Everyone has an opinion on films they think are "overrated" or "underrated," but it's a tricky idea to quantify. An interesting way of looking at this, I thought, would be to compare the reviews of Hollywood film critics with those of Joe Public, reasoning that a film which is roundly-lauded by the initial reviewers but proved disappointing for the real audience would be "overrated" and vice versa.
The first place that comes to mind for an analysis like this is the popular review aggregator: Rotten Tomatoes. As well as cataloguing thousands of films, they offer some useful review metadata: the percentage of reviewers who rated the film 3.5 out of 5 or better (an audience score) and the percentage of positive reviews received from film critics (a critic score). The combination of these two metrics and, in particular, where they diverge, could give an insight into which movies have been over- or underrated by the critics.
After grabbing the data for over 2,500 films, here's an overview of the critic and audience scores with some notable outliers labelled.
On the whole it should be noted that critics and audience agree a surprisingly high amount, as shown by the correlation between the two measures (0.71).
On the above graph I've highlighted some of the most extreme outliers, where critics and the audience had totally different opinions about the same movie, but maybe you're interested in what some of the other points are. For this, there's an interactive version of the same graph which will show you titles and ratings when you hover over a point.
Most underrated films
Using our earlier definition it's easy to build a table of those films where the audience ending up really liking a film that was panned by critics:
Somewhat surprisingly, the top of the table is Facing the Giants (2006), an evangelical Christian film. The reason this is so highly rated by its audience is likely self-selection bias: the only the people who have gone to see this movie are its key demographic of football-loving Christians. After watching the trailer, I'd probably agree with the critics on this one.
The second most underrated comes out as the controversial 1996 movie The Boondock Saints. After a poor initial release, the film developed a cult following particularly among the young, Tarantino-generation who may well have a disproportionate presence in the online audience reviews.
Looking over the rest of the table, it seems the public is more fond of gross-out or slapstick comedies such as the two Tyler Perry movies Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005) and Madea's Family Reunion (2006), as well as geek/stoner flick Grandma's boy (2006). Again, not films I'd go out of my way to defend as underrated.
Most overrated films
Here we're looking at those films which the critics loved, but paying audiences were less keen on:
Strangely the top 15 (by difference) contains both the original 2001 Spy Kids and the sequel Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (2002). What did critics see in these films that the public didn't? A possibility is again some bias in the audience reviews collected, the target audience is young children for these films and they are probably underrepresented among Rotten Tomatoes reviewers. Maybe there's even an enrichment for disgruntled parent chaperones.
Thankfully, though, in this table there's the type of film we might more associate with being "overrated" by critics: 3 Backyards won the US Dramatic Directing award at 2010′s Sundance Film Festival; Momma's Man (2008) is an indie drama debuted at the 26th Torino Film Festival; and Essential Killing is a 2010 drama and political thriller from Polish director and screenwriter Jerzy Skolimowski.
Movies we can agree on
We've already seen that overall the film critics are pretty good at picking films that audiences will enjoy, so here are the top and bottom films in the sample ranked by adding the two scores:
No great surprises here; these are classics that regularly feature atop "best movies of all time" lists. Here's the worst according to both measures:
Thankfully I haven't sat through any of these. Battlefield Earth starring John Travolta and based on an L. Ron Hubbard novel, was called "the worst movie in living history" by TIME magazine on release in 2000. An unwarranted sequel to a cult classic, S. Darko was apparently disowned by director Richard Kelly. These are movies that spiral down past the idea of "so bad it's good" into a filmmaking abyss.
Even such a simple measure of over- and underratedness has pulled out some interesting, not to mention highly debatable, results. Do you agree or disagree with these rankings?
Maybe you have a better idea of how to analyse this dataset -- if so, a detailed explanation and the full code to reproduce the analysis is attached to an earlier version of this piece.