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The Top Movies of 2017 So Far: ‘Baby Driver’ Joins a Well-Reviewed Bunch

We’re halfway through the year, and we’re already making the American box office charts great again.
By  · Published on July 3rd, 2017

We’re halfway through the year, and we’re already making the American box office charts great again.

When movies are for the fans, they’re also for the critics, and vice versa. People like quality cinema, no matter who they are. Sure, some moviegoers prefer action movies or comedies or horror or live-action remakes of animated musicals, but all of them want those movie to be good. If you make a bad movie, it’s possible you’ll still make a lot of money, especially if your movie is of a certain fan-driven commodity that can front-load attendance before word of mouth sets things straight. But mostly, audiences want quality over quantity.

Just in time for the mid-year report, this last week saw Wonder Woman shoot past last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad to become the top-grossing installment of the DC Extended Universe franchise in the US. That means the best-reviewed of the DCEU (92% on Rotten Tomatoes) is also the one that more people went to see — or maybe more people went again and again — because it’s the better movie. Wonder Woman is now the third biggest movie of the year in America, with a domestic box office tally of $347M. It’s right between Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Logan, two more comic book movies with really great reviews ($383M/81% and $226M/93%, respectively).

As I started to discuss last week ahead of the six-month marker, most of the top box office hits in the US so far this year have been pretty much acclaimed movies. Rounding out the five highest-grossing titles are Beauty and the Beast ($504M/71%) and The Fate and the Furious ($225M/66%), neither of which is “Certified Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes but both of which technically have fresh, positive scores. Only two moves in the top 10 are considered rotten. In eighth place is The Boss Baby ($174M/52%), which is a kids’ movie and so an easy exception to the idea of moviegoers seeking out “good” entertainment. The other is The Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales ($165M/29%), part of a franchise that has always been within the top five of the year. This one is 10th and falling.

Over the weekend, Edgar Wright had his biggest hit in the US yet with Baby Driver. Since opening on Wednesday, through Sunday it’s grossed about $30M domestically. Every one of his previous features except Scott Pilgrim vs. the World took in less than that in their total theatrical run in America. And Scott Pilgrim‘s total was only $31.5M. Interestingly enough, that was also his least-positively reviewed of his movies, though all of his work since his breakout, Shaun of the Dead, has been highly acclaimed and Certified Fresh on RT. Baby Driver is his best-reviewed (97%), and so it’s arguably his most deserving of being such a hit.

Technically, Baby Driver had a $21M opening weekend, but it basically opened to $30M (or $39M for the five-day holiday weekend). Another movie that debuted to the similar $33M, is Jordan Peele’s Get Out, which is also one of the best-reviewed movies of the year (99%). It rode that acclaim and positive buzz to become, at the midyear point, the seventh highest-grossing movie in the US ($175M). There’s also John Wick: Chapter Two (89%), which opened to $30M and has since reached $92M domestic for 15th place. Split, which has M. Nigh Shyamalan’s best RT score (75%) since The Sixth Sense, is also his highest-grossing movie ($138M), not adjusted for inflation, since his last Certified Fresh release, 2002’s Signs.

Meanwhile, the big blockbusters that were mostly panned by critics and then were ignored or also disliked by general audiences include The Mummy ($75M/15%), Transformers: The Last Knight ($102M/15%), Baywatch ($57M/20%), and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword ($39M/28%). None of them will be among the top box office hits here, and similar to the new Pirates, the new Transformers is performing very poorly for its franchise. The previous Transformers movies were also very high ranking at the box office. The Last Knight will also be the first of its series not to place in the top 10.

This is by no means the first year where most of the top box office hits in the US are also well-reviewed movies. The last five years have been fairly well-balanced in that regard, too. But seeing Pirates of the CaribbeanTransformers, and now Despicable Me franchise entries severely underperform compared to their usual number gives hope that we’re truly on the right path. We’ve come a long way since the early part of this decade when the US box office chart was dominated in the upper region by rotten-scoring movies in those franchises and the TwilightHangover, and Hobbit series, plus poorly received Disney live-action remakes Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent.

Below is a simple, crude chart tracking the RT scores for this year’s top-grossing movies, from Beauty and the Beast at the left through to 40th place, so that we can include Baby Driver (39th).

Of course, Baby Driver will soon enough place much higher, but outside of its spike at the end, there’s a clear downward slope in RT scores as the box office performance numbers also decrease. Will it continue to look that way as we continue 2017? Some of the expected highest-grossing movies not yet out are hopefully also going to be good movies, namely Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Thor: Ragnarok. We already know that Spider-Man: Homecoming will be in there, and it’s currently very well rated at 93%, and if War for the Planet of the Apes is a hit, that’s at 96%. One worrisome box office behemoth on the way is Justice League, but I have my fingers crossed for that one. If it’s more Wonder Woman than Batman v Superman, we could be looking at a top 10 that’s all positive RT scores!

And dummies in Hollywood still keep thinking getting good reviews — and making good movies to get those good reviews — isn’t important for the business. Well, maybe not in the rest of the world, but here in America there are still some things where we prove to have good taste.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.