Harry Knowles

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Harry Knowles
Harry Knowles by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Knowles at the San Diego Comic-Con International in July 2010.
Born Harry Jay Knowles
(1971-12-11) December 11, 1971 (age 43)
Austin, Texas
Occupation Writer, critic
Spouse(s) Patricia Cho Jones
(July 15, 2007 – present)

Harry Jay Knowles (born December 11, 1971) is an amateur film critic and writer known for his website called Ain't It Cool News. Knowles is a member of the Austin Film Critics Association.[1]

Early life[edit]

Harry Jay Knowles was born in Austin, Texas, the son of Jarrell Jay Knowles and Helen Jane (Harrison) Knowles, who married September 19, 1970, in Austin. His early years were spent traveling the Southwest and Mexico with his parents who did light shows for touring rock bands. His parents then settled in Austin and began trading comic books and movie memorabilia from the upstairs floor of their Victorian era house at 4526 Red River, as well as from Austin's first comic and movie memorabilia store, the N.E. Mercantile Company, Inc. (N.E. was short for "New Economics"), which they founded in 1970 and ran until 1984. Knowles's parents also produced the Austin Fantasy Film Fest in 1976, one of the first science fiction conventions in Austin.[2] Knowles spent many hours watching B-grade horror movies as well as other genres from mostly bootlegged 16 mm prints.[citation needed]

Knowles's parents separated in 1983 and divorced March 12, 1984; his mother received custody of him and his younger sister Dannie. The children subsequently lived with their mother on her family's ranch, the Portwood Ranch in Seymour, Texas. His mother took possession of the comics, films, and related ephemera, and placed their ownership in the names of Harry and Dannie. With nothing better to do on the ranch, Knowles spent more time immersed in reading comics and watching movies. Knowles's other activities included the Boy Scouts of America and he attained the rank of Eagle Scout.[3] In 1989, at age 17, Knowles moved back in with his father. His mother died in a fire in 1993, on the Portwood Ranch, and Dannie moved back to Austin shortly thereafter.[4][5]

Following his divorce from Helen, Knowles' father founded Jay's 20th Century Esoterica in Austin in 1985, and was later joined by Harry after he graduated from high school and moved back to Austin in 1989, and by Dannie in 1992. In 1994, Harry Knowles claims to have fallen while pushing a cart up a ramp at a convention, which Knowles claims to have then run over him with its 1,200-pound load of memorabilia. Knowles attributes this accident to a back injury left him virtually bedridden. With an unexpected bequest of $5,000 from his mother's life insurance, he purchased a top-of-the-line computer and a friend arranged for Internet service so they could play Doom online together. Jay, Harry and Dannie ran Jay's 20th Century Esoterica until Ain't It Cool News "took off" in 1996, and the family went out of the memorabilia business, but retained their extensive collections and continue to add to them.[citation needed]


Aint-it-cool News[edit]

After purchasing a computer in 1994, Knowles taught himself how to navigate the Internet and began frequenting newsgroups to exchange gossip and rumors with other fans about upcoming films. After being chastised by future film critic Mike D'Angelo for posting binary image files to the newsgroups, Knowles launched the website that would become Ain't It Cool News in February 1996.

Due to the popularity of the website, Knowles was sought out by the mainstream media, including magazines, newspapers, and television news programs. In 2000, he was ranked #95 in the Forbes Celebrity 100.[6] Knowles has made guest appearances on the television shows Siskel & Ebert & the Movies and Politically Incorrect.[7]

Harry Knowles is featured in the documentary For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism as an advocate of film criticism on the Internet; he articulates the divide between older and younger critics and advocates for the films of Michael Bay as well as being one of the first major critics to champion genre favorite Adam Green.[8] Knowles has no college education in journalism, writing or film history.

He was played by Ethan Suplee in the 2009 movie Fanboys.[9]

Film events[edit]

Harry Knowles along with Tim League and Cole Dabney at the 2010 Fantastic Fest.

