I recently browsing the Rotten Tomatoes page all-time favorite sci-fi series, Firefly. I was surprised that critics were not impressed with the series (average rating of 7.96/10). Among 'Top Critics', this score dropped to an average of 7.25/10. But everyone I know who has seen it loves the series!
Unwilling to accept that my beloved sci-fi franchise deserved this low rating from critics, I thought that maybe this was a bias with science fiction. Critics end up seeing most big movies and shows regardless of their personal tastes, so on average they might not be geeky enough to really appreciate a good science fiction movie. The typical audience who has decided to view science fiction, on the other hand, presumably are geeks who really 'get' science fiction. So we might expect audiences to rate good science fiction higher than critics, because the geeks who see science fiction really 'get it'. Consistent with this, the average audience rating of Firefly is 9.2/10 - a score closer to what I (a self-styled science-fiction connoisseur) think it really deserves.
Is this true of the genre more generally? Do audiences tend to appreciate (or at least more highly rate) science fiction media more than the critics? Unsatisfied with just hypothesizing about this, I decided to look at some data. It turns out I was very wrong.
Data Source and Disclaimers¶
The data I analyzed is from the 10 most popular movies every year from 1975-2015. I obtained the data from Crowdflower. The data used was largely a matter of convenience - it was the first data source I found that was fairly large and had genre labels, audience ratings, and critic ratings. That said, since these are 'blockbuster movies', the results might be a bit different than if we included less popular movies.