The film industry is preventing reviewers from having their say on certain movies before they come out – and critics aren’t happy
This week has seen yet another apparent attempt to control pre-release verdicts on a major Hollywood movie, with blockbuster sequel Independence Day: Resurgence failing to hold advance press screenings for critics (though reviews have now started to trickle out).
Only last month, Warcraft attempted a doomed release day embargo in the UK too; which ultimately fell apart once a few write-ups shattered the blockade and began to creep out onto the web.
So, the ridiculous WARCRAFT review embargo – that worked out well, didn't it?
— Mark Kermode (@KermodeMovie) May 25, 2016
It seems as though more and more studios or distributors are attempting to halt advance reviews altogether, or at least push their publication as close to the date of release as possible.
A number of film reviewers spoke to us anonymously about their take on this tactic, what it says about the films in question, and what it might mean for you, the audience.
Embargoes may be on the rise
While there have been occasions in the past where a film hasn’t been screened to the press, or reviews have been subject to last-minute publication restrictions, these tactics appear to be increasingly commonplace nowadays.
“They have been a fairly constant thing for quite a while now,” one film writer, a regular contributor to well-known UK publications, tells us.
“It does seem that the bigger films are screening closer and closer to release dates too – sometimes not until the Wednesday if the film is out on a Friday – which effectively serves the same purpose.”
Another critic began to notice the trend several years ago.
“When I first started reviewing movies I was part of an event that used to more or less lock us in a cinema for three to four days, where upcoming releases would be screened for us.
“The more events I attended, the more embargoes that occurred.”
They can stop critics getting the word out on bad movies
Perhaps it’s no surprise. But the critics we spoke to confirmed that films restricting the advance publication of reviews tend to be poorer than the ones allowing early verdicts to emerge.
“Put it this way: it’s a surprise if the embargoed film turns out to be good,” a freelancer tells us.
“I think the general conception among critics is that an embargo indicates a lack of confidence from the studio about the film.”
Obviously, this means that movie-goers may now be less likely to get advance warning of a poor movie’s dubious quality before it hits cinemas. And that might be a problem for audiences deciding how to spend their hard-earned cash.
But that doesn’t mean they’re air-tight
One recurring point the critics we spoke to emphasised was how utterly pointless embargoes seem to be in practice.
“It often seems like studios and distributors don’t really understand how word of mouth or the internet works,” said one.
“The official explanation for embargoes is usually about making sure all the pieces go live at the same time, which is obviously in direct contrast with websites, and indeed newspapers, who will frequently break embargoes rushing to get their reviews up first.”
And then there was this withering summary:
“I find embargoes to be counter-productive – futile even – as they serve no purpose whatsoever than to frustrate writers and journalists.
“Studios think they are doing it to protect their product, but in reality I think they are doing more damage.”
It’s a source of frustration
There appears to be a growing amount of tension between critics, review editors, and the movie PR machine on this issue.
“For a website, the earlier the review goes up the more hits it is likely to get, so an embargo on a big film very close to the release date – as with Independence Day – can be very frustrating,” explains one writer.
“The most irritating thing is when everybody agrees to the embargo but there are already multiple online reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic. I think most critics and editors understand the purpose of an embargo if there are no reviews currently online, but if they are already there from other sites, then surely that means the embargo is effectively broken.”
This sentiment was echoed elsewhere too.
“If a mainstream blockbuster carries an embargo then that’s frustrating, as it affects the way you look to increase readership,” an entertainment site editor explains.
“By the time your review has been posted then the bigger publications or websites will already have their review online, which makes it harder for the smaller, less established sites to pull in readers.
“It’s time to let the writers give their views on movies without the shackles of embargoes.”
Main image: Independence Day Resurgence