Which Film Critics Are The Most Contrarian? We Used Data To Find Out

By James O Malley on at

Over the last few weeks, here at Gizmodo UK we’ve been digging into the world of film criticism. We’ve found out which films the critics disagree about the most amongst themselves, and we’ve discovered the films at which the critics are most at odds with the general public. And then luckily we’ve also shown that film criticism is a useful thing - as there is a (small) link between review scores and box office takings.

And now, in our final look into this world, we want to turn and look at the critics themselves. What are they like? Do they follow the herd or are they individuals? Let’s find out.

Top Contrarians

So previously we identified the most controversial films amongst critics. And this makes us wonder: Who is doing all of the disagreeing? Is it the same person who loves Batman vs Superman and hates Citizen Kane?

To be clear, we’re not making any value judgements here, as contrarian or not, critics can be interesting or insightful. It is both useful to challenge prevailing opinions, as well as find out which critics are representative of the critical consensus at large. And surely the world is a richer place for having both.

So to find the most contrarian critic, we took our pool of around 184,000 film reviews downloaded from Metacritic, and worked out how far that reviews’ score was from the average score for that film. We then totted them up for films with over 30 reviews (so there would be no enormous swings based on little data), and averaged them out for each critic in the database who has over 50 reviews listed on the site. That’s 366 critics all in all, and each has been given a score, which is their average distance from the critical average score... Still following?

As you can see from the chart above, the name at the top is Hal Hinson, who on average is a massive 45 points (out of a normalised 100) away from the critics average. He wrote for The Washington Post for many years, and amusingly is noted on his Wikipedia page is noted for being unpopular with his fellow critics for giving polarised reviews. Now - it appears - we have the data to back this view of him up! He’s particularly noted for liking Hudson Hawk, the panned 1991 Bruce Willis slapstick action comedy.

Also up there on the list of contrarians is the late Gene Siskel, who was part of a legendary partnership with Roger Ebert (who himself is in the the top 20% of critics ranked by their contrarianism). And Kyle Smith is the 14th most contrarian according to our ranking - which is in line with a similar exercise carried out by The Atlantic, based on a much smaller dataset.

Other top ranked contrarians include Eric Hynes, who is currently the curator of the (excellent) Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York, and Amy Taubin, who at 78 is one of film criticism’s longest serving and most respected voices. Drew McWeeny is perhaps the highest ranked contrarian who has spent most of his career writing online (though I can’t claim knowledge of every name on the list).

One well known contrarian who isn't on the list is Armond White - this isn't because the data suggests whether he is or isn't contrarian, but simply because he was not included by Metacritic for whatever reason, or didn't reach the minimum requirements of at least 50 reviews on Metacritic. Similarly, probably Britain's most well known critic, Mark Kermode is missing - along with other "tastemakers". But this is the list that the Metacritic data gave us to work with.

The Critical Barometers

At the other end of the list, there’s the critics whose views mostly closely track the critical consensus - who score films most in line with the average of other critics. Interestingly, given a Washington Post writer was the most contrarian, the least contrarian critic in the list is the late Vincent Canby who served as the New York Times’ chief film critic for over three decades.

Other critics who should perhaps be considered “barometers” of critical opinion include AA Dowd from The AV Club, Ty Burr from the Boston Globe, Sam Adams from Slate, Eric Kohn from Indiewire, and ThePlaylist’s Gregory Ellwood. Interestingly, Empire magazine has three critics who may also act as barometers Ian Nathan, Helen O’Hara and Adam Smith.

Ultimately though, this is all just a bit of fun - you can find the full list of critics and their “contrarian” score below - bigger numbers meaning they’re further away from the critical average, and lower meaning they’re closer to it.

