The Basement

Rotten Tomatoes Scrutinized – Not For The Reasons You Might Think

Leading reviewer confirms Rotten Tomatoes often decides themselves if a review is negative or positive.

Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K. Rotten Tomatoes, a site that aggregates movie reviews to produce an overall “fresh” or “rotten” grade, has come under fire this week after it’s handling of Justice League‘s reviews. The site withheld their score for a late unveiling on their low-rated online videocast and some contend it was to cover for bad reviews.  Others theorize it was done to take advantage of people’s interest in the movie’s reception.

But now Mark Hughes, a screenwriter and contributor to Forbes, Huffington Post, and Slate is confirming Rotten Tomatoes have posted reviews without the writers’ knowledge and that if reviews have no clear positive or negative slant, will automatically be given a “rotten” designation. Hughes states he isn’t sure if this has ever resulted in a rating contrary to the reviewer’s intent but the “potential obviously exists.”

“If you’re a reviewer who has written mixed reviews of a film, especially a major release, then you should check to confirm whether or not a review was uploaded on your behalf , and make sure the fresh/rotten rating accurately reflects your intent and opinions.” Hughes states.

UPDATE: Read this truly fascinating thread on this topic.

UPDATE 2: Russell Berger breaks it down further.

The Growing Influence of Rotten Tomatoes Isn’t a Good Thing

I remember the days before the 24 hour news cycle and the internet when the only review one had access to was the one in their local newspaper or Siskel and Ebert on PBS (if your town had a PBS affiliate.) We’d go see movies based almost entirely on the film’s ad campaign or it’s genre. We either liked it or we didn’t and didn’t give a whit what a reviewer hundreds, even thousands of miles away, thought. Even after aggregate sites came into existence, most paid them no mind. Go ahead, take the Rotten Tomatoes test. Think of some your most beloved films from at least a decade ago and check their RT score. Practical Magic, the Sandra Bullock witchy dramedy, was quite the enjoyable film when my wife and I saw it on date night back in 1998. It’s score? 20% Rotten. Watching 50 First Dates, the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore romantic comedy, has somehow become a holiday tradition in my home. My daughter loves it! Rotten Tomatoes says 44% Rotten. Tombstone, the absolutely awesome 1993 Kurt Russel/Val Kilmer western flick sits at a surprisingly low 73% Fresh.

Some contend Rotten Tomatoes performs a valuable service in a time where people are flooded with entertainment options. Moviegoers, according to an article in the LA Times, use Rotten Tomatoes to pick films in the the same way they check  Yelp to determine what restaurants they visit.

“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,” said Rob Moore, former vice chairman at Paramount Pictures. “That’s how they’re picking restaurants and that’s how they’re picking movies.”

But Yelp’s reviews are written by average people, not paid critics. A better use of RT would be the Audience Score. If that was the determining factor, my 20% rotten Practical Magic example would be 73% fresh. 50 First Dates would have a respectable 65% rating and Tombstone would be a home run with a 94% fresh rating.

But it’s the paid reviewers who people, and movie studios, have come to rely on.

Here’s some advice: Paid reviewers’ opinions are no more valid than yours are. Paid critics taste in films is no more superior than your friends’. Paid critics don’t necessarily understand the appeal of certain types of movies to certain types of fans. So follow the Rotten Tomatoes audience score more closely than the critics score. Alternately, get your fix for critical reviews from sites that are dedicated to the type of movie you’re interested in seeing – horror, science fiction, etc.

There’s a solid argument to be made that aggregation sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic have had a negative effect on film criticism.  By logging each review as a simple up-or-down vote, Rotten Tomatoes “fresh” rating obliterates the nuances of a thoughtful piece of criticism, and its elevation of an aggregate score over individual voices camouflages and institutionalizes the biases of an industry dominated by white male critics. ~SLATE Magazine.

About the author

Joey Davis

Joey is a former rock star, former DJ and would-be novelist who once read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlocked the secrets of the universe.

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