Rotten Tomatoes, explained

In February 2016, Rotten Tomatoes — the site that aggregates movie and television receiver critics ’ opinions and tabulates a score that ’ south “ fresh ” or “ rotten ” — took on an promote level of importance. That ’ randomness when Rotten Tomatoes ( along with its rear company Flixster ) was acquired by Fandango, the web site that sells gain movie tickets for many major cinema chains .
People had been using Rotten Tomatoes to find movie reviews since it launched in 2000, but after Fandango acquired the locate, it began posting “ Tomatometer ” scores following to movie slate listings. Since then, studio white house have started to feel as if Rotten Tomatoes matters more than it used to — and in some cases, they ’ ve rejiggered their commercialize strategies accordingly .
It ’ s easy to see why anyone might assume that Rotten Tomatoes scores became more tightly linked to ticket sales, with potential audiences more probably to buy tickets for a movie with a higher score, and by extension, giving critics more power over the purchase of a ticket .
But that ’ s not the unharmed story. And as most movie critics ( including myself ) will tell you, the correlation between Rotten Tomatoes scores, critical impression, marketing tactics, and actual box agency returns is complicated. It ’ s not a simple cause-and-effect position.

My own bring is included in both Rotten Tomatoes ’ grudge and that of its more exclusive cousin, Metacritic. So I, along with many other critics, think often of the upsides and pitfalls of aggregating critical opinion and its effect on which movies people see. But for the casual moviegoer, how review aggregators work, what they measure, and how they affect ticket sales can be cryptic .
so when I got curious about how people perceive Rotten Tomatoes and its effect on tag sales, I did what any dignified film critic does : I informally polled my chitter followers to see what they wanted to know .
here are seven questions that many people have about Rotten Tomatoes, and review collection more broadly — and some facts to clear up the confusion .

How is a Rotten Tomatoes score calculated?

The score that Rotten Tomatoes assigns to a film corresponds to the share of critics who ’ ve judged the movie to be “ fresh, ” meaning their opinion of it is more positive than negative. The idea is to quickly offer moviegoers a feel of critical consensus .
“ Our goal is to serve fans by giving them useful tools and one-stop access to critic reviews, exploiter ratings, and entertainment news program to help with their entertainment see decisions, ” Jeff Voris, a vice president of the united states at Rotten Tomatoes, told me in an electronic mail .
The opinions of about 3,000 critics — a.k.a. the “ Approved Tomatometer Critics ” who have met a series of criteria set by Rotten Tomatoes — are included in the locate ’ mho scores, though not every critic reviews every film, so any given grade is more typically derived from a few hundred critics, or even less. The scores don ’ t include just anyone who calls themselves a critic or has a movie web log ; Rotten Tomatoes only aggregates critics who have been regularly publishing movie reviews with a sanely wide read exit for at least two years, and those critics must be “ active, ” entail they ‘ve published at least one review in the last year. The site besides deems a subset of critics to be “ top critics ” and calculates a discriminate seduce that entirely includes them .
Some critics ( or staffers at their publications ) upload their own reviews, choose their own pull quotes, and designate their review as “ newly ” or “ rotten. ” early critics ( including myself ) have their reviews uploaded, pull-quoted, and tagged as fresh or rotten by the Rotten Tomatoes staff. In the second lawsuit, if the staff is n’t certain whether to tag a follow-up as fresh or rotten, they reach out to the critic for clarification. And critics who do n’t agree with the locate ’ s appointment can request that it be changed .
As the review of a given film roll up, the Rotten Tomatoes score measures the percentage that are more positive than negative, and assigns an overall newly or rotten rat to the movie. Scores of over 60 percentage are considered fresh, and scores of 59 percentage and under are icky. To earn the coveted “ designated fresh ” sealing wax, a film needs at least 40 reviews, 75 percentage of which are clean, and five of which are from “ peak ” critics .

What does a Rotten Tomatoes score really mean?