Every year since 1999, on the weekend closest to his birthday (December 11), Knowles hosts an event called Butt-Numb-A-Thon (BNAT). The event, also known as Geek Christmas, is a 24-hour celebration of film, featuring unofficial premieres, and vintage films- from classics reprinted for the big-screen, to the rare, weird and unheard of. Film fans and professionals alike travel from all over the United States and the world to attend the event, which is hosted in the critic's hometown of Austin, Texas at the South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse. BNAT has been called "the world's most exclusive and mysteriously secretive film celebration" and "the hardest film event to get into in the country".

Fantastic Fest[edit]

Additionally, Knowles is a co-founder of the annual Fantastic Fest, held in Austin, Texas. It was founded in 2005 by Knowles, Tim League of Alamo Drafthouse, Paul Alvarado-Dykstra, and Tim McCanlies, writer of The Iron Giant and Secondhand Lions. The festival focuses on genre films such as horror, science fiction, fantasy, action, Asian, and cult. The festival takes place in September at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. In 2007, Variety publisher Charles Koones included Fantastic Fest as one of "ten festivals we love".[10] In 2008, Moviemaker named Fantastic Fest "one of the 25 film festivals worth the entry fee".[11]

Decline of AICN in popularity[edit]

According to an April 5, 2013 article in the Hollywood Reporter Knowles' site made $700,000 per year in revenue in its early 2000s prime. However, by 2013, traffic had dwindled and ad revenue had dropped to the low six figures. The Reporter also noted that Knowles owed $300,000 in back taxes to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service by that point. The Reporter pointed out the inability of AICN to adapt beyond a dated 90s web template, being outpaced by newer sites and its continuing difficultiy to generate the scoops and headlines it was known for in its prime.[5]

An indicator in the massive drop in the site's popularity in recent years is the widespread condemnation directed at Knowles in AICN's TalkBack sections. Readers consistently cite Knowles' apparent indifference to the site, and his practice of now going months at a time without writing anything at all. One specific example is Knowles' "Picks n Peeks" DVD column, which is habitually delayed and out of date. Knowles openly attributes the delay of the column, for which many readers purchased an app, to being too busy organizing his birthday BNAT and other events, which many of his readership consider to be self-serving and focused more on expanding his celebrity rather than providing a quality product.


Questions on impartiality as a reviewer[edit]

Knowles attends events offered to the press, paid for by the movie studios, including visits to movie sets and premieres. Questions have sometimes emerged about the resulting impartiality of his articles and reviews.[12] For example, he was flown to the premiere of Godzilla, and gave the movie a wildly positive review,[13] while a vast majority of critics disliked the film.[14] Knowles later reversed himself and panned the film after the ensuing outcry. Knowles and his defenders, however, have noted that he has given mixed reviews to movies for which he has been sent to junkets and premieres, and in any case is often out of step with mainstream critics. Knowles also gave a negative review to the film Monkeybone, in which he made a cameo appearance.[15]

A similar situation occurred when Warner Bros., during their promotion for the upcoming superhero movie Green Lantern, sent out a hundred rings to different people, including people in the industry, certain movie websites and celebrities who have displayed a passion for the character or comic books in general. Knowles was a recipient of one of the rings and even posted a picture of himself wearing it.[16] Knowles went on to give the film an overly-enthusiastic review, despite the poor reception from actual critics.[17]

More accusations of bias occurred when Knowles was invited by his "friend" Sylvester Stallone to fly out and attend a special event for the upcoming The Expendables 3. During the junket, he was able to see the film twice and got to participate in a "get to know" session with star Kellan Lutz. Although he admitted early in his review that he had been invited to the event, he once again wrote an extremely positive review of the film when it has received harsh reviews and performed poorly at the box office.

