Memorial Day is the official start of summer, but in Movieland, summer starts well before, in early May or even sooner. (I generally say there four season on the calendar but only two seasons for movies: Summer and Awards.) Still, Memorial Day is still supposed to be a big deal in movie theaters; kids have an extra day off from school and Hollywood delivers some of the season’s biggest offerings.

At least that’s how things typically go. As Variety reports, this year’s Memorial Day weekend at the domestic box office was the worst in almost 20 years:

This Memorial Day weekend signals a sluggish end to a dreary summer box office start. This four-day weekend’s total domestic earnings ($172.3 million) are the lowest recorded since 1999 ($142.5 million) when “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” opened in first place.

Over at Deadline, some of the blame for the poor numbers was laid at the feet of critics, whose poor reviews for the weekend’s big releases, Baywatch and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, supposedly sank the film’s financial prospects:

Insiders close to both films blame Rotten Tomatoes, with Pirates 5 and Baywatch respectively earning 32% and 19% Rotten. The critic aggregation site increasingly is slowing down the potential business of popcorn movies. Pirates 5 and Baywatch aren’t built for critics but rather general audiences, and once upon a time these types of films — a family adventure and a raunchy R-rated comedy — were critic-proof. Many of those in the industry severely question how Rotten Tomatoes computes the its ratings, and the fact that these scores run on Fandango (which owns RT) is an even bigger problem.

For years, all I heard was how film critics are irrelevant and their days of influence and importance were in the past. (For about 18 months I ran a blog for Indiewire all about the world of film criticism, and rounding up and reacting to posts about the death of film criticism was at least 30 percent of the job on a weekly basis.) Supposedly big brand movies like Pirates and Baywatch were utterly critic-proof, a big reason why they made them. Suddenly, according to some, that dynamic has completely flipped. People are looking to review aggregation sites, and actually paying attention to what critics say when they decide whether or not to go to the theater.

I’m not sure how much of that is true, just like I was always skeptical when I heard that film crit was as dead as the dodo back in 2012. I’m sure negative reviews have some impact on certain customers’ moviegoing habits, both in general and in this specific case. But while I love to feel powerful and influential, I’m not sure general audiences needed critics to tell them a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean and a movie based on a TV show they would never have admitted to watching back in the ’90s were bad ideas. Let’s see how much critics influence the good movies of the summer season, or (at least the good-looking movies of the summer season), and revisit this subject in a couple months.

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