Is Rotten Tomatoes really 'the destruction of the movie business'?

Ben Arnold
UK Movies Writer
Rotten… is Rotten Tomatoes really the destruction of the movie business? – Credit: Warner Bros

The reviews aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes has become an essential tool for both the movie business and movie-goers in recent years.

But yesterday, director and producer Brett Ratner slammed it for the power it now seems to wield – like Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus in ‘Gladiator’, deciding with a waft of his thumb if a movie should be seen or shunned.

“The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes,” he told Entertainment Weekly.

“I think it’s the destruction of our business.

“I have such respect and admiration for film criticism. When I was growing up, film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that. And you would read Pauline’s Kael’s reviews, or some others, and that doesn’t exist any more.

(Credit: Reuters)

“Now it’s about a number. A compounded number of how many positives vs. negatives. Now it’s about, ‘What’s your Rotten Tomatoes score?’ And that’s sad, because the Rotten Tomatoes score was so low on ‘Batman v Superman’ I think it put a cloud over a movie that was incredibly successful.

“People don’t realise what goes into making a movie like that. It’s mind-blowing. It’s just insane, it’s hurting the business, it’s getting people to not see a movie. In Middle America it’s, ‘Oh, it’s a low Rotten Tomatoes score so I’m not going to go see it because it must suck.’”

Was Ratner being dramatic? Was it a case of sour grapes because the critics so roundly hated the movie? Does Ratner, best known for directing the ‘Rush Hour’ movies as well as producing under his RatPac-Dune Entertainment company, just want it both ways?

After all, it was a pretty wispy cloud that the site cast over ‘Batman v Superman’ – it might have branded it with a 27% approval rating, but it still earned £700 million.

(Credit: Warner Bros)

It’s a flawed system, for sure. Reviews which get three stars or more out of five are deemed ‘fresh’, which by any standards is a mediocre outcome.

By that rationale, if a movie received three stars from every critic across the board, technically, it would become a resoundingly average movie gifted the holy grail of being deemed ‘100% fresh’.

For its part, the studio system in Hollywood appears to find it to be a useful, if occasionally brutal, tool which lays a movie’s ‘buzz’ out for all to see.

“This was a summer completely designed by reviews and word-of-mouth,” Megan Colligan, Paramount’s president of worldwide distribution and marketing, told The Hollywood Reporter back in 2015, following a summer boastings hits from ‘Jurassic World’ to ‘Minions’.

“I would actually hear people in the grocery store talking about Rotten Tomatoes scores.”

(Credit: Rotten Tomatoes)

Many have rounded on Ratner’s claims, however, The Verge calling them ‘garbage’.

“The issue isn’t a collection of critics unfairly drubbing a financially successful movie. The issue is that they’re often accurately calling out junk,” writes Chris Plante.

“And studios have become so focused on marketing, they can get away with releasing junk, if they spend enough time and energy on its promotion — but they still resent being called on it. I think Ratner knows this, because he not so subtly needs the praise. He wants to be more than a cog in a factory that knowingly sells gold-painted turds.”

Oof.

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian’s venerable movie critic, reckons Ratner ‘has a point’ about dumbing down, but can’t agree with him entirely:

“A range of critics with quite different styles, quite different viewpoints, quite different approaches and quite different prejudices cannot meaningfully be reduced to an average.

“But even here I can’t find myself blaming the site, which is perfectly free to offer its spurious non-facts in a spirit of mischief or idleness or anti-infotainment.What I worry about is the people who bizarrely invoke it as an objective measure. It’s incredible how many times I’ve had conversations with people who appear to be in possession of a working brain, say: ‘Ah, but it only got 62% on Rotten Tomatoes’ as if they have said something meaningful or even interesting.”

A.V. Club, meanwhile, makes a really rather good point.

“A crowd of people telling you you suck is worse than one person telling you you suck, that’s fair,” writes Katie Rife.

(Credit: Paramount)

“The ironic part is that while Ratner has received his fair share of abuse on Rotten Tomatoes in the past – his debut, ‘Money Talks’, scored a 16 percent on the site, and ‘Rush Hour 3’18 percent – his last two feature directorial efforts, ‘Hercules’ and ‘Tower Heist’, are both certified ‘fresh’ on the site.”

Hmmm. Maybe it’s not so bad after all, Brett?

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