Rotten Tomatoes

I have conflicting feelings about Rotten Tomatoes. I know for a lot of people it’s a really useful tool to help them decide what movies to go see, but there is a slight problem with it. The Tomatometer.

The Tomatometer is the number that pops up on sites like Fandango, and it’s the number that movies use in their marketing campaigns now. It determines if a movie is “fresh” or “rotten”.  The way that Rotten Tomatoes calculates this number is kind of deceiving though. You see in order for a movie to be considered fresh it has to have received at least 80 reviews and 60% of those reviews have to be positive. If 75% of those reviews are positive and at least 5 “top critics” (Critics Rotten Tomatoes has deemed super trustworthy) it’s “Certified Fresh” and everyone loses their mind with how good it’s supposedly.  At a first glance that seems pretty reasonable, I know.

Here’s the problem.  A positive review can mean a lot of things. A critic can praise every little thing about the movie and give it a 10/10 score and that’s positive. Another critic can have really mixed feelings but lean on the positive stuff with a score of 6/10 and that’s positive, and another critic could really like a movie, but acknowledge problems with a score of 8/10 and that is also positive. Are you seeing how this can go really wrong?

Let’s do an example. A brand new movie is released and 100 people review it including a bunch of our “top critics”. By some statistic anomaly, they all give the movie a rating of 6.3/10. The Tomatometer is going to show that movie with a 100% rating. Even though all of our critics only kind of liked the movie. 6.3/10 in a letter grade is a D by the way. D. A movie can receive an average rating of a D and still get a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s absolutely insane.

Now that’s a pretty extreme example and in practice, it’s not as extreme. Let’s take Black Panther for a more realistic look. The Tomatometer lists it at 97%, but right below the Tomatometer, the average rating for the movie rests at 8.2/10. That’s not totally insane, but still a pretty noticeable difference.

So what am I trying to say here? That we should all stop using Rotten Tomatoes altogether? No, definitely not. I’m just saying that people shouldn’t blindly trust a single number to tell them exactly how good a movie is. Movie reviews are like any other form of journalism, (yeah it counts as journalism) you’re best off by checking multiple sources and using the common threads between them to help you make an informed decision. Or you can just be like me and see everything. Whatever you do at least you know that if you list a Tomatometer score without any other context I warned you and I can, therefore, call you dumb for doing so. I mean come on, this is the site that listed The Last Jedi at 91%! I like the movie, but that’s just silly.

Image sourced from the New York Times.

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