As you may well know, the website Rotten Tomatoes is a review aggregator, summarizing and linking hundreds of movie reviews, then quantifying the critics’ positive and negative reactions for each film.
Instead of using stars or thumbs up, the site uses tomatoes. If a film gets 59% or more negative reviews, it is marked with a green tomato splat and labeled “rotten.” If it gets 60% or more, it gets a bright red tomato and is labeled “fresh.” If a movie gets 75% or more positive reviews, it is “certified fresh.”
More and more people are consulting Rotten Tomatoes before picking the move they going to see at the multiplex. (I know I do.) To the point that the site now has a major impact on the success or failure of a movie at the box office.
So Hollywood studios are now trying to thwart Rotten Tomatoes by not pre-screening certain new movies for critics before opening night. That way, critics won’t have an opportunity to review them–and Rotten Tomatoes won’t have an opportunity to add them all up in a Rotten rating–until after audiences have had a chance to view them on opening weekend.
Now studios don’t have a problem with “fresh” ratings, so they still give advance screenings for movies they think will rate highly. So if a movie has no advance showings–with Rotten Tomatoes saying “no score yet”–that tells you something. For example, it tells you that the Hollywood studios themselves know when they are releasing garbage!
Some say they don’t care about what the critics say. They want to form their own judgments. But Rotten Tomatoes also has an “Audience” score, tabulating the positive and negative reactions of viewers. Sometimes audiences will like a movie that the critics panned. That doesn’t happen too often, though. And although you might disagree with a particular critic, combining the reactions of large numbers of critics gives you a critical consensus that can be useful.
To be sure, in evaluating a movie, a simple bottom line “good” or “bad” can be misleading. There are lots of things to pick up on in any given film. A movie with an interesting plot might have bad acting, with beautiful cinematography and a lousy soundtrack, all at the service of an inspiring theme. The viewer can enjoy various aspects of the movie, while disliking other aspects. The best reviewers will reflect this.
Sometimes I disagree with the way Rotten Tomatoes sums up a particular review as either “rotten” or “fresh” when the discussion was multi-faceted nuanced and could have been listed either way. But I still appreciate Rotten Tomatoes for introducing me to a critic that I wouldn’t have read otherwise.
After the jump, an article on how Hollywood is reacting to the influence of Rotten Tomatoes, an influence that has grown since the site was purchased by Fandango, the major online ticketseller, which now includes the Tomatometer rating for each movie.
The Emoji Movie’s $24.5 million domestic opening during the July 28 to 30 weekend accomplished what no other movie has been able to do during a tough summer season at the box office — survive an abysmal Rotten Tomatoes score (7 percent) and open in line with prerelease tracking.
One possible secret weapon? Sony wouldn’t let reviews post until midday on July 27, hours before the pic began playing in previews before rolling out everywhere. Sony, like every studio, is looking for their own basket of rotten eggs to throw at review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes in hopes of combating a bad “Tomatometer” score. That means screening some titles later and later for critics.
“The Emoji Movie was built for people under 18, who gave it an A- CinemaScore, so we wanted to give the movie its best chance,” says Josh Greenstein, Sony Pictures president of worldwide marketing and distribution. “What other wide release with a score under 8 percent has opened north of $20 million? I don’t think there is one.”
At a tipping point now, Rotten Tomatoes’ influence began to grow exponentially after it and parent company Flixster were acquired in February 2016 by leading movie ticketing website Fandango, a unit of Comcast’s NBCUniversal. (Warner Bros. holds a minority stake in the merged companies.) This summer, a slew of event films earning a rotten score were beached domestically — Baywatch(19 percent) and Transformers: The Last Knight (15 percent) among them — while tentpoles earning scores north of 90 percent did better than expected, including Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Dunkirk.
Studios — all too eager to advertise a good score, a practice that didn’t begin until summer 2016 — are now scrambling to understand what happens when their titles garner the infamous green splat.
After buying Rotten Tomatoes, Fandango began featuring Tomatometer scores for every movie on its ticketing site, a practice likened to a restaurant promoting a Yelp rating. (MovieTickets.com intentionally doesn’t feature any reviews scores on its site so as to not influence a consumer, according to insiders.) More recently, some studios were taken aback when AMC Theatres, the country’s largest chain, adopted the same practice on its own ticketing website. AMC’s site now only features a score if it is fresh, defined as anything 60 percent and above. The mega circuit declined comment.
Illustration by Jc809 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons