I’m good at my job because I’m eternally curious about the world of movies. And I’m bad at my job because I’m eternally curious about the world of movies. Once I find something about movies online, it’s kind of hard to stop looking at it. My doctor calls it “Internet addiction.” I call it my “mutant power.” We agree to disagree.
Today my obsessive tendencies have me playing with a new web page from Slate called The Hollywood Career-O-Matic. Basically Christopher Beam and Jeremy Singer-Vine used the movie review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes to compile sets of data about working Hollywood actors and directors. When you enter a name into the Career-O-Matic, seen above, it spits out a line graph charting the ups and downs of that filmmaker’s critical reception over time. By moving the mouse over the points on the graph, you get pop-ups of the names of the movies, their release date, and their Rotten Tomatoes score. It’s a fun, user-friendly way to access the scope of a filmmaker’s career and to see, in an instant, what someone’s best and worst reviewed movies were (Michael Bay’s best? “The Rock.” His worst? “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”).
But it gets much more interesting from there because you can plug more than one name into the Career-O-Matic, and compare two or more filmmakers’ careers side-by-side. For example, the graph above was actually the very first one I plugged into the Career-O-Matic: Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Sylvester Stallone.
The results aren’t perfect; the Career-O-Matic doesn’t filter out cameos (something that would be apprecaited in a C-O-M 2.0), which means Schwarzenegger’s second best received picture is “Dave,” which he is barely in. And the database only goes back to 1985; meaning Arnold is spared the unflattering comparison of “Hercules in New York” versus “Rocky.” But it is still fascinating to compare these peers’ work in this way. The best reviewed picture either ever made during this period is “Terminator 2: Judgment Day;” while the highest score Stallone’s received came for his voice only, as an animated bug in “Antz.” It’s also interesting to observe how both of their careers cratered simultaneously in the mid- and late-90s, suggesting shifts in public taste for action films, and how they’ve enjoyed a slight resurgence in the last half-decade, suggesting a certain nostalgia for their style of films.
Okay, so I got the obvious out of the way. What’s next? How about this one:
Director versus director, brother versus brother, Ridley and Tony Scott. Again, we’re limited by our data starting in 1985 (meaning no “Alien,” “Blade Runner,” or “The Hunger”) but we do see similar gradual downward trajectories in both cases. At least until recently; it does seem the reevaluation of Tony Scott as something of a phantom auteur by certain artier sects of the critical community has begun to seep into criticism at large. While three out of Ridley’s last four films have been amongst the worst reviewed of his career (and the fourth, the dreadful “American Gangster,” received an impossibly generous score of 79), Tony’s stock is on the rise: after bottoming out with “Domino,” he rebounded with “Deja Vu” (which is inexplicably absent from his graph) and “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” then scored his best reviewed movie in fifteen years with last year’s “Unstoppable.” The numbers are so close between them I’m not sure who comes out on top. Someone get these two to dual it out in a vicious battle of slaps to determine the winner.
All right, one more before I lose all day to this thing.
Here we’ve got arguably the two biggest names in American independent film since the early 1990s, Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh. Clearly, Tarantino takes the match in terms of average score; other than the dark spot on his directorial career that is the anthology “Four Rooms,” Tarantino doesn’t have a film to his name that rates less than a 60. Soderbergh has a lot more critical flops (and his own poorly received anthology, “Eros”) but he’s also got a lot more movies, period. As you can see from the long stretch between dots on his green line, in the six years between Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” and “Kill Bill: Volume 1,” Soderbergh made seven movies, including “Traffic,” “Eric Brockavich,” and “Ocean’s Eleven.” Also, it’s kind of surprising that the highest rated Tarantino movie isn’t “Pulp Fiction;” it’s “Reservoir Dogs.” I don’t know anyone who prefers the latter above the former, but that’s not necessarily the way Rotten Tomatoes works. They chart consensus, not passion.
I could go on and on with this thing. And I want to. But I’ll leave it here for now. It’s time for you to play with the Career-O-Matic for yourself. I’d love to hear some more comparisons in the comments section; maybe we can do a follow-up post later of the most interesting ones.