Film School: Everything Wrong with CinemaSins

If you’ve ever watched or read a movie review online, you’ve come across an Everything Wrong With… video. If you haven’t: it’s the YouTube equivalent of watching movies with friends, and nitpicking them to death. The YouTube series, and its creators CinemaSins, have become massively popular by poking fun at movies.

CinemaSins ostensibly follows in the footsteps of Red Letter Media’s hugely influential Mr Plinkett Reviews of the Star Wars prequel trilogy (which itself has a lot to answer for). In the years since then, online commentary on and discussion of movies, particularly in video response format, has grown into a broad range of lively voices and visual styles. And while all YouTube movie commentary doesn’t need to be, say, as academically-informed as Lindsay Ellis, as intellectually rigorous as Folding Ideas, as philosophical as Wisecrack, as contextually investigative as MovieBob, as drily expository as Renegade Cut, as creatively animated as kaptainkristian or How It Should Have Ended, or as elegantly sublime as Every Frame A Painting, Now You See It, The Cinema Cartography or Nerdwriter, there is a case for pure snark – and, more importantly, a case against snark without wit.

Indeed, the CinemaSins brand of “satire” has its critics – including directors of films they’ve ripped on (including most famously, Kong: Skull Island‘s John Vogt-Roberts), and other YouTubers such as bobvids, whose response video series Everything Wrong With “Everything Wrong With” seeks to highlight, point by point, the ways in which the CinemaSins “critiques” are intellectually lazy and disingenuous.

In his longer-form take, Sustaining Stupidity – Why CinemaSins is Terrible, bobvids argues: “CinemaSins is bad for film criticism, for YouTube, [and] for critical thinking”; that the true cynicism of CinemaSins isn’t toward movies at all – a “joke” lost on their most fervent fans and defenders, and a joke on those same people.

The worst thing about CinemaSins’ Everything Wrong With… series isn’t that their effort is a low-effort clickbait garbage fire. It’s that they’ve somehow tricked their fans, and themselves, into thinking that garbage fire is art – which lowers the bar for art, and for garbage fires.

bobvids, Sustaining Stupidity – Why CinemaSins is Terrible

But, as bobvids continues, the implications go far beyond “jokes”, good or bad: as the popularity and reach of both CinemaSins and Everything Wrong With… has grown on YouTube, so too has their influence and responsibility. They’re helping to shape the way the average film viewer thinks about movies, and to dumb down the ways people engage with culture and ideas more broadly.

Update

In his follow-up video detailing all the ways CinemaSins has failed to improve, and in some ways actively worsened, over the 4 years since his first, Bobvids identifies the core problem with nitpicking as a form of engagement with storytelling – that “Cinemasins promotes intellectual intelligence as a substitute for emotional intelligence“:

Shaun demonstrates that CinemaSins is “incapable of following along with even the simplest stories unless they’re held by the hand… with onscreen text and narration, which they’ll then complain about” and their tendency to “lie about and misrepresent the content of movies in order to provide their audience with an unearned, smug feeling of superiority” in this exhaustively nit-picky tally of the inaccuracies in just one year’s worth of their videos:

Further viewing

Dan Olson aka Folding Ideas argues that ‘Ending Explained’ videos “are often a form of anti-intellectualism operating on the attitude that ignorance is purity, that an understanding of culture that rejects metaphor, that rejects the symbolic and clings to the literal, is more true. It is part of the process of denying art the capacity for meaning.” In response to such videos specifically about the film Annihilation (2018), he then proceeds to explain its use and function of metaphor in the film, demonstrates just how much a viewer may potentially be missing when their understanding of art is limited to the literal, and offers a reading of the text in Annihilation and Decoding Metaphor:

Another crusader calling out film “commentary” which contributes to the endemic dumbing down of audiences, all for the sake of gaming the YouTube algorithm for quick bucks: Jay Exci‘s takedown of WatchMojo is furiously thorough, and just bang-on: