Obituaries

Ed Mintz, Who Gave Audiences the Chance to Grade Films, Dies at 83

Ed Mintz, a mathematician who created an exit polling system for films called CinemaScore, which asks people leaving theaters on opening nights to grade the movies they have just seen — a precursor of the website Rotten Tomatoes, which aggregates and scores critics’ opinions — died on Feb. 6 in Las Vegas. He was 83.

His son Harold said the cause of death, in a memory care facility, was vascular dementia.

Mr. Mintz, a film buff, was a partner in a computerized billing service for dentists in 1978 when he and his wife, Rona, went to see “The Cheap Detective,” a comedy written by Neil Simon and starring Peter Falk, at a theater in the Westwood section of Los Angeles. They both disliked it, and they felt let down by the critics whose praise had encouraged them to see it.

Their disappointment was echoed by at least one other departing moviegoer.

“And all of a sudden, some guy said, ‘Is anybody here wondering why they can’t get the opinions of actual moviegoers and publish that? We keep getting critics,’” Mr. Mintz recalled in an interview with The Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2016. “I looked at him and thought, ‘Wow, that’s a great idea.’”

That thought percolated until later that year. While attending Yom Kippur services at a synagogue in Los Angeles, he gazed at a donation pledge card. Rather than write with a pen or pencil, which Jews are prohibited from doing on Yom Kippur and the Sabbath, worshipers designated what to give by bending a perforated tab.

“I almost jumped out of the chair,” he said. “I thought: ‘Simple. How simple.’”

He quickly conceived the CinemaScore ballot card, which he tested by sending employees of his dental business to a few theaters. When the testing phase ended, polling began in 1979, and Mr. Mintz started reporting the results in a syndicated newspaper column.

The card and the polling process have changed little since the beginning and create a crowdsourcing alternative to critics’ opinions.

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