Can You Judge A Movie Before You See It? Sort Of

It’s a topic that comes up just about every single time a bad looking movie is about to come out. The trailers look bad, the premise seems lame, maybe it has a bad director at the helm or a bad “star” in a leading role or any number of other things. You see all the stuff and declare: “Man, this movie is going to be crap” or “This movie looks terrible” or some other variation of that sentiment.

The thing is, even though ALL OF US do this (and rightfully so), inevitably some people will jump up and down and lament: “You can’t say that, you haven’t even seen it yet. You have no idea if it’s good or bad!”.

The people who say this are, 9 times out of 10, people who are already predisposed to liking the crap looking movie in question. Maybe they’re already a fan of the director. Maybe they’re already a fan of the property the movie is based on. For whatever the reasons, some people will always come along and tell you you’re not allowed to form an opinion about if a film looks bad in advance.

The basics of what they’re saying is true. If you haven’t seen a movie you can’t definitively say the movie IS good or bad. That’s 100% correct and I’ll agree with them about that. However, you can form a predictive opinion without seeing a movie. You CAN say “That movie looks like crap” or “This movie will suck”.

This is all just a very legitimate part of building up to a movie. Even the studios know we all form predictive opinions about movies before we see them… that’s why they put out trailers. They make posters and trailers in an attempt to influence your advanced opinion about a movie. The better your advance opinion is, the more likely you’ll drop $12 to hit the theater to see the movie. The worse your predictive opinion, the less likely they’ll get your money.

Look, once in a while we can be wrong. For example, in the last couple of years there have been 2 films that I swore looked horrible for a long time. But in the end, I wound up really enjoying TMNT and Punisher: Warzone. So our advanced opinions aren’t always right. That’s a good thing. But 95% of the time I find my predictive opinion was completely accurate as I ended up hating the crappy looking movies.

The bottom line is, while it’s true that until you actually SEE a movie, you can’t outright say a movie is good or bad… but at the same time we should form advance opinions. It’s what separates what we choose to see and what we don’t choose to see. It lets us talk about and debate upcoming films. The fact of the matter is we ALL form opinions about movies we haven’t seen yet as to if we think they’ll be good or bad… even the people who yell at you not to do it.

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37 thoughts on “Can You Judge A Movie Before You See It? Sort Of

  1. If you could take someone from a hundred years ago and bring them into today’s world, I can immediately think of two things that would strike them. One, obviously, would be the vast changes. Technology. General standard of living. A global perspective. Life itself.

    The other would be the difference between how ‘enfranchised’ people are, or believe themselves to be. Not so much having to do with intelligence (that is, that people today are ‘smarter’ than those from a century ago), but that they not only feel the need to express opinions on just about everything…that they believe they have qualified opinions and should broadcast them. The premise of this column is proof.

    The fact is that the generations who have been enabled by the Internet and its concomitant electronics are a short attention-spanned, self-absorbed, never-satisfied lot. The great teeming masses, the materialistic, acquisitional consumers who not only have to have more, more, more, but also have to say more, more, more. Why? Because they’re bored, because they’re unfulfilled, because their own keening provides them succor.

    I read a ton of message boards and am constantly amazed by how ignorant, how ill-informed, how truly blunt-headed the average commenter is. And at the heart of all this is precisely what John has posited, the very notion of mouthing off about something they have absolutely no qualification to mouth off about.


    “Better to sit silent in corner and have people suspect you’re an idiot than to open mouth and remove all doubt.”

    Perhaps more than anything else, the visitor from the early 20th century would be heartbroken by the decided lack of grace apparent around them. We live in a far less good-mannered time than they did. And our actions travel much farther now. How sad. How very, very sad.

  2. I agree with the “This looks like crap” statement but you can’t really say “This movie is going to suck”, that implies that you all ready know that it will, which you don’t. You can however say “This movie looks like it’s going to suck”. There is a difference.

  3. John,

    I can see your point and I do agree with you, what bothers me is the people who are so definitive about their predisposed opinion, and feel they are so right and there is no way the movie can be good. It’s people like that who will see a film they have preached to the world will suck, they will like it, but never admit it to anyone because then they look stupid because they were so absolute in their opinion that changing it makes them look flawed. The pig headed know it alls are the ones who bug me. People like you are wise enough to admit to liking something they thought would be crap. It’s the ones who think their opinion is the only right one that piss me off.

  4. I thought Changeling was astonishing and heart-breaking, shall be a nominee for Best Picture along with Frost/Nixon, TDK, Gran Torino and The Wrestler.

