A few weeks ago I started hearing rumblings that there was something going on at Boxoffice Magazine, the venerable trade publication that’s covered the film industry since 1920 and published box office reports (the first in the world, their site boasts) since 1937. First, a freelancer who had been working regularly for Boxoffice mentioned in passing that other writers were being let go; then another source told me the entire freelance staff had been laid off because the magazine was abandoning film criticism completely. The site’s formerly busy review section was last updated on December 13th of last year with a review of Walter Salles’ “On the Road.” After that, nothing for over a month.
Eventually, I contacted publisher Peter Cane via email and he confirmed that Boxoffice was getting out of the film criticism business. I asked him why he decided to get rid of his magazine’s review section; here’s what he told me:
“Boxoffice has ended the 30 year experiment of reviewing movies. We had a great group of world-class critics, so it wasn’t an easy decision. But it was the right one for the company. We’ve been an industry news and information source for 93 years. We started reviewing movies in the early 1980s to serve the audience of independent exhibitors who used our reviews to help make booking decisions. Today, the industry looks to us more for grosses and tracking data than for a discussion (no matter how smart or well-written, and ours were very both) of a particular film’s artistic merit.”
At least according to their own 900-page online review archive and their “Vault” of every issue published since the 1930s, the reviews actually go back much farther than the early ’80s. Dig around the .pdfs and you can find Boxoffice‘s take on “Star Wars” from June 1977 (“one of the most entertaining films of its type yet done”) and their review of “Bonnie and Clyde” from August 1967 (“an excellent dramatization of outlaws against society”). In 1953, the staff rightly predicted “From Here to Eternity” would be “a strong contender for honors” at the end of the year; it eventually went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture. In 1937, Boxoffice told readers that “The Adventures of Robin Hood” starring Errol Flynn was “in every department… flawless.” The movie and the critique both still hold up.
Regardless of the exact time frame, this is a publication that has been regularly reviewing movies for decades and now it has simply stopped. Cane is absolutely right in one regard: he did have a world-class staff of critics, including David Ehrlich, Kate Erbland, Todd Gilchrist, Pete Hammond, Mark Keizer, Amy Nicholson, Mark Olsen, Vadim Rizov, James Rocchi, Nick Schager, Sara Vizcarrondo, and more. If you agree with me and you work for a website or newspaper looking for a freelancer or two, reach out to those folks (clicking their names will link you to their Twitter accounts); they may be in the market for more assignments. Just because a site has given up on film criticism doesn’t mean we have to give up on its critics.