I'm sure you've heard it a million times before: that woefully nostalgic phrase "They don't make them like they used to." Time and time again, I hear many people utter how bad movies are getting these days, as they reminisce on some of their classic favorites or rag on the latest drivel lighting up the box office. I've even heard countless times how many believe 2010 was the worst year of movies in a long time.
Personally, I disagree with such claims. Every year, I manage to find plenty of entertaining movies and great films to watch and add to my ever growing collection. So, I set out to research the history of movies and find out just how true such claims are. My research has sought to find out if movies are getting worse, or what might be the cause of this growing belief that they are. Continue reading to see my finding. You may be a bit surprised at the results.
To start things off, obviously I needed to go to the root of things: checking movie quality. For this, I simply made a point to go back over the years and check out the quality of movies being released. Opting to go back and examine the last 50 years of movies, I found the top 10 rated movies from each year and found the average rating for that year. These movies had to at least be somewhat known and have a certain amount of reviews. This meant no movies that nobody ever heard of that only had 2 reviews.
You can refer to Image 1 at the link below for the results of my findings and to look over as you read along with my summation.
One of the first things you'll notice: yes, there's a definite decline in quality over the years. This is most noticeable at the beginning of the 1990's as quality takes a sharp drop. The year of 1990 gives us the lowest average rating of the last 50 years in movie history.
There's more than meets the eye to all of this, however. The most notable thing to take notice of is the scale of this chart. You'll notice on the left side that the interval set up here is done in .2 intervals. This isn't much of a drop at all. With this in mind, you'll notice that the best year (1974) has an average rating of 8.47, while the lowest year (1990) has an average rating of 7.69. Therefore, this is less than even a 1 point drop in overall quality when comparing the two extremes of this spectrum. Hardly seems like that much of a difference, right? Of course if could be argued that this does in fact mean we don't get great movies anymore, but rather simply really good movies.
Further examining the timeline as a whole (with scale in mind), you'll see that there is a definite overall downward trend from beginning to end. However, by the end of the 50 years, this trend line results in only a .2 difference in the overall average from beginning to end. While the later decades provide some "bad" years, there are also some very good years. To illustrate this, you'll see that 1992 and 2010 rank in the Top 5 for best years of movies in the past 50 years.
With such movies as The King's Speech, Black Swan, The Social Network and Inception, that talk about 2010 being the worst year ever can clearly be put to rest. You'll notice in the chart that it's actually the best year we've had in quite a while and, as stated, one of the top 5 of the entire 50 year span.
On the flip side of things, it's very clearly that the 70's have a noticeable position as being the best decade of the past five.
So, as you can see, yes there has been a decline in movie quality. However, as this chart illustrates, any decline was very small. Furthermore, the last decade has proven to give us a slight gradual increase in quality, with 2010 being a true return to form that can compete with any of the best years from the past 50 years. On average, though, despite being lower, any drop in overall average is by less than half a point. Thus, it seems any claims that movies are becoming horribly worse than those of yesteryears is greatly exaggerated.
This revelation left some things unanswered for me. Clearly people feel that movies are getting much worse. So, I'm still left wondering why exactly this mentality has captured so many amongst the movie community. The first idea to pop into mind here was: Maybe it's because, seemingly, it's the worser movies that are reigning supreme at the box office. It's seems it's the generic movies are the ones that studios are pushing down our throats, while, oftentimes, some of the best don't get the box office attention they deserve. Thus worse movies are dominating the box office and/or the general movie-going public is developing horrible taste in movies, bringing all the worse to the forefront.
This theory led me to examine just that: the taste of the general movie-going public. For this, I gathered information on the top 10 box office performers for each year and took an average rating for these films. You can refer to Image 2 below to see the results of these findings and read along.
The first thing to be pointed out in this chart is, again, the scaling. You'll notice this doesn't go by the same scale as the previous chart, thus each drop/rise represents a larger margin.
