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‘Ready Player One’ is Steven Spielberg’s Most Crowd-Pleasing Hit in Over a Decade

The combination of its reviews, audience ratings, and box office success ranks the movie among the filmmakers’ most favored works. 
Ready Player One Ranking List
By  · Published on April 2nd, 2018

The combination of its reviews, audience ratings, and box office success ranks the movie among the filmmakers’ most favored works.

The fact that Ready Player One had Steven Spielberg‘s best opening in 10 years isn’t surprising. The sci-fi movie isn’t the filmmaker’s first aim at a blockbuster since 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — both The Adventures of Tintin and The BFG could be considered in the same batch, even if their modest screen counts didn’t show as much confidence in their releases. Ready Player One is only Spielberg’s seventh feature as a director since the Indiana Jones sequel, and this era has been mostly filled with dramatic, awards-favoring fare. His latest was sold more as the kind of classic Spielberg movie that entertains in a mainstream fashion and makes big bucks as a result.

Not that Ready Player One‘s weekend domestic take of $41.8 million — or four-day holiday debut of $53.7 million — is huge. Back in early February, Box Office Pro foresaw the movie as making $54 million just in the three-day frame. However, tepid reviews and buzz for the future-set Ernest Cline adaptation held its expectations back. Last week, Box Office Pro’s prediction was for only $36 million over the weekend, with $47 million guessed for the full opening including Thursday’s first-day figures. Still, these days it’s enough of a hit for this sort of non-sequel release, even from the biggest name in moviemaking. And it might just be Spielberg’s most all-around crowd-pleasing effort in more than 15 years — and maybe one of the most popular for him for all time.

Besides Kingdom of the Crystal Skull‘s $100 million bow ($128 million, adjusted for inflation), and his 2005 War of the Worlds redo kicking off with $64.9 million ($92.9 million adjusted), Spielberg’s last truly comparable opening came with Catch Me If You Can. Given its mix of popularity and acclaim, the spiffy biographical crime film is one of Spielberg’s biggest successes (alongside such early Best Picture-nominated hits as JawsRaiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial). And when it arrived at the end of 2002, Catch Me If You Can debuted with a gross of $30.1 million ($47.5 million adjusted). Given its Christmas release, though, its own first four days amounted to an even larger $39.9 million ($63 million adjusted). The movie wound up with a total domestic take of $164.6 million ($251.7 million adjusted), ranking it Spielberg’s 14th highest-grossing out of 33 titles.

Of course, Catch Me If You Can cost a lot less. Its production budget was just $52 million (about $71 million today), while Ready Player One‘s reported price tag is $175 million. And Catch Me If You Can wasn’t just a hit in North America, despite its lack of big special effects a la Ready Player One. The Leonardo DiCaprio-led movie grossed $352 million worldwide. Spielberg’s latest is already at about half that amount (of course worldwide grosses aren’t ever adjusted for inflation). The two films are comparable as the director’s most noteworthy efforts of this century for more than financial reason, too. And I’m not just talking about how they’re both about a young man spending most of the time as someone else while trying to elude capture.

With a 76% Rotten Tomatoes scoreReady Player One is just barely “Certified Fresh.” In fact, its ranking on that site, with about the same amount of reviews posted, is below Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — same goes for its 64 score at Metacritic being one point below the Indiana Jones sequel’s 65. But beyond its oft-forgotten relative critical favor, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull shows less popularity in non-professional user-rating forums. At Rotten Tomatoes, its audience score is just 53% compared to Ready Player One‘s current 80%. The new movie also has both better reviews and audience reaction than War of the WorldsThe BFG, and Tintin.

Ready Player One also ranks higher via IMDb user score than all of those titles. Actually, as of this writing, with an 8.0 score (albeit from only 39,000 votes), it’s tied with Jaws for Spielberg’s seventh most popular, behind only Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Jurassic Park, and Catch Me If You Can (yes, it’s above E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, for now). Of course, user ratings and scores are not fixed, and those for Ready Player One could fall as more people see the movie.

Where its popularity shows more firmly in comparison to the other Spielberg films is with its CinemaScore grade. Every one of his movies since Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which received a ‘B’ from opening-night polling, has earned either an ‘A’ or ‘A-‘. Ready Player One has the lower grade, matching that of The BFGTintin, and War Horse. Before Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the last Spielberg movie to please audience expectations so high was Catch Me If You Can, which earned an ‘A-‘ (The Terminal, War of the Worlds, and Munich all received a  ‘B+’, as did Minority Report the same year as Catch Me If You Can ).

Such positive word of mouth could give Ready Player One the kind of legs to give it a final domestic total comparable to that of Catch Me If You Can, but maybe just with its unadjusted gross. Beyond that, the new movie’s legacy is hard to imagine. Despite being on the mainstream entertainment side of Spielberg’s output, it’s unlikely to at least garner awards favor in even technical categories, which would make it a rare non-Oscar-contender for the filmmaker. Meanwhile, further scrutiny and critical backlash could hurt its overall interest and approval from the general audience as well.

From the reactions I’ve personally encountered and seen in online discussion, I could see Ready Player One being the most divisive of Spielberg’s movies since 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence and similarly one of his most debated efforts ever. That much darker, more cynical sci-fi movie debuted with a similarly divided critical reception and modest opening but was stamped with a disappointing/disappointed ‘C+’ grade via CinemaScore (Spielberg’s worst) and wound up sort of stalling at the box office, finishing with less than $100 million (unadjusted). Now it’s often ranked among Spielberg’s best films by critics (though some critics still put it as one of his worst). But Ready Player One won’t have such esteem. More likely it will fall in the middle for a majority of critics and fans even as it’s being defended and disparaged with equal measure.

In other new release box office news, Tyler Perry’s Acrimony gave the filmmaker one of his worst openings ever with just $17.2 million, while the religious film sequel God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness underperformed and gave the franchise its worst debut ($2.7 million). As for non-new titles, fellow Christian movie I Can Only Imagine made the most of the holiday weekend and added a few hundred extra screens and made another $10.4 million, giving it the lowest weekend-to-weekend drop for a wide release, again. And Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs expanded and remained the per-screen-average champ (with $17,839), nearly entering the top 10 despite playing at just 165 locations.

Here is the weekend’s estimated top 20 with new titles in bold and total domestic box office in parentheses:

1. Ready Player One – $41.8M ($53.7M)
2. Tyler Perry’s Acrimony – $17.2M ($17.2M)
3. Black Panther – $11.5M ($650.9M)
4. I Can Only Imagine – $10.4M ($55.3M)
5. Pacific Rim Uprising – $9.4M ($45.8M)
6. Sherlock Gnomes – $7M ($22.8M)
7. Tomb Raider – $4.9M ($50.7M)
8. A Wrinkle in Time – $4.84M ($83.4M)
9. Love, Simon – $4.77M ($32.1M)
10. Paul, Apostle of Christ – $3.5M ($11.5M)
11. Isle of Dogs – $2.9M ($6.1M)
12. God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness – $2.7M ($2.7M)
13. Game Night – $2.5M ($65M)
14. Peter Rabbit – $2.1M ($110.8M)
15. Midnight Sun – $1.8M ($7.7M)
16. Unsane – $1.5M ($6.8M)
17. The Death of Stalin – $1.3M ($3.8M)
18. Red Sparrow – $0.72M ($45.7M)
19. The Greatest Showman – $0.7M ($172.1M)
20. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – $0.68M ($402.8M)

All non-forecast box office figures are via Box Office Mojo.

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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.