1) Hal Hinson (45.9697)
2) Phil Hall (37.5292)
3) Diego Semerene (25.6672)
4) Eric Campos (22.4503)
5) Gene Siskel (22.2135)
6) Rex Reed (21.2553)
7) Andrew Schenker (20.6337)
8) Drew Taylor (20.2956)
9) Eric Hynes (19.7705)
10) Chris Cabin (19.4809)
11) Barbara Shulgasser (19.2367)
12) Bill White (18.9479)
13) Richard Brody (18.0811)
14) Kyle Smith (17.9178)
15) Charles Taylor (17.8706)
16) Amy Taubin (17.4726)
17) Michael Atkinson (17.4046)
18) Stephen Hunter (17.2302)
19) Martin Tsai (17.0751)
20) Bob Graham (17.0495)
21) Mick LaSalle (17.0418)
22) Melissa Anderson (16.9404)
23) Randy Cordova (16.826)
24) Bill Zwecker (16.6892)
25) Dennis Lim (16.6145)
26) Kevin Thomas (16.5227)
27) Joe Neumaier (16.4021)
28) Clayton Dillard (16.2945)
29) Peter Sobczynski (16.2039)
30) Serena Donadoni (16.1691)
31) Joe Morgenstern (16.056)
32) Chuck Bowen (15.9145)
33) Keith Uhlich (15.8506)
34) Drew McWeeny (15.7813)
35) G. Allen Johnson (15.7701)
36) Eric Henderson (15.7667)
37) Gregory Weinkauf (15.7411)
38) Robert Wilonsky (15.6762)
39) Cody Clark (15.539)
40) Inkoo Kang (15.5249)
41) Elise Nakhnikian (15.4322)
42) Kevin Jagernauth (15.3526)
43) Ed Gonzalez (15.2428)
44) Amy Nicholson (15.1455)
45) Nick Schager (15.1092)
46) Frank Lovece (15.0847)
47) David Sterritt (15.0757)
48) Rita Kempley (15.0566)
49) Gary Goldstein (15.028)
50) Gabe Toro (14.9823)
51) Michael Sragow (14.9786)
52) Duane Byrge (14.9564)
53) Simon Abrams (14.8981)
54) Jonathan Curiel (14.8502)
55) Odie Henderson (14.8229)
56) Stanley Kauffmann (14.7526)
57) R. Kurt Osenlund (14.7475)
58) Owen Gleiberman (14.6609)
59) Jessica Winter (14.6527)
60) Laremy Legel (14.643)
61) Roger Ebert (14.6225)
62) Gemma Files (14.5896)
63) Desson Thomson (14.5558)
64) Richard Roeper (14.5117)
65) Sean Means (14.4032)
66) Soren Andersen (14.2903)
67) Amy Biancolli (14.2871)
68) Lisa Alspector (14.1212)
69) Jake Cole (14.1001)
70) Julie Salamon (14.0303)
71) Michael Wilmington (13.8761)
72) James Rocchi (13.8607)
73) April Wolfe (13.8275)
74) Jonathan Rosenbaum (13.7758)
75) Richard Schickel (13.7015)
76) Ray Bennett (13.6728)
77) Michael O'Sullivan (13.6471)
78) David Ehrlich (13.6076)
79) Peter Bradshaw (13.5213)
80) Ernest Hardy (13.517)
81) William Arnold (13.515)
82) Keith Watson (13.4989)
83) Steve Simels (13.4645)
84) Ted Shen (13.443)
85) Marc Savlov (13.4015)
86) Christopher Gray (13.3465)
87) Ed Park (13.3453)
88) Barry Hertz (13.3296)
89) Rob Nelson (13.2905)
90) Marrit Ingman (13.2511)
91) Steve Persall (13.2264)
92) Scott Foundas (13.1888)
93) Blake Goble (13.1121)
94) Robbie Collin (13.084)
95) J. Hoberman (13.0652)
96) Pete Hammond (13.0648)
97) Sheila O'Malley (13.0435)
98) Kate Taylor (13.0048)
99) Geoff Berkshire (12.9496)
100) Lou Lumenick (12.9175)
101) F. X. Feeney (12.9062)
102) Guy Lodge (12.8849)
103) Matt Zoller Seitz (12.8472)
104) Jeannette Catsoulis (12.8415)
105) Tom Keogh (12.8186)
106) Richard Corliss (12.8059)
107) Janet Maslin (12.7952)
108) Manohla Dargis (12.7686)
109) Stephanie Zacharek (12.7602)
110) Ruthe Stein (12.7541)
111) Mark Holcomb (12.7143)
112) Steve Davis (12.6926)
113) Glenn Kenny (12.6704)
114) Nick Pinkerton (12.6702)
115) Calvin Wilson (12.6609)
116) John Bleasdale (12.6563)
117) Henry Barnes (12.6397)
118) David Denby (12.6226)
119) Laura Sinagra (12.6056)
120) Peter Stack (12.5788)
121) Andrew O'Hehir (12.5565)
122) Ken Tucker (12.5289)
123) Robert K. Elder (12.5117)
124) Joe McGovern (12.5034)
125) Rick Kisonak (12.4851)
