Why People Redbox the Movies They Do

The list of Redbox's most-rented DVDs of 2011 is almost unparalleled in its ability to make you shake your head sadly and want to lie down for a while. Number one on the list: Just Go with It, the atrocious Adam Sandler pile from last February. Such disreputable productions as The Green Hornet, The Dilemma, and The Tourist also made the top 10. Are we really so interested in watching movies that we're pretty sure we're not going to like?

Here are the 10 movies rented most often in 2011 from those red kiosks you see at McDonald's and Walgreens, accompanied by their U.S. box office totals (courtesy of Box Office Mojo) and the percentage of positive reviews they got (courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes).

1. Just Go With It (Sony), $103 million, 19%

2. No Strings Attached (Paramount), $70 million, 49%

3. Rango (Paramount), $123 million, 88%

4. The Dilemma (Universal), $48 million, 24%

5. Due Date (Warner Bros), $100 million, 39%

6. Despicable Me (Universal), $251 million, 81%

7. The Tourist (Sony), $68 million, 20%

8. The Lincoln Lawyer (Lionsgate), $58 million, 84%

9. The Green Hornet (Sony), $99 million, 44%

10. I Am Number Four (Touchstone), $55 million, 32%

The Los Angeles Times points out that most of these came out at the end of 2010 or early in 2011, giving them more time to be rented over the course of the year. Also, three studios -- Universal, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros -- won't let Redbox carry their DVDs until four weeks after they're released, which might hurt those studios' films in the charts. Sony and Paramount have no such stipulation, and their movies occupy the top three spots.

And I'll grant you that a few of these aren't bad. The Lincoln Lawyer had mostly positive reviews and a likable star (Matthew McConaughey), but didn't do so well at the box office -- exactly the kind of movie you'd expect to get a lot of play on DVD. The animated Rango and Despicable Me aren't surprises either. But I Am Number Four? The Green Hornet? Come on. Most people had the good sense to avoid these movies when they were in theaters. They didn't get any better on DVD.

Or did they?

Well, no, not literally. But your expectations are dramatically different when you're paying a dollar for the entire family to watch a DVD as opposed to $10 apiece at the theater. For most people, "one dollar" is approximately the same as "free." There's no investment, no risk. So yeah, everyone said Just Go with It wasn't very funny. But it's Adam Sandler, and you've laughed at a lot of his stuff in the past, so maybe this one will at least have its moments -- and if it doesn't, so what? It was only a buck.

We will buy anything for a dollar. Fast food chains caught on to this several years ago. What's on the "dollar menu"? Things you wouldn't bother with if they cost even $1.50 but that seem perfectly reasonable at a dollar.

Another factor in Redbox rentals is comfort. Everything in the top 10 is either a comedy or a very light drama, and the closest thing to an action film is I Am Number Four. That doesn't jibe at all with the top movies at the box office, which tend to be big-screen spectacles. What does that tell us? When we're watching movies at home -- movies that we're not going to buy and keep, anyway -- we prefer easy-to-digest, small-scale, mass-appeal stuff.

Redbox is also where you can rent a DVD on the spur of the moment. Nobody's going to put The Dilemma in their Netflix DVD queue. It isn't the kind of movie you watch on purpose, and certainly not one you premeditate. When you're at the grocery store and decide to grab something from the Redbox kiosk, though, The Dilemma might seem like a reasonable option. Those kiosks are positioned the same way as the racks of candy bars near checkout lines: to facilitate impulse buys. You don't need that Snickers bar. You may not really even want it. But it's there, and it's cheap, so hey, what's the harm? That's Redbox in a nutshell.