Are Movies on the Decline?

Dorothy Gambrell, the creator of the exhaustive charts blog Very Small Array, has turned her attention to movies, and whether the past few decades have seen a big dropping off in moviegoers’ enjoyment of the year’s hits. Combining Rotten Tomatoes’ top-ten grossing films of each year from 1950-onward with lists of the top films on Wikipedia, Gambrell came up with the chart above. There appears to be a steady, continuous decline (with a major peak in 1999) with the highest percentage (say, 95%) related to 1950s movies and 2009 straggling with a lowly 58%.

And yet. And yet these numbers don’t necessarily come from these films’ world premieres; that’s certainly the case with almost any title from the 1970s and earlier, which garnered higher ratings thanks to the fact that they were already classics, as one commenter pointed out. Even recent movies could have suffered lower scores thanks to the Internet and picking everything apart. You can’t blame people for rating movies poorly because they’ve already heard about them ad nauseum.

So, are movies in a decline? Probably not. Sure, there’s less creative freedom, which makes for fewer films that actually impress us. But even in the past year, those movies — Toy Story 3, Inception, The Social Network — grab us even more because we’re aware of the dreck that they share theaters with.

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