  5. I can usually tell whether or not I’ll enjoy a particular movie based on the trailer because I know what kind of movies I enjoy and what to look. Although I can say I have been fooled into thinking a movie would be great since people nowadays do a fantastic job at making these trailers. Also, even if the trailer didn’t do anything for you and you were still interested in it due to the people involved, it could still turn out to be a movie you don’t quite enjoy, ie The Changeling.

  6. I do prejudge movies. I always do. If it looks good, like Crank 2, then I’m there – the last 10 seconds were awesome. If it’s a chick flick I usually won’t go see it.

  7. Totally agree. I only see a movie that I think looks terrible if friends want to go see it. Then it’s more about the shared (awful) experience than it is the movie we’re watching. That’s what The Spirit became. A shared… awful… experience.

  8. I try to stay neutural, but it’s hard. After all, the commercials for a movie…errr….TRAILERS are meant to lure you and entice you. But sometimes it’s all wrog, as I remember some really nasty negative buzz going around about a little movie about an ocaem liner…the movie was awful, over budget, cast badly, director was an SOB and the whole thing was gonna be “Heaven’s Gate” on a ship….

    That was Titanic, by the way.

  9. Sometimes trailers of shitty movies show you the only good scenes in it convincing you to watch it, then you get confused and pissed off when you do (Don’t Mess With the Zohan).

    Most of the time the trailer will tell you if it might suck (The Spirit).

    Sometimes you get a different impression about the movie’s subject, lowering your expectations to watch it cuz the idea looks and sounds stupid but it turns out to be a fuckin’ masterpiece (Fight Club – advertised on cable during World Wrestling Federation broadcasts).

  10. Movie preferences are guided by personal instinct. Most of the time, people aren’t even sure what they’re looking for in a movie.

    I remember seeing trailers for “Red Eye” and “Flightplan” a few years back in a theater. They looked like the exact same movie, and yet everyone I was with had their own opinion about which one they’d rather see.

    I never bothered watching either one, but still, it’s those subtle differences in people that the studios will never be able to appeal to. We all have a sixth sense about films that points us at the ones we like.

  11. I love that Rodney is the first guy on to defend himself about this sort of thing. Reminds me of my debate with my brothers about films we like or not like. For instance 300 is a movie I wanted to see but my younger brother didnt because he didnt like the look of the film and said it was historiclly inaccurate. I still thought he should see it cause its not a historical film. But anyway Im always getting that same like from guys and Rodney about how I shouldn’t Judge a movie based on seeing a preview or pictures. Well if I think the new Star Trek movie based on what Ive seen looks terrible then thats what Im gonna say unless I change my mind. Same with Chun-Li, and SF4.

  12. John, this post was genius. And i form my opinions based on trailers, i do it all the time. And Phil is right, they make trailers well, # 1 to promote the movie, and # 2 for you to get a feel for it.

    @ Hazmat
    Yes, everyone bashed The Day The Earth Stood Still trailer, most people hate it, but i too saw it, and liked it

  13. Thanks for writing this post, John. Too many people have been complaining on here that you can’t judge a movie before it’s released. If that were the case we’d have nothing to talk about!!

    I enjoy the debates that occur on TMB and that’s why I love this site. Keep up the good work, John.

  14. We should absolutely form opinions based on a trailer………that’s why the trailer exists. It has been created to give the viewer a feel for the film it is selling, be it the style of the piece, or the tone, or the plot, or (if based on another source material) just to let the fans know that it is a faithful adaptation.

    Trailers are also as subjective as movies themselves so you will always get a range of reactions but if somebody says the film looks like crap based on the trailer they’ve seen, that trailer has failed in its task.

    It’s the same as a car dealer giving you a quick tour of a car. You can never know how well the car is going to handle, how long its going to last without problems or how happy you’ll be driving it based on their quick spiel but you have to form an opinion anyhow. If you decide not to buy the car, he can’t moan that you’re not giving it a fair chance and you’ve already made your mind up. You have a right to your opinion.

  15. Yeah, we all judge a movie before we’ve seen it. And once it comes out, you can usually judge based on the opinions of others whether it would be worth changing your pre-formed opinion based on what those who have seen it in full think of it.

    I thought Wanted looked awful based on the trailers. Once it came out and I saw the great reviews it got here, I figured it was worth the chance. I ended up liking it (not my fav movie of all time, but I did just buy the DVD too. And I contemplated not even bothering with it at one point).

    Then there’s times we think a movie will be great, and it just plain sucks. I’m sure that I’ll like The Spirit, but I could be really wrong.

