Graphic by Darrel Frost


August 9, 2019

When it comes to promoting poorly-reviewed films and plays, marketing departments get creative. Some turn to critics comfortable with hyperbole if it means getting the show’s name out there. Others go to far ends of the earth to find the lone reviewer with a kind thing to say, or elevate the platform of a relatively unknown critic—or someone who is not a critic at all. (A daytime news presenter at a small town ABC-affiliate station, for example, becomes “ABC-TV” in marketing materials.) And then there is the tried and true practice of quoting critics out of context. Here, we compile praise for films that are almost certainly not what their critics intended:

In his review for the film, Ebert in fact says, “In a film mostly involved with plot, there are two scenes that are irrelevant but charming.”

Meanwhile, the word “fun” does not appear at all in two reviews of the film in the Post. The closest it gets is this, in a review by Anne Hornaday: “Garfield is rather unpleasant, and he’s never very funny.”


The words are in fact used in the Tribune’s review of the film, by Michael Wilmington, albeit not in succession and only in reference to the film’s visual effects. “But does that really make it a good movie?” Wilmington continued in the review. He answers with a decisive “no,” saying of the final product: “It made me itchy.” A second reviewer for the Tribune called the film “about as deep as a silverware tray.”


The review actually reads, “The world of ‘Failure to Launch,’ of course, is not the real world but the romantic comedy planet, which means the movie has only the most tenuous connection with reality. But the same could be said of classic 30’s screwball comedies in which the treacherous feints and ploys of the mating game are transmuted into witty, romantically charged repartee.” Later, the review notes, “Mr. McConaughey and Ms. Parker (in a role not far removed from Carrie Bradshaw) make well-matched sparring partners.”


The review actually said: “The action in this fast-paced, hysterically overproduced, and surprisingly entertaining film is as realistic as a Road Runner cartoon.”


He had actually written, “Murphy’s comic skills are immense, and ‘Dreamgirls’ shows he’s a fine straight dramatic actor too. So why does he want to make these huge, belching spectaculars, movies as swollen, monstrous and full of hot air as Rasputia [a plus-sized character in the film] herself—here misdirected by Brian Robbins of ‘Good Burger,’ ‘Varsity Blues’ and that lousy ‘Shaggy Dog’ remake?”


This quote was used in 2009 in marketing for a theatrical production of “The Shawshank Redemption.” Spender did say that about “The Shawshank Redemption”—but in his review for the film in 1994.

Of the play, he actually said, “I would suggest that your cash might be better spent elsewhere.… In almost every respect, the stage version is inferior to the movie.”


In 2012, London’s Shaftesbury Theater, which was showing “Rock of Ages,” quoted The Guardian’s Michael Hann—Hann spotted the sign himself and snapped a photo. He had actually written, “It’s a very peculiar show indeed, with an unvarying and unpleasant tone of careless sexualisation. Rock’n’roll debauchery is presented as the pure and innocent way of dreamers.”


DVD and Blu-ray cover art for the 2012 reboot of “Total Recall” uses a quote from… a MySpace user.


Those words are in fact from Ebert’s review of the first entry in the series, from 2009. When the third installment was released, Ebert was in fact dead; the film was reviewed poorly on his website.

Check out other articles in our new series examining the world of criticism.

The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.