How Does Rotten Tomatoes Have So Much Influence?


Did you know Rotten Tomatoes has been around since 1998?  I still remember at that time watching At The Movies with Siskel and Ebert to get my movie news. These were two of the most credible film critics who I still did not always agree with! (When it comes to Batman 89 Siskel sang its praises while Ebert was unimpressed, which you can check out here. Blasphemy!!) If it had to do with comics, I’d pick up a copy of Wizard Magazine to get the latest scoops.  But that was a weekly or monthly look at films.  Now we have instant access to reviews, opinions, ratings, and a large number of people put their faith in a primary site: Rotten Tomatoes.  Many users here on LRM Online have rightfully questioned the validity of their scores claiming that it is based on bias, yet it still has such swaying power for others.  Let’s take a look at why Rotten Tomatoes has gained such prestige.

It Started In Order To Give Moviegoers An Online Review Vs. Paper Review

While it started in 1998, it didn’t take off until 2000.  This was a transition time into the wonderful world of the internet. Creators Senh Duong, Patrick Lee, and Stephen Wang started it as a side-job until it unexpectedly took off. Quartz reported that:

“Most reviews weren’t on the internet then. Duong spent his spare time combing through newspapers. He and the team compiled every quote they could find in advertisements and other parts of the papers on the site that became known as Rotten Tomatoes when it launched.”

The website bridged the gap between paper/magazine readers and those jumping on board with the world wide web.  This not only gave access to reviews much quicker, but could also reach a broader audience. Co-creator Lee sat for an interview with Tech in Asia where he spoke about the quick popularity of the site gained the attention of movie studios as well:

“Pretty soon after the launch, we noticed a big spike in traffic. It was the day that A Bug’s Life came out. And when we looked into the IP addresses, we realized it was actually coming from Pixar. From what we could tell, someone at Pixar probably found our page, sent it to everyone else at Pixar, and they were just refreshing like crazy to see as we added more reviews. We were like, ‘Hey, you know, people in the film industry are actually using the site. Maybe we should run this as a business?'”

From there, Rotten Tomatoes was born. It filled the void yet this would come back to haunt some of the studios, which will be discussed later in the article.

It Targets The “Average” Moviegoer

There are all films we love or characters we follow, but many individuals go to the movies for the novelty of it.  Some want to go see “what is good” or “what people are talking about.” As a teen, I would go to the movies weekly (when tickets were only $5).  In most cases, I didn’t care what I was seeing (aside from Star Wars or superhero films) as long as it was “good.”  This is the demographic Rotten Tomatoes has swayed the most. According to Rob Moore (former vice chairman of Paramount Pictures) as stated in the LA Times:

“When you have that currency that says you have 100 people that agree the movie is great or horrible, you don’t need more information than that. That’s how they’re picking restaurants and that’s how they’re picking movies.”

“The trend has been a boon to Rotten Tomatoes. Thirty-six percent of U.S. moviegoers check the site’s reviews often before seeing a film, compared with 28% in 2014, according to box office tracking firm National Research Group. Nearly half of moviegoers aged 25 to 44 are regulars. The site scored 13.6 million U.S. visitors in May, up 32% from a year ago, according to data firm comScore.”

With instant access to “credible” movie review scores, Rotten Tomatoes has become a one-stop shop in determining whether a film is “worth watching” or not.

The LA Times goes on to show the differences Rotten Tomatoes have made spanning the years:

“Decades ago, the only way to evaluate a movie before its release was to read reviews in major publications such as the New York Times, the New Yorker or the Los Angeles Times. Today, moviegoers rely on the Tomatometer, a number that shows what percentage of critics recommend the film.”

“It’s no coincidence that the few breakout hits of the summer box office all have scores of 80% or higher — ‘Wonder Woman‘ (92%), ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2‘ (81%) and ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming‘ (92%). For smaller movies like ‘Baby Driver‘ (94%) and ‘The Big Sick,’ (97%) a critical mass of acclaim can give a film much-needed attention.”