A Rotten Tomatoes score represents the share of critics who felt gently to wildly positively about a given movie .
If I give a film a mix review that ’ s generally positive ( which, in Vox ’ randomness rat system, could range from a positive-skewing 3 to the rare wholly enamored 5 ), that review receives the same weight as an all-out rave from another critic. ( When I give a movie a 2.5, I consider that to be a neutral score ; by Rotten Tomatoes ‘ reckoning, it ‘s rotten. ) theoretically, a 100 percentage Rotten Tomatoes denounce could be made up wholly of middling-to-positive reviews. And if half of the critics the web site aggregates lone screen of like a movie, and the other half sort of dislike it, the film will hover around 50 percentage ( which is considered “ rotten ” by the web site ) .
Contrary to some people ’ second perceptions, Rotten Tomatoes itself maintains no opinion about a movie. What Rotten Tomatoes tries to gauge is critical consensus .
Critics ’ opinions do tend to cluster on most films. But there are always outliers, whether from contrarians ( who sometimes seem to figure out what people will say and then take the inverse opinion ), or from those who seem to love every film. And critics, like everyone, have versatile animation experiences, aesthetic preferences, and points of opinion that lead them to have differing opinions on movies .
so in many ( if not most ) cases, a film ’ randomness Rotten Tomatoes score may not correspond to any one critic ’ mho scene. It ’ randomness more like an imprecise appraisal of what would happen if you mashed together every Tomatometer critic and had the resulting super-critic flash a thumbs-up or thumbs-down .
Rotten Tomatoes besides lets audiences pace movies, and the score is often out of mistreat with the critical score. sometimes, the deviation is extremely significant, a fact that ‘s noticeable because the site lists the two scores side by side .
There ’ s a straightforward rationality the two rarely couple, though : The critical score is more master and methodical .
Why ? Most professional critics have to see and review many films, whether or not they ’ re inclined to like the movie. ( besides, most critics don ’ thyroxine pay up to see films, because studios hold special early on screenings for them ahead of the passing date, which removes the decision of whether they ’ rhenium interested enough in a film to spend their hard-earned money on seeing it. )
But with Rotten Tomatoes ’ audience score, the position is different. Anyone on the internet can contribute — not just those who actually saw the film. As a result, a film ’ mho Rotten Tomatoes score can be gamed by internet trolls seeking to sink it simply because they find its concept nauseating. A concert attempt can drive down the film ’ randomness audience score before it even comes out, as was the font with the all-female boot of Ghostbusters .
even if Rotten Tomatoes required people to pass a quiz on the movie before they rated it, the score would still be slightly unreliable. Why ? Because ordinary audiences are more inclined to buy tickets to movies they ’ re predisposed to like — who wants to spend $ 12 to $ 20 on a film they ’ re pretty certain they ’ ll hate ?
therefore audience scores at Rotten Tomatoes ( and early audience-driven scores, like the ones at IMDb ) naturally skew very positive, or sometimes very negative if there ’ s any kind of blot political campaign in play. There ’ south nothing inherently wrong with that. But audience scores tend to not account for those who would never buy a ticket to the movie in the first place .
In contrast, since critics see lots of movies — some of which they would have gone to see anyhow, and some of which they would ’ ve never chosen to see if their editors didn ’ t make the grant — their opinion distribution should theoretically be more even, and frankincense the critical Rotten Tomatoes score more “ accurate. ”

A screenshot of the Rotten Tomatoes page for Wonder Woman

Or at least that ’ s what Rotten Tomatoes thinks. The web site displays a movie ’ mho critics ’ scores — the official Tomatometer — at Fandango and in a more outstanding spotlight on the movie ’ s Rotten Tomatoes landing page. The consultation score is besides displayed on the Rotten Tomatoes page, but it ’ s not factored into the film ’ south fresh or rotten rat, and doesn ’ t lend to a film being labeled as “ certified fresh. ”

Why do critics often get frustrated by the Tomatometer?

The biggest reason many critics find Rotten Tomatoes thwart is that most people ’ south opinions about movies can ’ thyroxine be boiled down to a simple thumbs up or down. And most critics feel that Rotten Tomatoes, in especial, oversimplifies criticism, to the detriment of critics, the consultation, and the movies themselves .
In some cases, a film very is about universally considered to be excellent, or to be a complete catastrophe. But critics normally come away from a movie with a blend opinion. Some things work, and others don ’ thymine. The actors are bang-up, but the screenplay is lacking. The filmmaking is subpar, but the fib is imaginative. Some critics use a four- or five-star rat, sometimes with half-stars included, to help quantify mix opinions as by and large negative or by and large positive .
The authoritative point here is that no critic who takes their job seriously is going to have a simple yes-or-no system for most movies. Critics watch a film, think about it, and write a review that does n’t just judge the movie but analyzes, contextualizes, and ruminates over it. The fear among many critics ( including myself ) is that people who rely largely on Rotten Tomatoes are n’t interest in the nuances of a film, and are n’t peculiarly interested in reading criticism, either .
But possibly the bigger reason critics are worried about the determine of recapitulation aggregators is that they seem to imply there ‘s a “ right ” way to evaluate a movie, based on most people ‘s opinions. We worry that audience members who have different reactions will feel as if their impression is somehow wrong, rather than seeing the diverseness of opinions as an invitation to read and understand how and why people react to art differently .

A screenshot of the Rotten Tomatoes score for Fight Club.

enough of movies — from Psycho to Fight Club to Alien — would have earned a icky rat from Rotten Tomatoes upon their master release, lone to be reconsidered and deemed classics years later as tastes, preferences, and ideas about films changed. sometimes being an outlier can merely mean you ‘re forward-thinking .
Voris, the Rotten Tomatoes frailty president, told me that the site is always trying to grapple with this dilemma. “ The Rotten Tomatoes curation team is constantly adding and updating reviews for films — both past and present, ” he told me. “ If there ’ s a review available from an approved critic or release, it will be added. ”
What critics are worry about is a inclination toward groupthink, and toward scapegoating people who deviate from the “ accepted ” analysis. You can well see this in the hordes of fans that sometimes come after a critic who dares to “ dilapidation ” a film ‘s perfect mark. But critics ( at least good ones ) do n’t write their reviews to fit the Tomatometer, nor are they out to “ get ” DC Comics movies or religious movies or political movies or any other movies. Critics love movies and want them to be estimable, and we try to be honest when we see one that we do n’t measures up .
That does n’t mean the consultation ca n’t like a movie with a icky denounce, or hate a movie with a bracing fink. It ‘s no abuse to critics when audience opinion diverges. In fact, it makes talking and thinking about movies more interest .

If critics are ambivalent about Rotten Tomatoes scores, why do moviegoers use the scores to decide whether to see a movie?

chiefly, it ’ second easy. You ’ re buy movie tickets on Fandango, or you ’ re trying to figure out what to watch on Netflix, so you check the Rotten Tomatoes score to decide. It ’ mho childlike. That ’ s the indicate.

And that ’ s not a bad thing. It ‘s helpful to get a flying smell of critical consensus, evening if it ‘s slightly imprecise. many people use decayed Tomatoes to get a boisterous theme of whether critics generally liked a film .
The flip side, though, is that some people, whether they ’ rhenium critics or audience members, will inevitably have opinions that do n’t track with the Rotten Tomatoes score at all. Just because an individual ‘s opinion is out of step with the Tomatometer does n’t mean the person is “ ill-timed ” — it just means they ‘re an outlier .
And that, honestly, is what makes art, entertainment, and the universe at boastfully interesting : not everyone has the like opinion about everything, because people are not exact replica of one another. Most critics love arguing about movies, because they often find that disagreeing with their colleagues is what makes their job fun. It ‘s finely to disagree with others about a movie, and it does n’t mean you ‘re “ wrong. ”
( For what it ’ second worth, another review collection site, Metacritic, maintains an flush smaller and more single group of critics than Rotten Tomatoes — its aggregate scores cap out around 50 reviews per movie, alternatively of the hundreds that can make up a Tomatometer score. Metacritic ’ south sexual conquest for a film is different from Rotten Tomatoes ’ insofar as each individual review is assigned a denounce on a scale of 100 and the overall Metacritic score is a burden average, the mechanics of which Metacritic absolutely refuses to divulge. But because the locate ’ south ratings are even more carefully controlled to include only feel master critics — and because the reviews it aggregates are given a higher level of coarseness, and presumably weighted by the perceived influence of the critic ’ randomness publication — most critics consider Metacritic a better gauge of critical opinion. )

