"How am I supposed to enjoy a carefree romp of clandestine murder after THIS?!"
Unfortunately for gamers, those reviews only came in after the midnight release -- as ordered by Ubisoft when they first sent their early copies out. But it could be worse. You could go a step further, like Wild Games Studios did when they trolled through YouTube sticking copyright violations on any video which spoke badly of their new release. Or Sega, which used the same tactic to shut down bad YouTube reviews that didn't even contain footage from their games.
In the end, this technique usually causes a huge and understandable backlash, on account of YouTubers being wicked blabbermouths about such injustices. But critic embargoes are so common that they're considered normal. And most often, this isn't nefarious at all, but rather a measure against premature spoilers or judgments before a film is locked down in post. Only every once in a while is this tool used to cover up true garbage. Pungent, salty garbage -- the kind you can taste through your nose. Like, I'm talking alien-chasing-a-school-bus-driven-by-Judd-Hirsch level of garbage here.
20th Century Fox
Let's pick one of the many examples at random.
Independence Day: Resurgence is a film I happen to enjoy that is also objectively terrible. And 20th Century Fox knew it was terrible, hence their American critic embargo lasted up until the day it was released -- causing most audiences to buy a ticket without knowing its quality. Similar measures, which include completely skipping press screenings altogether, have happened for similarly bad work like Alien Vs. Predator and the G.I. Joe films.
Yes, you could argue that these films "weren't meant for critics," as a lot of executives often say. But that's kind of like saying an apartment complex "isn't meant for safety inspectors" or that your basement "isn't meant for homicide detectives." People deserve to know in advance if something sucks. But that doesn't mean we won't still enjoy it or flock to see it. And if all else fails, you can always do what China does and completely circumvent the pesky audience altogether ...
China Will Hold "Ghost Screenings" To Make Films Look More Popular
As previously mentioned, China is quickly becoming the dominating money-maker for blockbusters. So it stands to reason that the country would also become the industry leader for blatantly fudging a movie's popularity. But instead of relying on embargoes or misleading ads, Chinese studios have taken a much more direct approach: just buying tickets to the movie they made.
The Wall Street Journal
"'Best thing to ever happen to movies!' raved one translucent women in a bloodstained Victorian wedding dress."
It's as brilliant as it is illegal. Instead of pouring money into television spots and bus stop posters, simply use that marketing money to buy out theater showings, and watch the popularity snowball. And to ensure profit, those purchased tickets can then be resold online to discount ticket retailers. It's like stealing your own car for the insurance, and then selling that stolen car for a second profit.
Unfortunately for those cheating marketers, I wouldn't be writing about this if people didn't figure out it was happening. Ghost screenings were recently brought to light thanks to the film Ip Man 3, a martial arts biopic which bafflingly includes Mike Tyson playing an evil property developer who ends up fighting the hero in an epic battle of kung-fu vs. boxing vs. child endangerment.
Pegasus Motion Pictures
Why this movie felt the need to artificially inflate its popularity is beyond me.
After the film's release, a local news site posted screenshots of theater websites claiming to have sold-out screenings for showings that started within ten minutes of each other ... in the same auditorium. Meaning that, save for some kind of multiple-dimension scenario caused by Mike Tyson punching time itself, someone was brazenly cheating in the laziest way possible.
When The Wall Street Journal dug deeper, they found it to be a regular (albeit short-term) strategy for film distributors to buy out fake screenings in the hope that sold-out shows would encourage audiences to assume the film is popular and therefore go see it themselves. It's not very imaginative, but if studios were more creative, they wouldn't need to do all the bullshit on this list to begin with.
David is a writer and editor for this very website that you currently read. You can follow him on Twitter.
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