It isn’t news that critics and audiences don’t always agree. For example critics gave loud thumbs down to both 2018’s Venom and its sequel Venom: Let There Be Carnage, while audiences made sure both films made a nice chuck of change. Likewise, with a Rotten Tomatoes score lower than either chapter of Venom, 2016’s Suicide Squad was a huge critical failure, but still made boatloads of money. But now, an actor known for making almost nothing but Oscar magnets — Leonardo DiCaprio — has critics holding their noses up at his latest film, while audiences can’t seem to get enough of it. And it isn’t a superhero movie this time around, but Netflix’s black comedy Don’t Look Up.
Head on over to Rotten Tomatoes, and you’ll find a big gap between the critical and audience responses to Don’t Look Up. The critics collectively give Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest film 55%, while audiences clearly enjoy it and give a 77%. The professionals, like Salon‘s Gary M. Kramer, call the film “toothless satire.” Kramer writes that the film “is leaden when it could be farcical, sluggish when it could be screwball. This end of the world comedy should have just been more fun.” Meanwhile, the audience reviews are much more flattering. One watcher, for example, compares it favorably to Mike Judge’s Idiocracy while lamenting that Don’t Look Up is “sadly/scarily more grounded in our current reality.”
Don’t Look Up begins with a simple enough premise — a killer comet is headed to Earth. Doctoral candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers the comet, while it’s the calculations by Leonardo DiCaprio’s Dr. Randall Mindy that initially determine the rock is on its way to Earth. In spite of being backed up by NASA bigwig Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), neither Dibiasky nor Mindy can get anyone to believe that their discovery is as potentially disastrous as they claim. Dibiasky’s televised outrage becomes a series of insulting memes, and Mindy is paid attention to mostly for his good looks and nothing else.
As Comic Book points out, much of the story of Don’t Look Up is about experts being ignored by a vocal chunk of the population in favor of lies which — while utterly unbelievable — are nonetheless more convenient. Considering the ongoing, nearly two year old debate about COVID-19, it isn’t difficult to see the parallels with the real world. Of course, critics might decide to point out that when it comes to the response to Leonardo DiCaprio’s newest movie, they’re the experts who are being ignored.
Regardless of the critical response, Netflix is likely happy with the audience reaction. Don’t Look Up is currently the streaming service’s #1 watched movie, justifying the big payday the streamer gave to the stars. Variety reported Leonardo DiCaprio received $30 million to star in the comedy, while Jennifer Lawrence brought home $25 million. To put that in perspective, Cinema Blend reported the entire budget for Don’t Look Up was originally $75 million — meaning DiCaprio and Lawrence’s combined salaries would eat up around 73% of that budget. Considering just how many other big names were in the film — including Meryl Streep, Tyler Perry, Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchett, Ron Perlman, Timothee Chalamet, and more — we’re guessing that budget got expanded a bit.