I love movies and I love data and the folks at Metacritic do a great job of combining the two. They take movie reviews, convert them into a 100-point scale, and then average them together (important publications are weighted more) to get a single number that gives you a sense of how well a movie has been critically received. The Metascore.
Metascore is great and I use it all the time. It’s not the boss of me, I saw and enjoyed That Awkward Moment even though it only had a Metascore of 36 (Miles Teller FTW). But I still like to know if the critics love, hate, or are so-so on a particular movie.
I’ve discovered a problem with Metascore, which is really a problem with movie critics. They literally get paid to watch movies, so they don’t care if the movies are long. Critics aren’t worried about meeting up for dinner after the movie, waking up for work the next day, getting home to relieve the babysitter, etc. But we are. This is especially true now that we’re in Oscar season. Nothing says “important film” like a 3-hour runtime.
Since I think movies are too long and I think Metascore rewards long movies too much, I’ve invented my own movie metric. I’m all about branding, so let’s call it the Zetascore. I’ll explain more below, but first let’s see if there’s really a problem.
Let’s look at every wide-release movie of 2014 by runtime (in minutes):
More than a quarter of them are longer than two hours. WTF? And 4 of them are in the bladder-busting zone at more than two and half hours. Including, bizarrely, Transformers: Age of Extinction which is as long as 7.5 episodes of the original cartoon.
Here’s a histogram of Metascores for these same movies:
There are a lot more movies in the top half than in the bottom half. This is known as a top-heavy distribution. I think the critics are being too kind. Especially when it comes to long movies.
Unlike Metascore, the Zetascore rewards short movies and punishes long ones. Here’s how it works:
I take the Metascore and divide it by the movie’s runtime, then I multiply it by 100. Take Noah. It has a Metascore of 68, but a painful runtime of 138min: 68/138 * 100 = 49. The Zetascore of 49 reflects that the movie got pretty good reviews, but it gets docked for being long. But the Zetascore cuts both ways. Neighbors has the exact same Metascore, but at 97 minutes, it’s 41 minutes shorter than Noah! (All comedies and action movies should 90min so good job guys.) Its Zetascore is 68/97 * 100 = 70. In this case, the Zetascore gets a little boost because of the brisk length.
Here’s a histogram of the Zetascores of the same movies we’ve been looking at:
Holy crap, that’s a thing of beauty! Unlike the top-heavy Metascore, here we have a nice, symmetrical, “normal” distribution. Because the scores are more spread out we can do a better job of separating the popcorn from the kernels (see what I did there?).
In 2014, the highest Zetascore was 88 (The Grand Budapest Hotel). Note that unlike Metascore, a Zetascore can go above 100. Last year’s big hit Gravity had a badass Zetascore of 105 because it packed a Metascore of 96 into its brief 91 minutes. That’s a lot of bang for your buck (or 12 bucks, not including concessions).
Here’s a table of all the wide-release movies of 2014. You can sort by clicking on any column head or find a specific movie with the search box:
|Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones||42||84||50|
|The Legend of Hercules||22||99||22|
|Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit||57||105||54|
|The Nut Job||37||85||44|
|That Awkward Moment||36||94||38|
|The LEGO Movie||82||100||82|
|The Monuments Men||52||118||44|
|3 Days to Kill||40||117||34|
|Son of God||37||138||27|
|300: Rise of an Empire||48||102||47|
|Mr. Peabody & Sherman||59||92||64|
|Need for Speed||39||132||30|
|Muppets Most Wanted||61||107||57|
|A Haunted House 2||17||86||20|
|Captain America: The Winter Soldier||70||136||51|
|The Other Woman||39||109||36|
|The Quiet Ones||41||98||42|
|The Amazing Spider-Man 2||53||142||37|
|Walk of Shame||25||95||26|
|Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return||25||88||28|
|Moms’ Night Out||25||98||26|
|Million Dollar Arm||56||124||45|
|X-Men: Days of Future Past||74||131||56|
|A Million Ways to Die in the West||44||116||38|
|Edge of Tomorrow||71||113||63|
|The Fault in Our Stars||69||126||55|
|22 Jump Street||71||112||63|
|How to Train Your Dragon 2||76||102||75|
|Think Like a Man Too||38||106||36|
|Transformers: Age of Extinction||32||165||19|
|Deliver Us from Evil||40||118||34|
|Earth to Echo||53||91||58|
|Dawn of the Planet of the Apes||79||130||61|
|Planes: Fire & Rescue||48||83||58|
|The Purge: Anarchy||50||103||49|
|And So It Goes||38||94||40|
|Get on Up||71||139||51|
|Guardians of the Galaxy||76||121||63|
|Into the Storm||44||89||49|
|Step Up: All In||45||112||40|
|Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles||31||101||31|
|The Hundred-Foot Journey||55||122||45|
|Let’s Be Cops||30||104||29|
|The Expendables 3||35||126||28|
|If I Stay||46||107||43|
|Sin City: A Dame to Kill For||46||102||45|
|When the Game Stands Tall||41||115||36|
|The November Man||38||108||35|
|As Above/So Below||38||93||41|
|Dolphin Tale 2||58||107||54|
|No Good Deed||26||84||31|
|A Walk Among the Tombstones||57||114||50|
|Kevin Smith’s Tusk||55||102||54|
|The Maze Runner||56||113||50|
|This Is Where I Leave You||44||103||43|
|The Good Lie||65||110||59|
|Alexander & the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day||54||81||67|
|Book of Life||67||95||71|
|The Best of Me||29||118||25|
|Before I Go to Sleep||41||92||45|
|Big Hero 6||75||102||74|
|Dumb and Dumber To||36||109||33|
|The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1||64||123||52|
|Horrible Bosses 2||40||108||37|
|The Penguins of Madagascar||53||92||58|
|Exodus: Gods & Kings||54||150||36|
|The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies||62||144||43|
|The Grand Budapest Hotel||88||100||88|
I haven’t seen Selma yet, but the others in the top 5 really are fantastic, especially Whiplash (Miles Teller FTW again). Bears gets a big boost from its svelte runtime, but it deserves it for packing so much amazing cinemtography into 78 minutes. And do you really want to watch bears frolic for longer than that? No, and that’s what the Zetascore is all about.
Boring note: The graphs and charts are based on all the wide-release movies of 2014, except Annie, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, Into the Woods, and The Interview because they don’t have Metascores yet. I’m sure the studios have good reasons for not showing these movies to the critics early and they aren’t crappy at all.
Less boring note: were there really two separate horror movies this year called Annabelle and Jessabelle??