How Hollywood came to fear and loathe Rotten Tomatoes

Vanity Fair:

Take the cautionary tale of Baywatch and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, two films predicted by pre-release tracking to do boffo box office over Memorial Day weekend.

But after their dismal “freshness” ratings hit Rotten Tomatoes’ all-powerful Tomatometer—which assigns a numerical score to a given film based on a round-up of critical reviews—the Rock-starring lifeguard comedy promptly flopped, and the fifth installment of Disney’s long-running Johnny Depp franchise hauled in a “soft” $46 million—the lowest opening for a Pirates movie in 14 years.

I had no idea Hollywood gave so much credence to Rotten Tomatoes’ aggregation of reviews. Personally, I’ve never used it to decide whether or not I see a particular movie. Have you?

  • Jakelson

    Yes. But only taken with a combination between the freshness of the tomatoes and audience rating. The tomato meter could be high, but if the audience is low, then it’s possibly only “critically acclaimed” and no good for normal movie watchers. However, if it’s only mildly fresh, but the audience is middle to highly rated, then it’s probably a good movie. And even if it’s rotten, but the audience rating is high, it still might be worth watching. If it’s both VERY FRESH, and audiences LOVE it, then it’s a no-brainer! See the movie already!

  • rb763

    I use Metacritic which I guess is essentially the same as Rotten Tomatoes. Over time, I am finding the audience reviews to be a better guide for me than the critic reviews.

  • Gedeon Maheux

    I use it more to decide if I should buy the film when it’s released than if I should see it in the first place. If something has less than 80% on RT I most likely won’t purchase or rent it.

  • Paulo Clayton

    I don’t always see eye-to-eye with the Tomatometer because it seems most of the critics are self-proclaimed film connoisseurs & out of touch with what the majority of the film-going public are actually interested in. Pirates got a dismal Tomato rating, but at the time my wife & I went to see it, the audience was giving it 4½ out of 5 stars (now it’s down to around 3 stars or so, but I for one enjoyed the film overall). I’m with rb763, I’m more likely to resonate with how audiences respond to films vs. the critics, but sometimes the critics do hit the nail on the head.

  • rick gregory

    it’s because so many movies succeed or fail on opening weekends. A crappy score on RT can keep people away which depresses box office and word of mouth.

    I don’t go to most movies in the theater but when I did I’d have used RT – most reviews talk about a lot of things but the often forget to do the one thing people are looking for – tell us whether it’s worth going to or not. Aside from the quality of it, I think thats one reason people liked toehold Siskel & Ebert show. Thumbs up or down? Yes, they talked about the movie but they ALSO gave it a binary evaluation.

    • Mo

      Like exit polls on election day.

  • lkalliance

    I definitely have used it, if I’m on the fence as to whether I want to go see any movie at all on a given weekend. If I feel like, yeah, maybe, sounds cool, what’s out there to see…and none of the movies rank high, then that would probably spur me to find something else to do. If there’s a movie that’s perhaps a little outside my normal zone, then a particularly high RT score could very much get me to consider going to see it.

  • NB

    I use it all the time. I generally avoid rotten movies.

    • davebarnes

      Me too.

  • James Hughes

    I use it all the time too. The ability to see ratings from the audience and critics makes Rotten Tomatoes indispensable. Interestingly IMDB (which for ratings I consider useless) is almost always at the top of a Google search, whereas RT is sometimes not even on the first page. Odd.

    “Insiders close to both films blame Rotten Tomatoes” How about they blame the shitty movie?

  • johndhynes

    I don’t depend on it solely, and don’t worry much if it’s borderline rotten, like 50%, but if it’s in the teens or single digits, I’ll usually pass. If it’s in the 90’s, I might consider something I otherwise wouldn’t.

  • JimCracky

    Make better movies.

  • Yep. Fairly regularly I use it. If it’s under 50%, I either hold off until video rental or even till it reaches Netflix ect. Movies on RT that rank high…generally I enjoy. But I am middle aged dude in fly over country Minnesota. So who knows Shawn.

  • Heos Phorus

    really, baywatch and pirates 5 are the examples? both of them got such abysmal reviews that it’s pretty obvious that no-one went to see them. you don’t need an aggregator for this, just read any review or talk to anybody who has seen them. they’ll probably still turn a profit in the end, which might still be too good for those stinkers. likewise with the new aliens movie and the mummy.

    it’s just that really bad movies are less likely to become a success by marketing nowadays, contrary to the past when paid for reviews and big marketing campaigns could get you a good first weekend. and the quaity has definitely dropped since the heyday of the summer blockbuster – just watch something like independence day or con air and compare it to something like the pirates movies or batman vs. superman. they don’t make ’em like they used to.

    but contrary to sensationalist headlines, there are now more smaller, better movies that turn a profit, so it’s not all bad for the industry. for every “pirates” there are a few “logans” or “get outs” that save the day. it’s just that the concept of big tentpole movies has run mostly dry – even marvel is about to diversify with logan, deadpool or even guardians of the galaxy taking over from the “major league”.

    • Billy Razzle

      “it’s just that really bad movies are less likely to become a success by marketing nowadays…”

      That’s the point though. The “nowadays” is because of Rotten Tomatoes and others like them that make those old school tactics ineffective.

  • Brad Fortin

    I think the last paragraph of the article nails it (and nullifies the entire rest of the article):

    “To me, it’s a ridiculous argument that Rotten Tomatoes is the problem,” says a marketing executive at an independent film distributor. “F*** you—make a good movie!”

    Movies don’t perform poorly because of bad Rotten Tomatoes ratings, they perform poorly because they’re bad movies and the RT ratings just happen to reflect that.

  • satcomer

    The only movie Inwent to the Theater was to see Wonder Woman and thought it was well written and followed the comic origins!

  • kfattic

    I use it all the time.