Going to the movies can be an expensive endeavor, so it makes sense that many of us want to know beforehand if a movie is worth our hard-earned dollars. Thus, it stands to reason that reviews can be an important factor in movie selection.
There are many online movie review sites. Since its humble beginnings as a site to catalog reviews for Jackie Chan movies, Rotten Tomatoes has come on the scene as one of the most influential forces in the film industry.
Rotten Tomatoes is an aggregation site that compiles movie reviews and converts them into a Tomatometer score. The Tomatometer renders either a positive or negative verdict, or in the lexicon of Rotten Tomatoes, a “fresh” or “rotten” rating. This score, however, can be misleading as it’s simply the percentage of positive reviews published by the professional critics – with positive defined as 60% or higher. As an example, a 2.5 stars (out of a total of 5) review is treated the same as a one star review, leaving both under the same banner of “rotten.”
Will Rotten Tomatoes Continue to Grow?
In this day and age, many of us rely heavily on the internet for conducting research and making purchasing decisions. According to a 2015 independent study by 20th Century Fox, “Many Millennials and even Gen Xers now vet every single purchase through the internet, whether it’s restaurants, video games, or movies. As these generations get older and comprise an even larger share of total moviegoers, their behavior is unlikely to change. The power of Rotten Tomatoes and fast-breaking word of mouth will only get stronger.”
As Rotten Tomatoes Goes, So Goes the Moviegoer - or Not
Rotten Tomatoes may have some influence over moviegoers, but many in the industry feel that to say it has too much pull, would be an overstatement. According to David Mumpower, founder of Box Office Profits, “film reviews are at most a 10% swing.”
Certainly there are examples of films that have achieved financial success despite their “rotten” label. One such example is the Transformer series. To date, these films have collected over $1.3 billion domestically and yet all were “rotten” on the Tomatometer – with a high of 57% for the first one to a low of 15% for the most recent, Transformers: The Last Knight.
On the flip side, when looking at the top 10 grossing films in 2017 so far, all but two received “fresh” scores by the site with five films ranking in the 90s on the Tomatometer. Based on this information, higher scores do seem to mean that a movie is more likely to succeed at the box office.
Interestingly enough, an informal poll conducted around the Investors Bank office seems to support what many in the industry are saying – it is an influence, but not the only information used to purchase a movie ticket. Only 50% of the individuals surveyed rely solely on the Tomatometer – others pick their favorite actors, genres, movie series or brands, such as DC Comics.
Look Beyond the Tomatometer
Despite its shortcomings, Rotten Tomatoes believes it provides fans with an easy way to access hundreds of professional reviews in one convenient place. Given the average cost of a night out at the movies, it can be a valuable service for our busy and mobile society.
However, as critics are quick to point out, using the film’s Tomatometer score as the only factor in selecting a movie is short sighted. It is an aggregated, averaged and impersonalized number. Clearly, there are flaws in the algorithm that drives these scores.
While the Tomatometer score can certainly be used as a starting point, it would be helpful to also read reviews from film critics you respect. Or better yet, ask friends and colleagues whose opinion you value and have already seen the film.
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Eggertson, Chris, “How will those bad reviews affect ‘Batman v Superman’s’ opening weekend? Box office experts weigh in.”, Hitfix.com, 3/24/2016
Sher, Nipun, “Does the Rotten Tomatoes score have too much influence on the American movie audience?”, Quora.com, 4/17/2016
Ryan, Jack, “Rotten Tomatoes’ Influence and the Importance of Bad Movies.”, The Miami Student, 4/11/2017