Beyond that, you'll immediately notice that the 60s seemed to be the year of good taste. Without a single year falling below the 6.5 line, it's clearly the winning decade in this comparison. Secondly, you'll notice that 6.5 isn't exactly great quality. Thus, with the average rating of box office hits represented here, it's clear that people have always had a taste for the lesser.
Moving on you'll notice that, starting in the 70's, that average drops below that bar set by the 60's and this continues throughout the rest of the 50 years. However, what you'll also notice is that, beyond the 60's, there's no clear winner. Each decade features some sharp rises and falls. Obviously, the general movie-going public can be a somewhat fickle bunch. One year they may have good taste, the next not so much. Though, the 2000s do feature more peaks that rise above the average than the couple of decades before. So, it could seem that more often the general public is showing better taste in movies these days.
However, as you notice, there is no overall trend of movies dominating the box office in terms of quality. While years rise and fall, the overall average remains fairly unaffected over the years. Thus, it doesn't appear we're just having more garbage forced down our throats these days as a result of poorer movies dominating at the box office. At least, no more so than in past years.
So, it's not a matter of taste nor quality. At this point, we can put to rest all of those claims that movies are getting horribly worse as being completely unfounded. Has there been a decline in quality of top-rated and popular movies? Yea, but just the slightest, almost negligible, drop. There are a few points that add further support to this that aren't immediately noticeable from these charts.
First is that information for this was gathered via a number of online resources such as Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb and BoxOfficeMojo. The internet did not become popular until the 90's and most of these sites didn't start till almost 2000. How does this affect the results? Quite simply: the majority of reviews before that period are retro reviews. This tends to add a bit of a skew to the results. From the 80s back to the 60s you'll find that far fewer movies are reviewed. And those that are reviewed have FAR fewer reviews than modern movies. As the results of these reviews seem to imply, the largest majority of those retro reviews simply come from fans of said movies, as fans are far more likely to go back to review an old movie than those that don't like the movie. This results in, seemingly, a slightly higher than possibly should be overall score for those older movies. This could create a skew that would make older films seem a tad bit more highly rated than they would be if they were released today.
So, after all of that it's still left unanswered why so many people think movies are getting horribly worse than those of yesteryears. For this, I chalk it up to two things: Nostalgia and Volume.
By volume, I simply mean, more movies are being made today than were in the past. With the industry being so big, and the advances in technology and information-sharing making such huge leaps, it's far easier for anybody to make movies these days. You'll see far more indie films and just more movies in general being released each year these days than in previous years. How does this affect things? Quite simply that if the average rating is still the same, that still means far more bad movies are being made today than in yesteryears. It's just the law of ratios. Therefore, while we still get plenty of great movies these days, we also have to wade through far more garbage. This could give the illusion that movies in general are getting worse. This is false, however. It's not that they're getting worse. It's just that there are more (this goes for more good movies and bad movies).
The second reason, I believe, should be chalked up to nostalgia. If honest with yourself, I'm sure everyone can admit that, as a child, they have movies they loved that just aren't good/great in hindsight. However, despite knowing these are mediocre movies, they still hold a special place in our hearts as childhood favorites. Is Christmas Vacation a better film than such recent movies as Black Swan, The Departed, The Social Network and No Country for Old Men? Almost assuredly not. However, Christmas Vacation will always trump any of those movies in a list of my favorites due to its nostalgic appeal and memories of how much I loved it as a kid (and still to this day). You see, as we grow older, these childhood favorites become ingrained as all-time favorites amongst each of us. Thus, despite some movies being better, due to this nostalgia and "bias" those newer gems will almost always seem inferior to our childhood favorites.
In closing, the next time someone tells you that movies are getting worse and that they don't compare to movies of the past, you can just laugh it off and move on. As the stats prove, such claims just aren't true. No matter how much one may claim it to be true, the numbers prove otherwise. Any illusion that movies are getting horribly worse is simply a psychological thing or matter of opinion/nostalgia, not a fact. So rest easy, we're nowhere close to seeing this medium that we love so much going under. Each and every year, you'll still be provided with great movies that will provide some great viewing experiences and prove to be real gems to add to your own collection.