126) Russell Smith (12.4744)
127) David Edelstein (12.4512)
128) Leah Greenblatt (12.451)
129) Kevin C. Johnson (12.4047)
130) Jay Scott (12.3883)
131) Jay Carr (12.3883)
132) Paul Malcolm (12.3839)
133) Benjamin Lee (12.3718)
134) Edward Guthmann (12.362)
135) Mike Scott (12.3618)
136) Alan Scherstuhl (12.2821)
137) Jesse Cataldo (12.2819)
138) Neil Genzlinger (12.2299)
139) Lisa Schwarzbaum (12.2046)
140) Loren King (12.1944)
141) Nathan Rabin (12.1574)
142) Ann Hornaday (12.1371)
143) Carson Lund (12.1312)
144) Dave Calhoun (12.1262)
145) Steve Macfarlane (12.1194)
146) Bruce Ingram (12.0963)
147) Pete Vonder Haar (12.0928)
148) Lawrence Toppman (12.0761)
149) Katie Walsh (12.0724)
150) Daniel Schindel (12.0687)
151) Rodrigo Perez (12.0511)
152) Carla Meyer (12.0449)
153) Nikola Grozdanovic (12.0106)
154) David Fear (11.9769)
155) Jay Weissberg (11.969)
156) Scott Brown (11.962)
157) A.O. Scott (11.8551)
158) Peter Brunette (11.8259)
159) Anthony Lane (11.8143)
160) Jordan Hoffman (11.8131)
161) Kenneth Turan (11.8087)
162) Hazel-Dawn Dumpert (11.8037)
163) Chris Kaltenbach (11.7651)
164) Stephen Holden (11.726)
165) Joshua Rothkopf (11.7227)
166) Dave Kehr (11.7042)
167) Ron Wells (11.6837)
168) Joe Leydon (11.6824)
169) Desmond Ryan (11.6505)
170) Peter Hartlaub (11.6161)
171) Luke Y. Thompson (11.5986)
172) Kimberley Jones (11.585)
173) David Stratton (11.5633)
174) Jay Boyar (11.5627)
175) Jessica Kiang (11.5532)
176) Wesley Morris (11.5402)
177) Tim Robey (11.5349)
178) J.R. Jones (11.4882)
179) Bill Gallo (11.4853)
180) Ray Conlogue (11.4743)
181) Alonso Duralde (11.4722)
182) Mark Olsen (11.4585)
183) John Hartl (11.4561)
184) Farran Smith Nehme (11.4245)
185) Andy Klein (11.3833)
186) Allison Benedikt (11.3598)
187) Robert Abele (11.3514)
188) Damon Wise (11.3343)
189) Brad Wheeler (11.32)
190) Ella Taylor (11.3179)
191) Oliver Lyttelton (11.2992)
192) John Anderson (11.21)
193) Jonathan Foreman (11.2033)
194) Dan Jolin (11.2022)
195) Peter Travers (11.1946)
196) Mark Feeney (11.1861)
197) James Mottram (11.1315)
198) M. E. Russell (11.1233)
199) Derek Elley (11.123)
200) Kirk Honeycutt (11.105)
201) Aaron Hillis (11.0922)
202) David Hiltbrand (11.0785)
203) Michael Rechtshaffen (11.0391)
204) Kim Morgan (11.0334)
205) Stephen Whitty (11.0112)
206) Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (10.9395)
207) Dana Stevens (10.9071)
208) David Lewis (10.8735)
209) Elvis Mitchell (10.8726)
210) Jean Oppenheimer (10.8654)
211) Peter Debruge (10.8383)
212) Chuck Wilson (10.835)
213) Trevor Johnston (10.7996)
214) Janice Page (10.7862)
215) Peter Rainer (10.7842)
216) Justin Lowe (10.7742)
217) Mary Elizabeth Williams (10.7687)
218) Sean Axmaker (10.7545)
219) Scott Tobias (10.7321)
220) David Hughes (10.7221)
221) Kevin Maynard (10.6836)
222) Godfrey Cheshire (10.6753)
223) Ken Fox (10.6629)
224) Stephen Farber (10.6547)
225) V.A. Musetto (10.6527)
226) Marjorie Baumgarten (10.6399)
227) Mike Clark (10.5967)
228) Todd McCarthy (10.5838)
229) Kate Erbland (10.5606)
230) John Patterson (10.5353)
231) Carina Chocano (10.5116)
232) Melissa Levine (10.5097)
233) Kimber Myers (10.4973)
234) Connie Ogle (10.4656)
235) Michael Nordine (10.4376)
236) Bilge Ebiri (10.4362)
237) Bill Cosford (10.4362)
238) Rene Rodriguez (10.4331)
239) David Rooney (10.4115)
240) Walter Addiego (10.3934)
241) Elizabeth Weitzman (10.3817)
242) Xan Brooks (10.3754)
243) James Berardinelli (10.3618)
244) Peter Keough (10.361)
245) Michael Dequina (10.33)
