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Why Embargo Movie Critics' Reviews?

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Why would a movie studio try to stop critics from reviewing movies?

It's called a review embargo -- and it seems a little self-explanatory. But still, I'd like to take this opportunity to discuss a little movie-critic inside-baseball stuff. Perhaps we can get a larger discussion going.

For those of you not in the business, here's the deal: Generally speaking, when critics see a film -- no matter whether it is two weeks before it opens or six months -- there's an unspoken agreement with the film companies that we won't publish or post reviews until the week the film opens. Granted, we will publish our thoughts about movies after seeing them at a festival -- but that's rarely a substitute for a full, considered review. More like taking the temperature of the festival itself.

Occasionally, however, a film company will send out screening notices with a specific embargo in force: You cannot post or publish your review until X date. It might be the week of opening, it might be two days before opening -- it might be opening day itself.

Sometimes, they even ask you to sign a non-disclosure release to that effect. The understanding is clear: If you see this movie at this screening, you agree to the embargo. And they have your signature to prove it.

(Never mind that, on a movie where reviews are embargoed until the Wednesday before the Friday opening, there are favorable quotes from critics in the Sunday newspaper ads the weekend before. See "quote whore" in Wikipedia. Or check the coverage on Criticwatch.)

It's all about controlling information -- and bad word of mouth. This kind of embargo is almost never associated with a movie which is expected to be a critical hit.

This commentary continues on my website.