'The Monuments Men' Proves We Have Higher Expectations for Movies Now

When the first trailer for The Monuments Men came out back in August, there seemed to be a general consensus among its viewers: this movie is going to be good. The George Clooney-directed film had everything going for it, from an A-list ensemble (Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett...) to a movie-ready plot (World War II-era art lovers try to save important artworks before Hitler destroys them). Sure, there were a few reasons to worry — the pushed-back release date, the lack of publicity — but for nearly everyone, expectations stayed sky-high. Could a movie made by people that good, based on a story that interesting, be anything but great?

Apparently, yes. The Monuments Men, released Friday, has gotten middling to terrible reviews, with some reviewers calling it a complete disaster. Said Variety : "exceedingly dull and dreary." Said USA Today : "a particular disappointment." And from Entertainment Weekly : "a bizarre failure... next time, Clooney should make sure that the film he's making is as good as the pitch."

Ouch. Those would be painful reviews for any movie, but for one as highly anticipated as The Monuments Men, it's flat-out embarrassing. Thankfully for Clooney and co., the film is expected to fare better at the box office than with critics; it's on track to pull in around $15 million this weekend, a respectable amount for a film going up against the likes up vampires and legos. Still, thanks to its poor reviews, it's unlikely The Monuments Men will make any type of memorable impact.

So what happened? How did such a good-looking movie end up getting such bad reviews? Only part of the blame can be put on the movie itself; The Monuments Men is not great, yes, but to call it a "failure," when movies ten times worse get shrugged off every weekend, seems extreme. No, the real reason why The Monuments Men is doing so poorly has nothing to do with the movie itself — it's all because of 2013.

As many have already noted, last year was one of the best times for film in recent memory. Between the powerful 12 Years a Slave, the stunning Gravity, the innovative Her, and so, so many more, 2013 produced more high-quality films than theaters have seen in years. Just take a look at this year's Best Picture nominees; there's no dud on the list, no Blind Side or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Awful. 2013 was a great year for movies, and while that's wonderful in many aspects, there is one big consequence — for any movie made directly after the year's end, critics' and audiences' expectations are suddenly way higher.

So movies like The Monuments Men and Labor Day , another highly anticipated but ultimately disappointing film released early this year, get more flack than they might have gotten if they'd premiered just a few months earlier. Sure, critics wouldn't have scored either film highly no matter the release date, but they might've been a bit kinder if they hadn't come straight off of watching screeners of Philomena and Captain Phillips on repeat. Unfortunately for The Monuments Men, Labor Day, and any other prestige movie coming out these next few weeks, timing is everything.

As disappointing as the bad reviews must be for the people behind those films, though, the public's raised expectations are actually a good thing, overall. It shows that we're growing much less tolerant of crappily-made movies, and that, in a break of habit, we're deciding to reward quality instead of prestige. Take, for example, this weekend's The Lego Movie; the animated film is expected to decimate its competitors at the box office, and it's currently holding an incredible 98 percent Rotten Tomatoes score. It may not star big names like George Clooney or Kate Winslet, but it's a funny, smart, and original film — and for once, viewers are saying that that matters more than the names of its stars or the reputation of its director.

So, sorry, Monuments Men — despite your A-list cast and cool-sounding plot, we're just not interested. 2013 taught us that great films are still being made, and we don't have time for any movies that look better than they actually are. So filmmakers, watch the sentiment and tighten up those scripts, because your audiences' expectations are higher, now, and we're done settling for anything less than great.

Image: Columbia