Hollywood is still bonkers for metrics — there’s Rotten Tomatoes to freshen up, IMDb stars to earn, Metacritic rankings to top, and the audience-friendly classic CinemaScore, which provides a handy letter grade at the end of opening weekend for each big-screen release. It’s designed to be as easily digested as an elementary school report card, but CinemaScores don’t measure quality. By their own admission, they measure “movie appeal,” and high grades often reflect canny marketing or audiences already primed to enjoy a certain film.
This weekend, moviegoers rated two new openers, the gay teen romance “Love, Simon” and the faith-based drama “I Can Only Imagine,” the highest CinemaScore possible: a sterling A+. And while it’s telling that this weekend spawned such high marks for such very different films, it also speaks to what happens when Hollywood churns out the films that certain audiences are so eager to see.
Movies that tend to do well on the CinemaScore curve are typically more mainstream: straightforward marketing for straightforward movies, but recent winners (from “Black Panther” to “Girls Trip,” “Wonder” to “Coco”) have also shown off how highly films marketed to and targeted at specific audiences tend to do on the scoring system, lately including films that are bolstered by diverse casts and films for families and young kids. This week, that list includes the Christian-leaning “I Can Only Imagine,” which is actually the second film directed by filmmaker brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin to pick up the highest score possible.
And with this most recent A+ CinemaScore, the Erwins join a very small, very select group of filmmakers that have earned a pair of A+ grades since the service was started in 1979 (only one director has three to their name: Lee Unkrich for “Toy Story 2,” “Coco,” and “Finding Nemo”). It’s a rarefied list, to be sure, one that includes Steven Spielberg (“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and “Schindler’s List”), Rob Reiner (“When Harry Met Sally…” and “A Few Good Men”), Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump” and “The Polar Express”), Pete Docter (“Monsters Inc.” and “Up”), Malcolm D. Lee (“Girls Trip” and “The Best Man Holiday”), and Peter Berg (“Lone Survivor” and “Patriots Day”). And that’s it so far.
Other faith-based films that have earned A+ CinemaScores include “Miracles From Heaven,” “Courageous,” and the first “Chronicles of Narnia” film, though such high rankings from audiences don’t always translate into big box office cash. For “I Can Only Imagine,” the biggest surprise at this weekend’s box office, it’s a rare two-fer, and new ground for the filmmaking brothers. Their previous effort, “Woodlawn,” earned an A+ when it opened in 2013, though even that couldn’t bolster it above a $15M takeaway at the box office. Their latest has already clocked in with $17M this past weekend alone. High marks all-around.
“I Can Only Imagine” is now playing in theaters nationwide.