Does a movie’s Rotten Tomatoes score affect its box office earnings?

The short-change adaptation : It can, but not necessarily in the ways you might think .
A beneficial Rotten Tomatoes score indicates impregnable critical consensus, and that can be good for smaller films in particular. It ’ randomness common for distributors to roll out such films lento, opening them in a few key cities ( normally New York and Los Angeles, and possibly a few others ) to generate good hum — not equitable from critics, but besides on social media and through discussion of mouth. The resultant role, they hope, is increased interest and ticket sales when the movie opens in other cities .
Get Out, for case, surely profited from the 99 percentage “ fresh ” seduce it earned since its limited opening. And the more recent The Big Sick became one of final summer ‘s most beloved films, helped along by its 98 percentage evaluation. But a bad score for a small movie can help ensure that it will close promptly, or play in fewer cities overall. Its potential box function earnings, in turn, will inevitably take a hit .

A scene from Get Out

however when it comes to blockbusters, franchises, and other big studio films ( which normally open in many cities at once ), it ’ south much less clear how much a film ’ mho Rotten Tomatoes score affects its box office run. A full Rotten Tomatoes score, for example, does n’t necessarily guarantee a film will be a strike. Atomic Blonde is “ guaranteed clean, ” with a 77 percentage rat, but it didn ‘ t do identical well at the box office despite being an action film starring Charlize Theron .
still, studios surely seem to believe the grudge makes a difference. concluding summer, studios blamed Rotten Tomatoes scores ( and by extension, critics ) when ill reviewed movies like Pirates of the Caribbean : dead Men Tell No Tales, Baywatch, and The Mummy performed below expectations at the box agency. ( Pirates still went on to be the year ’ s 19th highest-grossing movie. )

2017’s highest grossing movies in the US

Movie US box office gross Rotten Tomatoes Metacritic Vox (out of 5)
Movie US box office gross Rotten Tomatoes Metacritic Vox (out of 5)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi $620,181,382 91 85 4.5
Beauty and the Beast $504,014,165 70 65 3
Wonder Woman $412,563,408 92 76 3.5
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle $404,515,480 76 58 3
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 $389,813,101 83 67 4
Spider-Man: Homecoming $334,201,140 92 73 4.5
It $327,481,748 85 69 4
Thor: Ragnarok $315,058,289 92 74 4
Despicable Me 3 $264,624,300 59 49 2.5
Justice League $229,024,295 40 45 2.5
Logan $226,277,068 93 77 4.5
The Fate of the Furious $226,008,385 66 56
Coco $209,726,015 97 81 3.5
Dunkirk $188,045,546 92 94 4.5
Get Out $176,040,665 99 84 4.5
The LEGO Batman Movie $175,750,384 90 75 4
The Boss Baby $175,003,033 52 50 2
The Greatest Showman $174,041,047 56 48 2
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales $172,558,876 30 39 2
Kong: Skull Island $168,052,812 75 62 2.5

But that correlation coefficient doesn ’ triiodothyronine truly hold up. The Emoji Movie, for model, was critically panned, garnering an abysmal 6 percentage Rotten Tomatoes score. But it inactive opened to $ 25 million in the US, which put it barely behind the applaud Christopher Nolan film Dunkirk. And the more you think about it, the less storm it is that enough of people buy tickets to The Emoji Movie in cattiness of its badly press : It ‘s an animated movie aimed at children that faced virtually no theatrical contest, and it opened during the summer, when kids are out of school. Great review might have inflated its numbers, but about universally negative ones did n’t seem to hurt it a lot .
It ‘s besides worth noting that many films with humble Rotten Tomatoes scores that besides perform ailing in the US ( like The Mummy or The Great Wall ) do just fine overseas, particularly in China. The Mummy gave Tom Cruise his biggest ball-shaped open ever. If there is a Rotten Tomatoes effect, it seems to alone extend to the american grocery store .

