As ubiquitous as Rotten Tomatoes usage is nowadays — it’s kind of hard to remember making movie choices without it, quite honestly — it’s still a relatively new way of deciding whether or not a film was worth your time. In the old days, pre-internet, you’d look open up your newspaper and see what the local critic had to say, and apart from word of mouth, and maybe some inside details from film magazines, that was pretty much all you had to go on.
Nowadays, you have Rotten Tomatoes, which gives a percentage of approved critics who liked the movie. With critics screenings usually coming a few days before a film hits, by the time audiences are in decision-making mode, there’s already a good pool of critics who have rated the film. Naturally, this can have a negative or positive effects.
Films like Wonder Woman, Deadpool, and Baby Driver have reaped the benefits of being a well-reviewed film, as all of them went on to do well for themselves at the box office. This year, however, also saw some films suffer at the hands of the review aggregate site. The big ones that come to mind are Power Rangers, Baywatch, Transformers: The Last Knight, and most recently The Emoji Movie. When films are well reviewed, studios understandably make efforts to put that Rotten Tomatoes score front-and-center of their marketing campaigns. But now they’re looking for ways to reduce the fallout for a bad movie.
In a recent Nielsen Research Group study, studios found that if a film receives a score of 0 to 25 percent on the site, then seven out of 10 people said they’d be less interested in seeing that movie, which is a stat that can’t be ignored.
“Things have reached a crescendo this summer,” Ben Carlson, the president of social media research firm Fizzology said. “We see entire audience segments talking about a movie for months and then, all of a sudden, the conversation completely dries up and goes away when the Rotten Tomatoes score comes out. People are using the score as a pass/fail. Hollywood has always talked about a movie being ‘review proof.’ But it may not be Rotten Tomatoes proof.”
So what steps are some studios taking to avoid this? Sadly, it’s the most basic of steps: pushing critics screenings to right up to the point of release of the film, or not holding screenings altogether. Sony’s upcoming film The Dark Tower, for instance, doesn’t have screenings until this evening, the day before the film hits theaters for early Thursday screenings, meaning that the actual number of reviews that will be up in time for audiences to properly use Rotten Tomatoes would be reduced.
Sadly, in my opinion, this is only a short term solution. No matter what, the market tends to re-align itself. Over time, mainstream audiences will start to realize that it’s the bad movies that have virtually no reviews by the time of their release. Before long, having few reviews will be seen the same as movies with that “rotten” splat, and the effect will be the same.
The only real solution? Make good movies. Sure, it’s easier said than done. Making good movies is HARD, but it starts with doing films for the right reasons — not just for cash grabs (though we do have to keep in mind that studios are around, first and foremost, to make money). This means the studios should start looking at properties that actually make good movies, not properties that are just recognizable…again, like The Emoji Movie.
It all comes to funneling the money into the right places — the quality of the story, and the marketing. Get those right, and all of a sudden, Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t matter.
But what do you think? Are filmgoers too reliant on Rotten Tomatoes, and can you understand where the studios are coming from? Let us know your thoughts down below!
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