    There’s a fine line. You can’t presume to know everything about a film you haven’t seen. But whenever someone comments on a film they haven’t seen, it’s ridiculous for them to have to preface each positive/negative statement with a huge disclaimer about what they’ve seen and how they reached their decision. ESPECIALLY in cases when a film hasn’t even been released, it’s obvious people are basing their opinions on trailers and the like.

    Even once you’ve seen a movie, that doesn’t make your opinion really that much more valid. It’s still just an opinion. If you hate the first half of a film SO MUCH that you walk out, or turn it off… does your opinion not count? And besides, it often speaks volumes about the quality of a film if people flat out refuse to see it, and hate it based simply upon a 3 minute trailer.

  16. right
    what im sayign is..dont completely conclude “i WONT see it” because of the trailer….im not saying this about one movie…im talking about them all

    trailers usually look awsome with the high octane tempo music and explosions…but the movie is 2 minutes of that trailer and nothing else…or it may be a slow awful fuckign CHEESY trailer and the movie turns out to be fucking badass!! or the book may suck but the movie may be an adaptation and end up kickign ass

    and certainly (im not going to beat around the bush, im talking to you john) dont not see a movie (again, not the spirit, this goes for them all) because the peopel who made it were STUPID enough to make fake “two thumbs up” “best movie of the year” comments on the commercial, dont let that stuff ruin the movie for you may be missing out, really

    yes, the spirit..looks fucking catastrophic..a titanic fail…but im talking in general here guys… dont let that shit make you miss amovie you may like

    hey be honest, how many people here fricking loved that spiderman 3 trailer??
    and the indy 4 trailer??? that looked BADASS! but the trailer had no ALIENS IN IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    everyone said blade runner was the best movie ever made. i rest my case.

    the day the earth stood still…everyone’s been bashing it..the trailers lead me to think it blew, and i could have sworn it did, but i didnt pay attention to that, saw it, and loved it

    and you know what man? australia had no advertising almost…i saw not one trailer and i thought it looked gay and i saw it and it was great, some people say it dragged but goddamnit did i love it

  17. When i think a film is going to be bad, in order to avoid the “You can’t say that, you haven’t even seen it yet. You have no idea if it’s good or bad!” argument that is somewhat inevitable. i refrain from saying, “this movie is going to suck” and i stick to things like “that trailer really sucked” or “that casting choice is disappointing” or even “the director has yet to prove himself, so what’s there to look forward to?”. That way i am only criticizing the elements of the film that have already been presented to me in their entirety but also in turn expressing my opinion and/or interest in the whole film itself. because if you don’t like bacon, lettuce or tomato, there is nothing anyone can put on a BLT to make you like it…in most cases.

  18. Luke, I don’t know that your presumption would be accurate. Many people presumed Superman Returns would be a great action flick after the heart pounding opening sequence with the plane.

    That was likely the most exciting part of the movie. It was awesome. Nothing else really lived up to it though (even though I liked the movie as a whole, the first 5-10 minutes didn’t reflect the whole film)

    And you can decide if you are jonesing for a film after seeing a trailer, but that is the point. They want to hook you in 3 minutes. If it doesn’t work, thats one more empty seat.

  19. When my friends and I are talking about upcoming movies, there’s ones that we’ll be very interested in, just by the people involved, or the premise. Lots of movies we want to see a trailer first, but yea, we have to judge it a bit BEFORE we see it, otherwise we’d go to the theater and ask for a ticket to ANYTHING, and NOT care! That makes NO SENSE! I was reading the comments that seem like they may have led to this article, and now the more I think about it, the less sense it makes.

    Don’t we have a word for judging something in advance; expectations?

  20. Hey Seth Rex.

    Dude… if we didn’t let our advance opinion stop us from seeing a movie… you’d have to see every single movie.

    Advance opinion is one of the main things that determine what we see and what we don’t see.

  21. My advanced opinion might stop me from bothering with a movie I think won’t appeal to me.

    However, some reviews on something I wouldnt have bothered with might change my mind. I honestly didn’t see myself going to see Twilight and since reading John’s surprise in liking it, I find myself wondering if I should.

    However, I still can’t bring myself to bother with Spoof movies. Not until they return to their former glory.

  22. There should also be the statement, “Don’t let your advanced opinion stop you from watching a movie.” Otherwise you won’t know if your prediction was right or wrong to begin with.

  23. “in the last couple of years there have been 2 films that I swore looked horrible for a long time. But in the end, I wound up really enjoying TMNT and Punisher: Warzone”

    You also loved Twilight if I remember.

  24. I have always been careful about how I talk about a movie I haven’t seen.

    You can say “I think it looks like crap” and that is a totally different thing than saying “This movie IS crap”

    Unless you have a plutonium charged Delorean. Then I can forgive you.

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