Without any consistent proof, why do people still maintain that a bad Rotten Tomatoes score actively hurts a movie at the box office?

While it ’ sulfur clear that a movie ’ randomness Rotten Tomatoes grade and corner office earnings are n’t correlated angstrom strongly as movie studios might like you to think, blaming bad ticket sales on critics is low-hanging fruit .
plenty of people would like you to believe that the decrepit radio link between box position earnings and critical opinion proves that critics are at blame for not liking the film, and that audiences are a better gauge of its quality. Dwayne “ The Rock ” Johnson, co-star of Baywatch, surely took that position when reappraisal of the 2017 turkey Baywatch came out :

Baywatch ended up with a identical comfortably rotten 19 percentage Tomatometer score, compared to a good barely fresh 62 percentage hearing score. But with apologies to The Rock, who I ’ megabyte certain is a identical decent man, critics are n’t weather forecasters or pundits, and they ’ rhenium not particularly concern in predicting how audiences will respond to a movie. ( We are besides a rather reserved and nerdy bunch, not regularly armed with venom and knives. ) Critics show up where they ’ ra told to show up and watch a film, then go home plate and evaluate it to the best of their abilities .
The obvious rejoinder, at least from a critic ’ s point of position, is that if Baywatch was a better movie, there wouldn ’ thymine be such a gulf. But somehow, I suspect that younger ticket buyers — an all-important demographic — lacked nostalgia for 25-year-old lifeguard television receiver show, and therefore were n’t so surely about seeing Baywatch in the first space. Likewise, I doubt that a majority of Americans were ever going to be terribly interest in the fifth episode of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise ( which notched a 30 percentage Tomatometer score and a 64 percentage audience sexual conquest ), particularly when they could just watch some other movie .
A pile-up of raves for either of these films might have resulted in stronger sales, because people could have been surprised to learn that a film they didn ’ t think they were concern in was actually great. But with lackluster reviews, the average moviegoer merely had no rationality to give them a gamble .
big studio apartment publicists, however, are paid to convince people to see their films, not to honestly discuss the quality of the films themselves. so when a film with bad reviews flops at the box agency, it ’ s not shocking that studios are agile to suggest that critics killed it .

How do movie studios try to blunt the perceived impact when they’re expecting a bad Rotten Tomatoes score?

Of late, some studios — prompted by the idea that critics can kill a film ’ randomness buzz before it even comes out — have taken to “ fighting binding ” when they ’ re expecting a rotten Tomatometer score .
Their biggest scheme international relations and security network ’ t superintendent obvious to the average moviegoer, but very clear to critics. When a studio apartment suspects it has a lemon on its hands, it typically hosts the press screening alone a day or two ahead of the film ‘s acquittance, and then sets a review “ embargo ” that lifts a few hours before the film hits theaters .

