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13 movies critics adored – but audiences told them they were wrong

From ‘The Last Jedi’ to ‘Sausage Party’, Louis Chilton looks at instances where punters and pros have seemed to disagree

Wednesday 24 January 2024 08:56 GMT
Mark Hamill in ‘The Last Jedi’, John Cena in ‘Blockers’ and Adam Sandler in ‘Uncut Gems'
Mark Hamill in ‘The Last Jedi’, John Cena in ‘Blockers’ and Adam Sandler in ‘Uncut Gems' (LucasFilm/Universal/Netflix)

At its best, film criticism can deepen or enrich a viewing experience, help people understand the wider context of a film, or even explore a personal connection to the subject matter.

For many people, however, the purpose of film critics is to act as something like consumer advice gurus – someone to turn to when you need to simply know whether a film is worth watching.

Unfortunately, critics and viewers don’t always agree.

There are plenty of instances in which critics have poured scorn on a great film, only for audiences to embrace it as a classic.

But there’s also the other type of disagreement: when critics heap praise on the next cinematic masterpiece, only for audiences to turn their noses up.

From “elevated horror” slow-burners to *that* Star Wars movie, here are 13 films that critics adored – but the general public despised.

A Long Day’s Journey Into Night

The story of how Bi Gan’s acclaimed arthouse drama managed to piss off a nation of young lovers is an amusing one. The film – an esoteric and somewhat impenetrable dream odyssey that transitions to an hour-long one-take 3D shot halfway through – was misleadingly marketed as a romantic “date night” film for New Year’s Eve 2019 in China. The strategy paid off at the box office, but viewers were justifiably peeved at the bait-and-switch; “can’t understand Long Day’s Journey Into Night” began trending on social media as part of a wider online backlash.

Ad Astra

It’s easy to imagine a version of Ad Astra that would have proved a hit with mass audiences – a sci-fi thriller starring Brad Pitt hunting down his father, Tommy Lee Jones, in the outer reaches of our solar system? Please. But James Grey’s slow-burn space flick was ultimately uninterested in pulp action, and viewers were left cold, despite some rave reviews by critics. Just look at the Rotten Tomatoes scores: for critics, a “Fresh” 83 per cent; for audiences, a “Rotten” 40 per cent.

Brad Pitt as Roy McBride in the space thriller ‘Ad Astra' (Fox)


Was it the crummy trailer or the vague, uncompelling title that doomed Blockers’ chances with viewers? I don’t know, but the 2018 teen sex comedy was nonetheless a hit with critics, winning them over with its wit, charm and well-judged moments of shock comedy. Viewers were less impressed – far less, if Rotten Tomatoes is to be believed – but I’d argue the critics called this one right.

Captain Marvel

The first Marvel Cinematic Universe film to centre on a female protagonist, Captain Marvel was well-received by reviewers when it first hit screens in 2018. Fan assessments of the film weren’t so generous, leading to an audience score of just 45 per cent on RT. While some of the criticisms of the film were made in bad faith – Captain Marvel is one of several female-fronted blockbusters to have been “review-bombed” by trolls – the films is still widely regarded as one of the MCU’s weakest entries.

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Brie Larson in ‘Captain Marvel' (Marvel Studios)


This abstract story of a billionaire in freefall, adapted from the postmodern novel by Don DeLillo, made plenty of end-of-year best-of lists when it came out in 2012. But the bizarre plotline, strange characterisation (from Robert Pattinson) and unnerving direction (from David Cronenberg) all combined to make this a tough watch for many viewers.

Drag Me to Hell

Sam Raimi has often managed to thread the needle when it comes to making pulpy genre hits that nonetheless win over the critical community. Drag Me to Hell, released after the poorly received Spider-Man 3, was embraced by critics as a winning return to his horror roots, fusing comedy, horror and some light social satire. Viewers found the tonal shifts disorienting, though: the film failed to set the box office alight and its audience score is a full 30 per cent lower than that of the critics on RT.

Sausage Party

I’m not sure what many critics were thinking when it came to Sausage Party, the bawdy Pixar parody set in the world of anthropomorphic supermarket produce. Reviewers for some reason warmed to its charms – the film has a slightly baffling 82 per cent on RT – while audiences found it rather less nutritional.

‘Sausage Party’ featured an all-star cast including Seth Rogen and James Franco (© 2016 Columbia Pictures Indust)

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

This list isn’t ranked, but if it were, The Last Jedi would be ranked at No 1 – and by a distance. Rian Johnson’s 2017 Star Wars sequel was lavished with praise by critics for its artful, gently subversive spin on the franchise’s time-honoured formula. For many, however, this subversiveness was unwelcome; the unprecedentedly divisive film spawned a huge fan backlash, prompting online campaigns to remake it and a torrent of negative fan reviews. To this day, the mere mention of the film on social media is enough to kick up an almighty s***storm (or should that be “sithstorm”?).

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Trailer

Spy Kids

Robert Rodriguez’s family film was a fast hit with critics, who celebrated its wit, ambition and charm. The general public felt differently, however – to many, the film is remembered as a dud, earning just 46 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes’ audience meter (as opposed to 93 per cent from critics). The handful of inferior sequels likely haven’t helped its reputation.

‘Spy Kids’ first came out in 2001 and spawned several sequels (Buena Vista)

The Tree of Life

A Terrence Malick film is never going to be everyone’s cup of tea. This is especially true when we’re talking about what is perhaps his most acclaimed, and ambitious, project to date – a vast odyssey that spans everything from the creation of the universe and the age of dinosaurs through to suburban angst in 1960s Texas. Critics adored The Tree of Life, but many viewers found it “pretentious”. Go figure.

Uncut Gems

Adam Sandler drew mountains of acclaim for his role as chaotic diamond dealer Howard Ratner in the Safdie brothers’ one-of-a-kind 2019 drama Uncut Gems. While some critics hailed the film as a modern masterpiece, reactions from Netflix viewers were noticeably colder. (The film scored just 52 per cent on its Rotten Tomatoes audience score, compared to 92 per cent critically.) Common complaints were that the film was “too tense” and “unpleasant”.

Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner in 'Uncut Gems' (Netflix)

Under the Skin

Another film branded a downright masterpiece by critics, Under the Skin saw Scarlett Johansson play a man-snaring alien on the hunt in Glasgow. The film pushed the boundaries of cinematic language itself – but audiences certainly didn’t all vibe with its arthouse spin on the alien-comes-to-Earth premise, as evidenced by the online rating data.

Willow Creek

A horror film can often divide opinion, not least when it’s a no-budget indie effort like Bobcat Goldthwait’s sasquatch chiller Willow Creek. The film, which follows an American couple on the trail of Bigfoot, draws heavily from The Blair Witch Project. As the 80 per cent positive Rotten Tomatoes score evinces, critics were impressed by this spin on the found-footage format, but audiences – giving a score of just 34 – were not.

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