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CinemaScore is an American polling company known for measuring audience reactions to films. It arguably does with audience reactions what Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic do with critics' reactions. It is a well-known barometer for what kind of 'word of mouth' a film is going to get. And since 'word of mouth' is the most effective marketing a film can get, it is therefore a fairly accurate predictor how much a film will gross in relation to its opening weekend. The other main firm that conducts polls like this is PostTrak.

Every film that gets a wide release in theaters in the United States gets a CinemaScore poll. For those that get a limited theatrical release, it's up to the studios to decide. The poll is taken in five out of 25 cities. The responders are asked to grade the film with an A, B, C, D or F. The average of these scores is then made into a grade. Unless it's an F, the average grade has a plus, minus, or neither added if it is at the high or low end or in the middle. So the output grades are: A+, A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, D+, D, D- and F.

The response cards also ask respondents to record their age group, gender, whether they would buy or rent it on DVD or Blu-ray and why they came to see it. Sometimes separate average grades will be produced by age group or gender.

What the score means

Moviegoers tend to enjoy films far more than critics. In addition, CinemaScore polls opening-day audiences, who are probably the ones most eager to see it. A moderately good score from them can signal impending box-office disaster. The company's founder, Ed Mintz, once said that "A's generally are good, B's generally are shaky, and C's are terrible. D's and F's, they shouldn’t have made the movie, or they promoted it funny and the absolute wrong crowd got into it." This is a good rule of thumb, but it's important to note that it also depends on genre. In summer 2019, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was a box-office success while Men in Black: International disappointed. Both had received a B grade.

An A+ grade is rare, being typically given out only a few times a year. In the 2010s, 38 films received one. This suggests they have become more frequent, compared to 20 in the 2000s and 18 in the 1990s.note  A+ movies tend to be those with a 'crowd-pleasing' quality. The list includes many that are family-friendly (Pixar managed four in a row) or that deal with themes of discrimination or disadvantage. Others are faith-based films like The Passion of the Christ, which received mixed reviews from critics. Outside of these categories, an A+ grade is far rarer.

Horror movies, by contrast, score lower on average. The Conjuring, which scored an A- in 2013, was the very first horror movie to score better than a B+ average. B's are generally good for horror movies, while C's are generally shaky. A variety of reasons have been put forward as to why this is. The most common view is that horror fans have divided expectations: some will get disappointed if a horror film doesn't have enough gore or overt scares, while others prefer tropes like Nothing Is Scarier.

Other types of film that are prone to scoring badly are Le Film Artistique and others that are meant to be unsettling or highly experimental. A bad score can also be a sign of Misaimed Marketing or a film that did not live up to audience expectations in some way. The latter may explain why Punch-Drunk Love and Uncut Gems got relatively poor scores (D+ and C+ respectively). Both starred Adam Sandler, so they may have attracted viewers expecting comedies.

An F grade is even rarer than an A+. From 1982 to 2019, only 19 were given. Most of them were either horror movies, movies that were widely mis-marketed (such as Bug, promoted as a Saw-type horror movie, but ended up as a Psychological Drama) or extremely alienating experimental films involving well-known stars and directors (such as mother! (2017) — directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Jennifer Lawrence). Another thing many of them have in common is an unsatisfactory ending.

And of course, another factor that affects the results is the good old 'margin of error' that any poll will have!

Films with an A+ Grade (on first theatrical release):

Films with an F Grade (* indicates that the film was well received according to Rotten Tomatoes):