the only true mainstream comedy, and there were just a few additional action-comedy/caper films on the release schedule. That seems an odd collective scheduling decision considering that the highest-grossing winter films in two of the past three years were comedies.

The season's other underperformers include Steven Soderbergh's Haywire 67 (which had a relatively low $23 million budget but managed to eke out less than $19 million in domestic receipts), the Amanda Seyfried thriller Gone 36 (which had the worst opening weekend for any wide release this year), and Summit's $42 million thriller Man on a Ledge 40, which has earned back just $34 million worldwide ($18 million domestically) so far.

What do you think?

Have you seen any good movies yet this year? How about any terrible ones? Let us know what you think of 2012 so far in the comments section below.

Comments (3)

  • JudgeNjury  

    Horror movies always seem to get low scores - especially from critics. I saw the divide for example - it is not that bad if you like the survival genre

  • racketracer  

    Honestly, metacritic needs a higher sample of opinions. There should be at least 20 ratings before it can really be even remotely counted on as a consensus of opinion.

  • JRath  

    I've enjoyed The Grey by far the most of any movie released so far this year. Act of Valor is second. But The Grey was phenomenal.

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