The same is said for films that score low percentages on the site. Movies that scored lower than 30%, such as King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (28%) and The House (17%) followed with poor box office results as well. Take this idea with the fact that it is amplified by social media, and it either gives the film a recipe for success, or disaster.

Films Previously Avoided By Critics Are Now Getting Critical Exposure

Even though the site may have been created for the average movie-goer, it caught the attention of many of the large film industries (as mentioned above) which in essence propelled the site to its success, which has turned out to be a hindrance for many industries. While many films have tested well in pre-screenings, they have taken a major hits due to Rotten Tomatoes scores.

According to Deadline, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales actually had the highest test score in the franchise, and even received a CinemaScore of A-, which was up from the B+ that On Stranger Tides earned. It was even on par with At World’s End and Dead Man’s Chest.  Even Baywatch tested over 91 on three different occasions.  So who is to blame for the lacking box office results?  The companies are suggesting it is due to Rotten Tomatoes giving Pirates 5 a 32% and Baywatch a 19%, which they claim immediately turns away potential viewers.

The studios went into further detail about their distaste for the site:

“The critic aggregation site increasingly is slowing down the potential business of popcorn movies. Pirates 5 and Baywatch aren’t built for critics but rather general audiences, and once upon a time these types of films — a family adventure and a raunchy R-rated comedy — were critic-proof. Many of those in the industry severely question how Rotten Tomatoes computes the its ratings, and the fact that these scores run on Fandango (which owns RT) is an even bigger problem.”

So not only is the site targeting “average moviegoers” but they are also giving much more exposure to “popcorn flicks” and other films that were rarely touched by critics which is having a drastic effect on the average film watchers. Many studios are at an impasse and feel that, “There’s just not a great date on the calendar to open a poorly reviewed movie.”

The Flip Side (Kind Of)

Now, obviously, a counter-argument is that it can have the opposite effect and actually enhance the number of viewers going to see an upcoming film as Vanity Fair shows:

“On the flip side, when it came to Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman, the film’s ‘Certified Fresh’ designation became an all-but-inescapable talking point—its 93 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating became an actual headline. And that helped the superheroine thriller shatter the glass ceiling of tracking expectations of a $65 million debut, magically lassoing $103.1 million over its opening days in theaters.”

Clearly, some films have drastically benefited from the exposure.  The DCEU is a prime example of a company who has been trashed by the site yet also reaped its benefits.  BvS (27%) and Justice League (40%) were clearly on the low end.  Not that they were great by any means, but I still think they should not be as low as they are (I know many disagree) and most of the issues people had with the films they heard about first from review sites which gives viewers a biased view of a film before walking into the theater to see for themselves. But on the contrary, the DCEU also benefited from the site through the likes of positive criticism from Wonder Woman (93%) and Shazam (90%).  Meanwhile, Aquaman earned a mere 65% yet it topped $1 billion.

RELATED —Rotten Tomatoes Adds Verified Audience Ratings To Combat Trolls

So how trustworthy is the site?  Is it basically a site of convenience that many take for credibility?  I’ll admit that I will look up ratings, but usually, to compare them to what I think a movie should earn because that is what it comes down to…what the viewer wants to see. For me, if I want to see a film, I will go see it regardless if it has poor reviews or not (that’s what I will go see Dark Phoenix and why I saw Batman and Robin in theaters…)  If the film is bad, well maybe people got it right.  But maybe, just maybe I will enjoy it.  What are your thoughts?  Do you follow Rotten Tomatoes?  Are we the reason for its success?  Can it be trusted?  What was a film, or show, that earned a score you completely disagreed with?  Leave your thoughts in the usual spot, and thanks for reading!

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Sources: LA Times, Quartz, Deadline, Vanity Fair, Rotten Tomatoes, YouTube, Tech in Asia

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