Ethics allegations[edit]

In 1999, Knowles praised script by Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan, though he did not mention, that McWeeny was a contributor to the site, writing under the pseudonym "Moriarty." This and other alleged lapses were reported in a series of articles in Film Threat magazine.[18]

Knowles became the subject of more controversy in the TalkBack section of his Drive review, due to the belief that he had pirated the film. Many AICN "talkbackers" pointed out that the film's composer, Cliff Martinez, had been replaced in the pirated versions of the film with Angelo Badalamenti. Knowles managed to name the wrong composer and upon realizing his error quickly changed the review to reflect Cliff Martinez as the original composer.[19]

On April 5, 2012, Knowles posted the first episode of a new YouTube series based on the website. In the video Knowles receives a copy of the script to the upcoming science-fiction film Prometheus. The following day, Knowles reviewed the script on the website. Talkbackers immediately suspected it was nothing more than an example of fan fiction due to poor grammar and structuring. One of the writers on the film, Damon Lindelof, later stated that an element present in the script Harry reviewed was not present in the actual script and surmised that Knowles had "been duped".[20]

Oscar controversy[edit]

In early 2000, Knowles posted materials stolen from an ABC staffer's home computer, which Knowles took at face value to be the Oscar nominees for the Academy Awards—a day before the official announcement. When the actual nominees were announced the following day, it was discovered that his finalists in almost every category were incorrect. Knowles acknowledged his error when it became clear he was wrong, but then disclosed the IP address of the person whose computer had been hacked, compounding the error. The Academy considered suing Knowles for trademark and copyright infringement, but ultimately decided against it.[21]

Accuracy of biographical details[edit]

At Knowles' 2nd birthday party, he claims he was treated to a visit from the entire cast of 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'. While alarming that a child would be exposed to such a disturbing film, Knowles says he retains extremely detailed, happy memories of the event, including being given a basket full of dismembered body part props from the actor who played Leatherface as well as cutting his birthday cake with the actual chainsaw used in filming, despite outright refusals that any of this ever occurred from actor Gunnar Hansen, who portrayed the iconic character.[22] Unfortunately these supposed crystal-clear memories have been somewhat muddied on at least four occasions as he has changed the story to include whoever he is commenting upon at the time, and has revised details of the supposed event.

Kickstarter controversy[edit]

In August 2013, Knowles began a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter for the second season of 'Aint It Cool With Harry Knowles'.[23] The previous season had been funded by Nerdist, but was not renewed due to the low number of views each episode received. Donations were slow at the beginning, but picked up steam following celebrity endorsements from Eli Roth, Guillermo Del Toro, and Peter Jackson. The project was successfully funded in the closing days, with large donations coming in at the last minute, totaling $128,000.00, $28,000.00 above the goal.

Controversy has dogged the second season of 'Ain't It Cool With Harry Knowles' since, as there have been no concrete updates on the show in the year that has followed since the campaign was started. Before the campaign closed, there were twenty-two updates; however, after the campaign closed, no updates have been made, as well as the Facebook site for the show being removed. Countless questions and complaints from those who donated to Knowles' project regarding their promised rewards and the status of the project have gone unanswered by Knowles and anyone else associated with the project. Backers were highly concerned as Knowles had an outstanding debt with the IRS before the Kickstarter,[24] and apparently purchased a new SUV shortly after the project was funded. Knowles' outright refusal to give concrete answers has led many to believe that he has no intention of delivering on his promised rewards and the second season.

Personal life[edit]

In his book, Knowles states: "I was skinny up until about the second grade, when I started to bulk up. Then I was the big kid. I was tall, stocky, and they wanted me on the football team. Also, I was never ostracized as weird just because I was a film geek, because my parents would come to school and show 16mm films, or teach leatherworking and jewelry classes, which all the kids thought was cool. . . . It never occurred to me that I was fat until the fifth grade, when a new kid at school started causing problems. That's when Dad showed me José Ferrer as Cyrano de Bergerac; when someone hurls an insult at him, he says, 'Is that all? Ah, no, young sir, you're too simple. You might have said a great many things. Why waste your opportunity?' And then he names a score better than himself. Or Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast). Or Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. You don't have to feel bad about yourself just because you're different (boiling oil notwithstanding)."[25]

