So How Bad Was 2005?

December 23, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

For me, the year in movies 2005 is over. I have seen everything I'm going to see. (The exception is Wolf Creek, about which I'm on the fence. Roger Ebert and I don't always agree, but zero stars?) So I'm now in a position where I can look back on the year. One of my frequent themes during the past 12 months has been to bemoan the lack of quality to be found in multiplexes. However, a bull market in the final three months has changed things. For an idea of how back-loaded 2005 was, consider this: Of the 21 theatrical releases to which I gave ***1/2 or ****, 10 were released September 30 or later. One-third of the 21, including the only **** film, opened in November or December.

Looking back at 2005 by the numbers, here's how things broke down (by star rating):

4-stars: 0.5%
3.5 stars: 12%
3 stars: 36%
2.5 stars: 22%
2 stars: 15%
0-1.5 stars: 14%

For comaparison, here are the 2004 numbers:

4-stars: 0.5%
3.5 stars: 13%
3 stars: 37%
2.5 stars: 20%
2 stars: 13%
0-1.5 stars: 16%

Now, the 2003 numbers:

4-stars: 3%
3.5 stars: 11%
3 stars: 36%
2.5 stars: 20%
2 stars: 18%
0-1.5 stars: 12%

Finally, the 2002 numbers:

4-stars: 1%
3.5 stars: 12%
3 stars: 41%
2.5 stars: 16%
2 stars: 17%
0-1.5 stars: 14%

What jumps out immediately is that the 2004 and 2005 numbers are almost identical, meaning that there has been little agregate increase or decrease in movie quality over the last two years. 2005 really wasn't any worse than 2004. With the exception of 4-star numbers, 2003 looks similar, as well (2003 had 5 four-star titles). Even 2002 doesn't look much different, with the recommended films (3, 3.5, and 4 stars) being around 50%.

What does it all mean? That movies haven't changed much in the last four years. Admittedly, before running the numbers, I expected them to show a slow decrease in quality from 2002 to 2005. But the steady-state nature of the percentages means that the perception that movies have been getting worse may be more fiction than fact. Of course, since this is all based on opinon, and I'm using my subjective ratings here, your mileage may vary. But I'd bet not by much.

A random sampling of '90s numbers shows that the recommended percentages were higher. So movie quality has declined over the last 10 to 15 years. Maybe early next year I'll do a breakdown of every year since ReelViews opened for business (1996). For now, however, all I can say is that, at least compared to the past four years, 2005 wasn't that bad after all.