A24’s Hereditary delivered the best opening in the short history of the company, delivering $13.5 million in its first weekend at the box office. The closest film released from A24 to Hereditary’s opening was 2016’s The Witch which made $8.8 million during its debut weekend.
Despite this excellent news, many news outlets picked up on the D+ Cinemascore rating for Hereditary as a sign of trouble for the film. While this may lead to diminishing returns in subsequent weeks, the issue is much more complex than the score would indicate.
Cinemascore is a polling company that describes their process as taking place “On opening night around the country, CinemaScore polls moviegoers for their opinions on new movie releases. Audience members fill out ballot cards right at the theatre, grading a movie A to F and providing demographic information. CinemaScore uses this direct balloting approach to establish a movie’s grade—its overall “CinemaScore.”
The above process seems fairly simple, but the company’s stated mission gets to the heart of the matter (and the low score for Hereditary). The origins of the company are detailed on their website and describe “…a need for theatre audiences to have a “public voice” for their opinions about movie appeal. Professional movie critics often dominate public conversations in the news about movies; while movie critics’ interpretations are interesting and helpful, their reviews often emphasize a movie’s meaning, not whether the movie appealed to live audiences. And while a movie critic only provides a single perspective on a movie, a statistically robust sample of a national audience offers a broader and more varied point of view.”
So in theory, Cinemascore was designed to weigh the response of “the people” over a knowledgeable critic, and in most cases, the scores movie goers give films on opening weekend are more generous than most critic’s assessments. Cinemascore was created as an antidote for poor critical reviews (which in the eyes of studios and theater chains will hopefully make more people want to go out to see a new movie despite a bad review), but in rare cases, the public rates a film much lower than the critical consensus. While this disparity may be shocking to some, there is a good reason for it.
Think about what a Friday night at your local megaplex looks like and who is in the audience on an opening night of a film. Combine this factor with the target audience for horror films and you have a theater filled with teenagers and young adults who are ready for a popcorn spilling, scream-filled roller coaster ride of terror. This is the experience that most viewers were expecting when they bought tickets to Hereditary, and this is not what they received. Instead of jump scares and loud noises, the audience received a heavy dose of mood, emotion, and dread. Hereditary is not a film that you walk out of high-fiving your friends as you regale each other with tales of your favorite frights; Hereditary is a film that you process in a much more cerebral, emotional way.
So the Friday night crowd did not get what they expected with this film, in the same way that they didn’t from any of A24’s previous horror films such as The Witch (C-) or It Comes at Night (D). While fans should know by now what to expect from a horror film released by A24, most of the thrill seeking viewers who see a horror movie on opening night are probably not interested in (or aware of) what studio is producing their run-of-the-mill ghost or slasher movie.
Is this a problem? Not really. Those who enjoyed Hereditary loved it. Those expecting a very different type of film highly disliked it and made their feelings known to Cinemascore (and the Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score which currently sits at 59%, 33 percentage points behind the critical average of 92%). These metrics will certainly not stop A24 from making challenging, director and story-driven horror films, especially when they continue to turn a profit and garner critical praise. In fact, this trend may end up being a tool to even better inform audiences. Hereditary, The Witch, and It Comes At Night all followed the same pattern with sky-high critical consensus as well as rejections by Friday night crowds, so the next time A24 releases a horror film, don’t expect a different outcome, as at this point, viewers should know what they have signed up for.
Be sure to check out HNN’s Hereditary review just in case you need a little more reassurance when making your choice.