emoji

Consider, for exercise, the case of the aforesaid Emoji Movie. I and most early critics hoped the movie would be commodity, as is the sheath with all movies see. But once the screen invitations arrived in our inboxes, we pretty much knew, with a sinking feel, that it wouldn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate be. The state was pretty straightforward : The film ’ s lone critics ‘ screen in New York was scheduled for the sidereal day before it opened. It screened for press on Wednesday nox at 5 phase modulation, and then the review embargo lifted at 3 pm the adjacent day — bare hours before the first public showtimes .
belated critics ’ screenings for any given film beggarly that reviews of the film will necessarily come out very conclusion to its acquittance, and as a resultant role, people purchasing advance tickets might buy them before there are any reviews or Tomatometer grudge to speak of. Thus, in malice of there being no firm correlation between negative reviews and a low box office, its first-weekend box returns might be less susceptible to any electric potential damage as a result of bad compress. ( such close up timing can besides backfire ; critics liked this summer ‘s Captain Underpants, for example, but the film was screened excessively deep for the convinced reviews to measurably boost its opening box office. )
That first-weekend number is important, because if a movie is the top performer at the corner position ( or if it simply exceeds expectations, like Dunkirk and Wonder Woman did this summer ), its success can function as good advertising for the film, which means its second weekend sales may besides be stronger. And that matters, particularly when it means a movie is outperforming its expectations, because it can actually shift the way industry executives think about what kinds of movies people want to watch. Studios do keep an center on critics ’ opinions, but they ’ re much more interest in tag sales — which makes it easy to see why they don ’ thyroxine want hazard having their open weekend corner agency affected by bad reviews, whether there ’ s a prove correlation or not .
The downside of this strategy, however, is that it encourages critics to instinctively gauge a studio apartment ’ mho level of confidence in a film based on when the press screening takes rate. twentieth Century Fox, for example, screened War for the Planet of the Apes weeks ahead of its theatrical dismissal, and lifted the inspection embargo with batch of time to spare before the movie came out. The implication was that Fox believed the movie would be a critical achiever, and indeed, it was — the movie has a 97 percentage Tomatometer score and an 86 percentage audience score .
And still, late weight-lift screenings fail to account for the fact that, while a gloomy Rotten Tomatoes score doesn ’ triiodothyronine necessarily hurt a movie ’ second sum returns, aggregate review scores in general do have a distinct effect on second-weekend sales. In 2016, Metacritic conducted a study of the correlation coefficient between its scores and second weekend sales, and found — not surprisingly — that well-reviewed movies dip much less in the second weekend than ill reviewed movies. This is particularly true of movies with a impregnable built-in fan base, like Batman v Superman : dawn of Justice, which enjoyed inflated corner agency returns in the beginning weekend because fans came out to see it, but dropped precipitously in its second weekend, at least partially due to highly minus weight-lift .
Most critics who are serious about their function make a good-faith effort to approach each film they see with as few expectations as possible. But it ‘s hard to have much hope about a movie when it seems obvious that a studio is trying to play keep-away with it. And the more studios try to game the arrangement by withholding their films from critics, the less critics are inclined to enter a riddle barren of expectations, however subconscious .
If you ask critics what studios ought to do to minimize the potential impingement of a low Rotten Tomatoes mark, their answer is simple : Make better movies. But of course, it ’ s not that easy ; some movies with badly scores do well, while some with good scores distillery flop. Hiding a film from critics might artificially inflate first-weekend box agency returns, but plenty of people are going to go see a franchise movie, or a superhero movie, or a syndicate movie, no count what critics say .
The accuracy is that neither Rotten Tomatoes nor the critics whose evaluations make up its scores are truly at fault here, and it ’ s punch-drunk to act like that ’ s the case. The web site is just one piece of the sprawl and much bewilder film landscape .
As box function analyst Scott Mendelson wrote at Forbes :

[ Rotten Tomatoes ] is an aggregate web site, one with increased ability because the media now uses the fresh ranking as a catch-all for critical consensus, with said share score popping up when you buy tickets from Fandango or rent the title on Google Market. But it is not magic trick. At worst, the increase visibility of the site is being used as an excuse by ever-pickier moviegoers to stay in with Netflix or VOD .

For hearing members who want to make good moviegoing decisions, the best approach is a two-pronged one. First, check Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic to get a smell of critical consensus. But second base, find a few critics — two or three will do — whose taste aligns with ( or challenges ) your own, and whose insights help you enjoy a movie tied more. Read them and rely on them .
And know that it ’ mho approve to form your own opinions, besides. After all, in the bigger sense, everyone ’ s a critic .

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