Review aggregator websites have long been utilised as the means for an audience to gauge the general interest in a film or television show. Not too long ago, Rotten Tomatoes scores were the be-all and end-all of whether something was deemed a success or not. In fact, the unveiling of Rotten Tomatoes scores was a big event like marriage or the first time someone tried waffles with chicken. Yet, times have changed, and it’s now being used as a tool to emphasise the divide between critics and viewers, as well as for other nefarious purposes.
Some analysts, such as IndieWire’s Tom Brueggemann, agree with studios that Rotten Tomatoes scores are ruining film criticism, as well as being detrimental to the industry as a whole. However, the culprit has never been the data aggregator site – it’s the people who don’t understand how it works and have weaponised it for their own silly agendas. Let’s take a look at how an initial good idea has now become the catalyst for some of the most embarrassing behaviours online.
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How Rotten Tomatoes scores work
First off, let’s get the obvious out of the way since this needs to be explained. The score that’s displayed next to a film or show is the percentage of the number of people who recommend it. The way that Rotten Tomatoes judges if a critic approves something or not is if it gets at least a 60% score or an obvious “thumbs-up” in a review. There are issues with this method, though, since some 6/10 reviews can be deemed rather critical and have been assigned a “Rotten” status when they technically shouldn’t be. It isn’t a perfect system by any means.
What’s important to bear in mind here is the following: Even if something has a 100% critical approval rating, it doesn’t mean it’s a 10/10 production that will change the world and announce the arrival of the next Steven Spielberg. In fact, all the people who watched it could have graded it a 6 or 7, and it would still have a 100% approval score. A site like Metacritic in comparison utilises the review scores to prove an overall average score, which is a more accurate reflection of what critics are rating a film/show.
The divide between critics and audiences on Rotten Tomatoes scores
Put five people in a room and force them to watch a Superman film. Afterwards, ask them what they thought of it. Their opinions will be influenced by whether they’re Superman fans in general, their mood of the day, their general knowledge of film, or even what they perceive to be a good movie. Similarly, the same happens with critics and audiences. There are numerous instances where a film may not be technically masterful, but it’s entertaining as heck. As a result, it probably shouldn’t be nominated for any Oscars, but by golly, you will watch Meet the Parents at least 20 times a year for the rest of your life.
The Fast and the Furious didn’t become a billion-dollar franchise by caring what critics thought of it. It knows what it is, revs its engine louder to silence the haters, and gets on with it. Ironically, the franchise started to receive higher critical approval ratings as it progressed because a lot of people, including critics, warmed up to it.
There’s no point in trying to weaponise the divide as some form of “gotcha,” though. In the pre-Internet days, most people would read the reviews of a few critics they trusted before watching a movie/show or just go in blind. To be brutally honest, no one really gave a damn about reviews to the extent we do today, and most watched something if it piqued their interest.
In the end, a divide between critics and the audience is good. It demonstrates that people can form their own opinions. This isn’t to say critics are wrong and the general audience is right, or vice versa. History has shown us that there are numerous films and shows where people have changed their minds about it over time, so it’s counterintuitive to be inflexible when it comes to entertainment.
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The supposed critic agenda and review-bombing
Is there bias in the entertainment industry? Well, does a duck have wings? Much like any other industry in the world, many critics have their own natural biases when it comes to reviews. Some of them love certain filmmakers, while they despise others. There are many professionals who put it aside and review the work on its merit – which is what they should be doing – but there are also others who sharpen their knives for the killing.
Similarly, the same can be said about viewers, right? How many people refuse to watch a film because X actor is in it? Or have we all forgotten the outrage about Robert Pattinson being cast as Batman because he was a vampire in a teen film over a decade ago?
The issue here is when it becomes ugly for the sake of it, such as review-bombing which is the digital equivalent of eating your own faeces. You might get a kick or grin while doing it, but you’ll be covered in crap by the end of the day – and it stinks. Some people get so offended by the mere presence of something that they choose to attack it for the thought of even existing. Case in point: Velma.
Most of the people who hate Velma haven’t watched it. Instead, they decided to judge it by a few pictures and trailers, then to go and review-bomb it on Rotten Tomatoes. What for? What did this achieve? These bright sparks may end up saving the show for another season, since the creators and HBO Max will be well aware of review-bombing so they will begin to ignore the legitimate criticism of the show because of the hyperbole and exaggeration. So, congrats! If you hated Velma and review-bombed it, you may have given it an extra season.
Where to from here?
It’s difficult to see a time when Rotten Tomatoes scores will become as relevant as it was after all the shenanigans in recent years. It’s a shame, because the aggregator is simply presenting data as it finds it, but it receives the brunt of the backlash from all sides. Ultimately, the best thing is for people to use it in a rational but also sensible way. Look for common trends in reviews, while reading both the positive and negative ones to get a consensus to help you formulate your own opinion. You need to decide if something looks interesting or not. (Remember, for some people, American Ninja is art; for others it’s a dumpster fire.) And for heaven’s sake, don’t review-bomb movies/shows you haven’t watched yet.