Are Hollywood Blockbusters Worse This Year? Not Really.

In a summer of Suicide Squad and Ben-Hur, it can feel like big-budget popcorn flicks have never been more awful. They have.

Are Hollywood Blockbusters Worse This Year? Not Really.
The titular Suicide Squad, from “Suicide Squad”, 2016 [Photo: Clay Enos, courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures]

To hear the curmudgeons and film snobs tell it, the summer of 2016 has churned out some of the most soul-crushingly awful Hollywood blockbusters in recent memory—from the superhero anti-epic Suicide Squad to the dead-on-arrival sequel to Independence Day. By the time the laughable Ben-Hur limped into multiplexes last weekend, the narrative had been solidified: The latest summer blockbuster season has been an exceptionally terrible one.


Except it hasn’t—at least, not any more terrible than usual. In fact, we crunched some numbers to see if critical consensus was particularly low for this year’s top-grossing films. While it was lower than last year, when crowd-pleasers like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Pixar’s Inside Out ruled the charts, the average review ratings for the top 10 domestic grossing movies for 2016 was pretty much par for the course: 72%, according to Rotten Tomatoes. That’s about dead even with 2014, when lukewarm entries like Disney’s Maleficent and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies cracked the top 10.

Moreover, critics who are bemoaning the notably lousy summer of 2016 seem to be forgetting about the much lousier summer of 2011. That was the year, you may recall, that cringeworthy sequels like Cars 2, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1, and The Hangover Part II all slithered their way into the top 10, bringing down the average review rating for that year to 56.6%, the lowest of the last six years.

[Photos: courtesy of Disney, Pixar (“Finding Dory”, 2016); courtesy of Lucasfilm, Disney (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, 2015); Keith Bernstein, courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures (“American Sniper”, 2014); courtesy of Lionsgate Pictures (“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”, 2013); courtesy of Marvel Studios (“The Avengers”, 2012); courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”, 2011)]

Fast Company looked at data for the top 10 domestic grossing movies over the last six years and compared their percentages on Rotten Tomatoes’ “Tomatometer,” an aggregate of critical reviews. (A snapshot of the rankings was taken on Tuesday and is likely to change as the year progresses.) There are some important qualifiers here. We only looked at movies in the top 10, per Box Office Mojo, so some of the really awful ones weren’t included. The aforementioned Independence Day: Resurgence, for example, is currently No. 17 on the domestic charts. Still, the numbers paint an interesting picture. Bad blockbusters have been around for a while now.

One of the reasons that 2016 doesn’t look much different than years past is because the cream still rises to the top. While Ben-Hur might be dominating headlines for all the wrong reasons this week, moviegoers still had plenty of well-received offerings to choose from, including Finding Dory, which had a rating of 94% and also made the most money in the U.S. In fact, the highest-rated movie on our entire list came out this year: Disney’s Zootopia, which had a rating of 98% as of Tuesday. With a March release date, it barely qualifies as a summer movie, except in Hollywood where it does. More important, it will likely stay in the top 10.

The list is notable for its low-rated outliers, too. The lowest on the list was 2014’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, which had a rating of just 18%. Sure, memory is selective, but traumatic experiences tend to stick with you.

About the author

Christopher Zara is a news editor for Fast Company and obsessed with media, technology, business, culture, and theater. Before coming to FastCo News, he was a deputy editor at International Business Times, a theater critic for Newsweek, and managing editor of Show Business magazine.