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What it takes for a movie to earn the rare ‘F’ CinemaScore

CinemaScore, a cinema exit polling process, has been gaining influence and popularity by measuring audiences’ opening night reactions since 1978. When “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” “The Woman King” or “Avengers: Endgame” gets an A+, it reveals a simple grade that reflects the responsive opinions of a few hundred moviegoers across the country.

If expectations are happily met or exceeded, boom: It’s a sign that the film’s appeal is all a distributor can ask for. Maybe. Not always. Every movie is different. Some movies that get A+ in exit polls become hugely popular around the world. Others do not do this for various reasons. Some movies that get an A-, like Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” It might be doing pretty well at the box office, but if it cost $200 million to make, they may or may not make it back.

Then look at Scorsese again “Money Hunter.” This received an abysmal and unpromising C-CinemaScore rating. However, the film became the director’s biggest hit.

But CinemaScored movies have a special club: The 22 movies that received an F rating are the lowest possible, meaning they angered, disappointed, and alienated the highest possible percentage of a typical Friday night multiplex.

One of those rare, hallowed F’s belongs to the 2006 film version of Tracy Letts’s play “Bug,” a huge stage success, but in director William Friedkin’s film, it’s a bit more of a rough night for scores of audiences looking for a few cheap jolts outside. all other things.

On December 5, the Music Box Film series titled “Who Gives an ‘F’” scheduled for 2023-24 opens with “Bug” on 35mm film. Tentatively scheduled to continue in 2024: “The Box,” directed by Richard Kelly; “Solaris,” starring George Clooney and directed by Steven Soderbergh; and the famous “Mom!” Directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Jennifer Lawrence. They all got F’s.

And you know? The Music Box employees who produce this series, manager Jeremy Marder (also a filmmaker), office worker and Chicago critic Matt Cipolla, don’t care.

Our interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Phillips: Where did you get this idea? If you had filled out one of the CinemaScore cards, I don’t think you would have given “Bug” an F yourself.

Onion: No. One night last March, right before the “Rocky Horror” rush, we were both taking a break together and kind of playing spitball. CinemaScore came up. We thought it would be interesting to show some of the F-rated movies as a departure from the marketing and all-around expectations that led to the opening night backlash.

These 22 movies: most work, most don’t. But those who fail fail in fascinating ways. In fact, these are more interesting to us than something that goes middle of the road and succeeds.

Phillips: How do you define “versatile expectations”?

Onion: I interpret this statement as something that is actively uncontroversial or broad enough for mass audiences to project their preconceived notions onto the film itself. Most of these (F-rated) movies don’t do that. Some of it is very punk rock; The approach of some is quite morbid. Many challenge values ​​in ways that are seen as offensive to the audience.

For example, “In the Cut”. Jane Campion’s film (starring Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo) was marketed as a scary, erotic thriller, but it’s actually a post-9/11 film based on the female gaze, released in 2003, two years after the attacks. came out on Halloween night and to sweat New York (anxiety) from him pores in a way that would make many people uncomfortable from start to finish.

The list of A+ rated movies is like a novel compared to the F list’s beautiful little haiku. Movies that get A+ are movies that give people what they want, period. Broadly speaking, they reinforce the values ​​of the audience. Additionally, many A+ movies are faith-based or appeal to a conservative audience that feels undervalued or underrepresented in Hollywood.

Phillips: For example, “The Passion of Christ”. Or the recent “Voice of Freedom.”

Stanley Kubrick "Eyes Wide Shut," Starring then-real-life couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, the film received a damning D-minus exit rating from CinemaScore.

Marder: CinemaScore is a measure of initial response and can influence what and how movies are made. For us, this is not an arbiter of taste and does not tell you whether a movie is good or bad. It describes what people’s reactions were at that time. We think filmmakers should embrace the F score. The movie challenged the audience! For many auteurs, this is a badge of honor. Check out the D-minus space “Eyes Wide Shut.”

Onion: Yes. Almost! You almost got an F, Kubrick! I have a spreadsheet here… (including other D-CinemaScore titles) “Blair Witch 2,” “Vanilla Sky,” “Gigli.” “Gigli” fully deserved its F rating. Watching it felt like I was in a sensory deprivation tank.

Phillips: Among the A+ CinemaScore movies, which one do you think deserved a D- or F?

Marder and Cipolla: “Green Book.”

marder: Look, we love cinema. All kinds. There are so many great movies on this A+ list, from “ET” to “The Fugitive.”

Phillips: There are also a handful of really good movies on the A+ list that didn’t get the audience they deserved. For example “until”.

Marder: I don’t think the marketing of “Till” did it any favors. The strange trailer made it seem like it was something it wasn’t. Then I saw it and thought, it’s a really interesting movie. People who saw it clearly had extremely positive reactions.

We hope to take some movies beyond marketing-oriented expectations with this series, and we will also play the trailer of the movie after the movie. Take “Bug.” “Bug” was marketed as essentially a “Saw” movie. They took the horror elements – “From the director of ‘The Exorcist’!” – and that’s how I sold it. Then the audience realized that this was a black comedy, a chamber play. It’s much more interesting than “Saw” but…

Phillips: But it’s not what anyone expected.

Onion: Right. There is also a genre subcategory of F CinemaScore movies with sad endings. It’s one thing for a movie to have an unsatisfying ending; It’s another thing for it to be completely sarcastic. This seems to trigger a strong, unbalanced reaction from the audience, to the point that they refuse to stomach it.

There’s a difference between destruction and betrayal. And these films straddle the line between the two in fascinating ways.

William Friedkin’s “Bug” premieres Dec. 5 at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave.; tickets are $9-$12 by calling 773-871-6604 and www.musicboxtheatre.com

Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.

mjphillips@chicagotribune.com

excitement @phillipstribune



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