Yesterday, the review embargo for Tomb Raider lifted and as such the internet suddenly became awash with countless thoughts and opinions about the movie – including a review round-up from your friendly neighbourhood blog, It’s A Stampede! But what exactly is a review embargo and what does it tell us about a movie?

In today’s edition of The Great Stampede, I’m offering up a brief guide to movie review embargos; explaining the reasons behind them and what they can often mean. This is a back-to-basics guide, so if you already know all there is to know about movie review embargos, feel free to take a look at one of the many other posts on It’s A Stampede!

Alex

Film 101: What is a movie review embargo?

What are review embargos?

Review embargos are limited-time restrictions which temporarily stop media outlets from publishing a review. The embargos run from the time a reviewer sits down to a preview screening until a set date in the future, which can be weeks or sometimes hours before the movie goes on general release.

Who has to adhere to review embargos?

Any reviewer attending a press screening who is informed there is a review embargo on the film they are viewing is expected to adhere to a review embargo.

How does a movie studio enforce a review embargo?

All attendees of press screenings, where specific embargos are in place, are expected to sign a form agreeing to adhere to the embargo. If they break this agreement, by publishing their review early, then the studio is less likely to invite them to take part in future screenings. Basically, if you’re a reviewer and you want to be part of the game, then you need to stick to the rules of the game.

Is there a difference between an embargo placed on a blog/newspaper and an embargo placed on social media?

Usually press attending a preview screening are allowed to make a comment about the movie on social media. Studios feel that initial reactions on social media are usually different to carefully thought out, wordy reviews published in a newspaper or on a blog. Social media reactions are still subject to embargos, but will sometimes arrive days ahead of published reviews.

Why do movie studios impose review embargos?

In theory, movie studios impose embargos in order to restrict the release of information about a movie, thus reducing the amount of spoilers that enter the public domain. Preview screenings can often take place a good few weeks before a movie opens in theatres, so studios put embargos in place so that spoilers can be held off until near to the time of the movie’s release.

Do all movie studios place embargos on reviews?

Not all films have review embargos, as smaller, independent films often encourage reviewers to talk about their movie as soon as possible to get people excited about its release. However, most big budget studio releases will have some kind of embargo in place, usually for tent-pole releases such as Bond films, Marvel movies etc.

What is the time frame for a review embargo?

How long’s a piece of string? There’s no specific time frame for a review embargo, other than the one set by the studio at that given time. For example, one studio might screen a movie two weeks before it opens to the public, and set the review embargo at one week ahead of its release, thus creating hype in the days leading up to its debut. Other studios might screen a movie the day before a movie opens and place an embargo that restricts the release of reviews until just a few hours before it arrives in cinemas.

Are review embargos necessary?

It depends on your point of view, but in some cases, yes they can be vital to a film’s success. If a movie is well received by critics and the embargo is lifted early then the hype train for the film can begin. The good publicity can encourage audiences into movie theatres and this can dramatically increase a movie’s profitability.

If a movie is not well received by critics then placing an embargo until the very last minute can help to reduce potential losses during the opening weekend. Negative reviews can put audiences off, so the less time the reviews have to make an impact, the more time the studio has to convince audiences to buy a ticket.

If movie studios enforce embargos up until a day before the release of a film, does it mean the film is bad?

Not always, but it is usually a sign that something is wrong. In theory, if a studio is 100% convinced their movie is going to be a success, why wouldn’t they shout this from the rooftops at the earliest opportunity?

Of course, this isn’t always the case and some films do simply have really late review embargos – but always be suspicious if a studio is hyping up a film but restricting reviewers from talking about it.

Do bad reviews really harm movies?

This is the source of much debate and there is of course the old adage that all publicity is good publicity, but negative comments don’t usually aid a movie. If every reviewer published a review which denounced a movie, then it would put people off going to see it.

However, if enough people wanted to see the movie anyway, then regardless of the reviews the film would still attract audiences. Suicide Squad (2016) is a good example of this as it attracted largely negative reviews when it opened, yet still became a financial success. Equally, Blade Runner 2049 (2017) received largely glowing reviews at the time of its release yet struggled to get audiences into the multiplexes.

Is there anything else I should know about review embargos?

Embargos can be both helpful and frustrating, but they are important to be aware of. As mentioned above, late embargos can be an indication that a movie is a stinker, so bare this in mind.

The important thing to remember is that cinema is subjective, so no matter what a reviewer says (good or bad) it’s up to you to decide if you like a movie or not. An early or late review embargo will never change this.