The #1 Movie in America!!

Warning: The following might have been written with tongue firmly in cheek.

Recently, when a few critics offered mixed reviews of Fireproof, someone responded by saying,

Ultimately, it is the people who aren’t paid to review films who will determine the success and value of the movie. Judging from the ratings and reviews of it online by ordinary people, Fireproof is a clear winner.

I was reminded of this when I discovered that Beverly Hills Chihuahua is, for the second week in a row, the most popular big-screen choice among “ordinary people” in the United States.

So… who needs critics, when the majority sends such a clear signal of what is honorable, excellent, and worthy of praise?

Okay… let’s allow for the possibility that perhaps American moviegoers were fooled by a handsome marketing campaign that led them to believe they would get ten dollars’ worth of excellence from the dog movie. Or perhaps they’re worn out with the worrying headlines, and wanted to go see something frivolous, something that would turn their brains off.

Let’s give Americans a second chance to find “a clear winner.” What was the second-place selection at the box office this week?

Why the choice is obvious: The R-rated horror-and-shlockfest Quarantine!

I’m confident that certan Christian media pundits will point to the box office success of Beverly Hills Chihuahua as more evidence that what Americans really want is “good, clean, family fare.”* What they won’t mention is that Quarantine, a film that they’ll condemn as further evidence of our societal corruption, opened higher than such “wholesome” choices as The Express and City of Ember.

Meanwhile, I just received this note from a reader:

Beverly Hills Chihuahua is the most popular movie in the country. I want a new country.

Aw, what an elitist!

(By the way, in all seriousness, I don’t mean to imply that Beverly Hills Chihuahua is a complete waste of time. Chances are that I’ll see it someday, as I have a lot of air travel in my future, not to mention my 22 nephews and nieces who watch a lot of DVDs. And heck, it’s getting a 43% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes… equal to that of Fireproof! I’m sure that both of them are not only successful, but valuable in one way or another. I only mean to question whether it’s really so simple as to say that critics are elitists and unnecessary, and that we can trust our neighbors to point us to what is best in the world.)

*Update: “Dr.” Ted Baehr welcomes Chihuahua, giving it FOUR STARS! “Media-wise viewers will want to take advantage of a good, clean movie that’s well made.”

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • http://lookingcloser.org Jeffrey Overstreet

    Morefield wrote:

    What else opened in the last two weeks?

    Seriously, the last film I saw in the theater was a retro of Kieslowski’s “Blue” presented at the local arthouse theater. Before that, the last film I saw in the theater was, I think, “Indy 4.”

    Being the #1 anything doesn’t mean anything about being good…it’s only about being better than whatever it’s being compared to.

    Yes, of course.

    But as I regularly read articles and receive emails that suggest — or sometimes boldly assert — that widespread popularity is somehow a measure of artistic merit, sometimes I just lose patience and feel the need to point out the obvious again.

    Forgive me if I’ve tried your patience with my replies to others who’ve written me. I’m moving on now. Comments are closed.

    And seriously, man, regarding “Fireproof”–let it go. I’ll take your word for it that the movie sucks because…well, all indie evie movies suck.

    As I haven’t seen the film, I would never venture to suggest that it sucks. In fact, several trustworthy friends have said very complimentary things (including Greg Wright, who elaborates on that in the upcoming edition of The Kindlings Muse.)

    I mean, do you think someone’s going to read your post and go…”Hmmm, all my friends at Church of the Neo Crunchycon really liked ‘Fireproof,’ but I think I’ll go see Chabrol’s ‘A Girl Cut in Two’ so Jeff will stop making fun of me?”

    Either I’ve been unclear, or you’ve misunderstood… or both. The aim was not to make fun of anyone. Someone wrote to me arguing that critics are pretty much irrelevant and only popular opinion matters. I was elaborating on an earlier response to that. I get email of this sort frequently, so once in a while I feel the need to respond.

    I’m really not sure what you’re point is here (tongue in cheek or otherwise), other than to rehearse your grievance that the majority of Americans have lousy taste in film…a point with which I readily concede but to which I say, the best rebuttal is living well.

    Point taken. I should focus on recommending the best stuff rather than explaining that there is room to criticize the mediocre stuff. (And that’s what I’m doing at Image and CT these days.) My aim was not to insult American moviegoers. My aim is to state that the box office success of a movie does not guarantee it is a great artistic achievement. A painfully obvious point to make, I know… but reading the mail I receive, sometimes I think it bears repeating. I assume that people who leave comments here are anticipating an answer… something more thoughtful than “See a previous post.”

    So, my request…

    …less “This Week’s Sign the Apocalypse” is upon us.
    …more alternatives to the dreck we’re scolded for if we do see.

    I did offer a link to my Body of Lies review. That film is well worth seeing, although I’d never call it a masterpiece. You want to know the best thing showing in Seattle right now? Hmmm. I’m hearing good things about Rachel Getting Married.

    But more and more I’m interested in recommending DVD releases, since sometimes I can’t find much worth seeing anywhere on Seattle’s big screens.

  • kenmorefield

    Jeff, the following comment is also written tongue half in cheek…

    What else opened in the last two weeks?

    Seriously, the last film I saw in the theater was a retro of Kieslowski’s “Blue” presented at the local arthouse theater. Before that, the last film I saw in the theater was, I think, “Indy 4.”

    I mean, come on, some team has to win the AFC East, and some film has to finish first.

    On the next election day, someone will finish behind Obama and McCain, and he or she will be the third most popular choice for president of the country…and chances are you will have never heard his or her name before. (No, Bob Barr and Bob Barker are not the same person.)

    Someone, somewhere, is the #1 player on the Detroit Lions, the #1 Bobsledder in Jamaica, the #1 Poker player in Amish country, the #1 fan of Philip Roth on the Nobel prize committee, and the #1 Christian film critic in east-central North Carolina of Mexican descent (Hmmmmm, that may actually be me.). Being the #1 anything doesn’t mean anything about being good…it’s only about being better than whatever it’s being compared to.

    And seriously, man, regarding “Fireproof”–let it go. I’ll take your word for it that the movie sucks because…well, all indie evie movies suck. But some people actually prefer good, clean, sucky movies, and the great thing about America is that where there is a market for sucky movies, someone’s going to make a sucky movie for that market. I mean, do you think someone’s going to read your post and go…”Hmmm, all my friends at Church of the Neo Crunchycon really liked ‘Fireproof,’ but I think I’ll go see Chabrol’s ‘A Girl Cut in Two’ so Jeff will stop making fun of me?”

    Absent that, I’m really not sure what you’re point is here (tongue in cheek or otherwise), other than to rehearse your grievance that the majority of Americans have lousy taste in film…a point with which I readily concede but to which I say, the best rebuttal is living well.

    So, my request…

    …less “This Week’s Sign the Apocalypse” is upon us.
    …more alternatives to the dreck we’re scolded for if we do see.

    Or, to put it even more succinctly…

    What SHOULD have been the #1 movie in America last week, in your opinion?

  • http://lookingcloser.org Jeffrey Overstreet

    Thank you, Peter. I’ve made the appropriate corrections.

  • petertchattaway

    Actually, Beverly Hills Chihuaha opened last week. That’s right, it has been #1 for two weeks in a row! Be afraid. Be very afraid.

    Okay, I shouldn’t say that. I haven’t seen the film yet. I should not prejudge. Really, I shouldn’t.

  • rufflyspeaking

    wow – good point. i would have liked to see City of Ember, which tanked and will disappear from theatres quickly. Even The Express didn’t “catch on.” SDG liked it, so now I would like to see it, too. I guess I’ll just need to wait the required three months until they hit DVD…


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