246) Mark Jenkins (10.3097)
247) Megan Lehmann (10.2953)
248) Mike McCahill (10.2945)
249) Kenji Fujishima (10.2838)
250) Chris Hewitt (1) (10.2415)
251) Justin Chang (10.2189)
252) Jack Mathews (10.2155)
253) Steven Rea (10.1801)
254) Jami Bernard (10.1568)
255) Marc Mohan (10.1456)
256) E. Oliver Whitney (10.1384)
257) Robert Horton (10.1238)
258) Stephen Dalton (10.0968)
259) David Ansen (10.0771)
260) Jennie Punter (10.0727)
261) Lisa Nesselson (10.0721)
262) Angie Errigo (10.0589)
263) Tasha Robinson (10.0416)
264) Mary Pols (10.0367)
265) Roger Moore (10.0273)
266) Chris Nashawaty (10.0241)
267) John Petrakis (10.0167)
268) Shawn Levy (10.0157)
269) Sheila Benson (10.0157)
270) Jared Mobarak (9.99695)
271) Scott Bowles (9.9688)
272) Rick Groen (9.96469)
273) Andrea Gronvall (9.95477)
274) Joe Williams (9.92336)
275) Jamie Graham (9.83961)
276) Keith Phipps (9.83904)
277) Betsy Sharkey (9.77809)
278) Kim Newman (9.76857)
279) Sheri Linden (9.76221)
280) Sherilyn Connelly (9.76221)
281) Gary Arnold (9.7333)
282) Tom Huddleston (9.69942)
283) Kerry Lengel (9.69573)
284) Ben Nicholson (9.69084)
285) Robert Koehler (9.59227)
286) Dennis Harvey (9.57181)
287) Marta Barber (9.55904)
288) Emanuel Levy (9.55719)
289) Jordan Mintzer (9.54517)
290) Matt Singer (9.51652)
291) Carrie Rickey (9.49836)
292) Tirdad Derakhshani (9.48565)
293) Pauline Kael (9.4542)
294) Paula Nechak (9.4542)
295) Claudia Puig (9.44361)
296) Sara Stewart (9.42699)
297) William Goss (9.42587)
298) Maitland McDonagh (9.41167)
299) Staff [Not Credited] (9.41016)
300) John Fink (9.40732)
301) Matt Donato (9.40421)
302) Leslie Felperin (9.3458)
303) John DeFore (9.32257)
304) Tom Russo (9.2183)
305) Dominick Suzanne-Mayer (9.21408)
306) Angel Cohn (9.19628)
307) Jesse Hassenger (9.19534)
308) Neil Smith (9.13918)
309) Mark Caro (9.12454)
310) Michael Phillips (9.12055)
311) Eric Kohn (9.11351)
312) Deborah Young (9.1057)
313) Stephen Cole (9.08836)
314) Tim Grierson (9.0561)
315) Gregory Ellwood (9.03188)
316) Brian Truitt (9.027)
317) Chris Packham (8.98618)
318) Christy Lemire (8.97589)
319) Anna Smith (8.95101)
320) Eddie Cockrell (8.91499)
321) Stephanie Merry (8.91121)
322) Ronnie Scheib (8.90867)
323) Jordan Raup (8.90147)
324) Noel Murray (8.87799)
325) Ian Freer (8.8465)
326) Olly Richards (8.84445)
327) Gene Seymour (8.83064)
328) Jeff Baker (8.76423)
329) Frank Scheck (8.74626)
330) Kevin Crust (8.73103)
331) Adam Smith (8.71955)
332) Susan Wloszczyna (8.67667)
333) Sam Adams (8.66521)
334) Gary Thompson (8.65645)
335) Emily Yoshida (8.62772)
336) Ty Burr (8.62292)
337) Brian Lowry (8.56915)
338) Brian Tallerico (8.48203)
339) A.A. Dowd (8.48068)
340) Ian Buckwalter (8.46706)
341) Merle Bertrand (8.39314)
342) Helen O'Hara (8.35677)
343) Michelle Orange (8.236)
344) William Thomas (8.18841)
345) Moira Macdonald (8.11617)
346) Fionnuala Halligan (8.072)
347) Liam Lacey (8.04223)
348) Andrew Barker (7.98837)
349) Ian Nathan (7.93048)
350) Barbara VanDenburgh (7.85235)
351) Nicolas Rapold (7.81233)
352) David Parkinson (7.71158)
353) Jen Chaney (7.69573)
354) Ben Kenigsberg (7.68515)
355) Mike D'Angelo (7.65283)
356) Kevin Harley (7.4785)
357) Bill Stamets (7.27329)
358) Hal Lipper (7.2558)
359) Cath Clarke (7.03812)
360) Bob Mondello (7.00471)
361) Bill Goodykoontz (6.98918)
362) Katie Rife (6.71345)
363) Leslie Camhi (6.24861)
364) Boyd van Hoeij (5.88276)
365) Andy Webster (5.84227)
366) Lawrence Van Gelder (5.41744)
367) Vincent Canby (3.1182)