During a review of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Knowles claimed that at the age of four he had consumed six hits of acid that his parents had left out, as well as twenty-two mothballs and poisoned rat cheese.[26]

Knowles married Patricia Cho Jones on July 15, 2007 at Green Pastures in Austin.[27]

On April 4, 2008, Knowles announced that he was diagnosed as a Type-2 diabetic.[28] On May 20, 2008, Knowles underwent lapband surgery to help alleviate his diabetes and to help lose much of the weight that has contributed to his health issues. In January 2011, Knowles underwent emergency spinal surgery to his T-10 vertebrae. According to Knowles, the surgery restored sensation in his legs for the first time in over 15 years, and he would be undergoing physical therapy to learn to walk again.[29] Despite surgery and physical therapy, Knowles is still confined to a wheelchair.

Film credits[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Harry Knowles, Paul Cullum, Mark Ebner. (March 5, 2002). Ain't It Cool? Hollywood's Redheaded Stepchild Speaks Out (1st edition). Warner Books. ISBN 0-446-52597-9.


  1. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (November 16, 2007). "The Two Hollywoods; Harry Knowles Is Always Listening". The New York Times
  2. ^ "Ten Years Of Chaos: A Fantastic Fest Oral History". fantasticfest.com. Retrieved 30 November 2014. 
  3. ^ Knowles, Harry; Cullum, Paul; Ebner, Mark (2003). Ain't It Cool?: Hollywood's Redheaded Stepchild Speaks Out. Warner Books. p. 214. ISBN 0-446-67991-7. Retrieved 2010-08-17. 
  4. ^ "The Fan—Harry Knowles". www.texasmonthly.com. Retrieved 30 November 2014. 
  5. ^ a b "Ain't It Cool's Harry Knowles: The Cash-Strapped King of the Nerds Plots a Comeback". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 30 November 2014. 
  6. ^ Am I Annoying.com
  7. ^ Hollywood.com
  8. ^ For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism at the TCM Movie Database
  9. ^ "Fanboys Acting Credits". The New York Times. 
  10. ^ Brown, Todd (December 5, 2007). "Variety Publisher Names Fantastic Fest One of Top Ten". Twitch. Retrieved 2010-06-27. 
  11. ^ MovieMaker, Spring 2008.
  12. ^ The Trouble with Harry
  13. ^ Attack of the Fans
  14. ^ Godzilla (1998). Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 31, 2012.
  15. ^ Knowles, Harry (February 20, 2001). "MONKEY BONE Review". Ain't it Cool News. 
  16. ^ Ain't It Cool News
  17. ^ Ain't It Cool News
  18. ^ Wells, Ron (July 17, 2000). "Ain't It Criminal: Deconstructing Harry (part 3)". Film Threat. Retrieved 2007-04-13. 
  19. ^ Wells, Ron. "At a loss at what to see in a theater this weekend... Harry says take a DRIVE!!!". 
  20. ^ Lindelof, Damon (April 6, 2012). "Hate to break it to you, @headgeek666, but there's no "Planet Zeus" in my draft... Or in @jonspaihts' work. I think you've been duped!". Twitter.
  21. ^ Wells, Ron (July 17, 2000). "Deconstructing Harry: Ain't It Unethical? (part one)". Film Threat. Retrieved 2007-04-13. 
  22. ^ Google Books
  23. ^ Ain't We Cool Productions, LLC (6 August 2013). "Future Filmgeekdom: Ain't It Cool with Harry Knowles - Kickstarter". Kickstarter. Archived from the original on 16 August 2013. Retrieved 21 August 2013. 
  24. ^ [1]
  25. ^ Harry Knowles, Paul Cullum and Mark Ebner. Ain't It Cool? New York: Warner Books, 2002, pages 34–45.
  26. ^ Ain't It Cool News
  27. ^ Knowles, Harry (July 15, 2007). "Dum Duh Da Dummmmmm". Ain't It Cool News.
  28. ^ Ain't It Cool News
  29. ^ Knowles, Harry (January 15, 2011). "What's happening with Harry...". Ain't It Cool News.

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