An Inside Look into How Rotten Tomatoes Actually Works
Nowadays, moviegoers consistently use Rotten Tomatoes to gauge whether or not they should see a film in theaters or merely to properly manage their expectations. However, there are still some common misconceptions about how the site actually works, leading many people to be misinformed. Before you make the same mistakes again, take a look at how Rotten Tomatoes actually works and operates.
How Does Rotten Tomatoes Arrive at its Percentage Value?
Contrary to the belief of some, the site actually doesn’t review films. It’s merely an aggregator. Rotten Tomatoes take the reviews of approved critics from all different publications and compiles them into “fresh” or “rotten” grades. If a critic gives the film a score of 3/5 or better, that review gets that bright, shiny red tomato. However, for anything below those thresholds, the review gets that ugly, green splat. Rotten Tomatoes then takes those compiled reviews and brings them together into one number. So, that tomatometer score is really the percentage of critics that gave the film a 3/5 or better, not an overall percent grade that truly tests the merit of the film.
That ugly 27% means that 27% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 3/5 or better. It does NOT mean that BvS scored a 27/100.
Got it, But Where Do the Critics Come From?
Critics apply to become ceritified Rotten Tomatoes critics through their application process. For websites to become certified, RT requires 500,000 monthly views and reviews of at least 300 words. For new critics that work at approved sites, they must be employed by the site for at least two years. There are other stipulations for other mediums (print, video, etc.), but all critics must have some type of professional standard to all publications.
Basically, all reviews on the site are of good standard and writing ability, regardless of how that critic actually feels.
Cool, so How Do I Accurately Gauge How Critics Feel?
To check how the movie truly scores based on how each critic rates it, look at the “average rating” score which takes each critic’s grade and provides a true average. On this scale, Batman V Superman is actually a 4.9/10, or 49%. While still not a great score, this scale shows that the film may have been less reviled by critics than many once thought. Forcing critics to make a choice between “fresh” or “rotten” can skew the tomatometer score to either extreme of the scale. This is the main reason that there’s this perceived divide between critics and fans.
Here’s an example of the tomatometer skewing the data the other way:
Just looking at that gawdy 90% score for Doctor Strange may look pretty great. However, that 7.3/10 average rating score paints a different picture. While still fresh, that 73% score may not be “certified fresh” depending on how the reviews came in to the site. The average rating tells the story of a much more average film than that 90% would have you believe.
If you just judge the film based off of the tomatometer, then you would consider Man of Steel a rotten film. However, if you look at the average rating, MoS is a 6.2/10, or 62%. If the tomatometer went by the average rating, Man of Steel would have a nice, red tomato next to its poster.
Is it a Full Proof System?
There’s even some issues with how Rotten Tomatoes reports the numbers that it collects. Below are some reviews of It upon its release:
Why is one 3/5 fresh when the other is rotten? The rhetoric used in the rotten review definitely skews more negative, but where’s the concrete cutoff between the two? Clearly, the system is flawed in some manner.
Another quirk in the system as far as reporting goes is that some critics report their scores in increments other than a score out of five. Some choose to score films out of four, ten, or give a letter grade. Some critics don’t even report a score at all, they just say whether the movie is rotten or fresh. Obviously, these critics not reporting a number influences the score of the average rating.
The scoring system is filled with other inconsistencies as scores of 2.5/4 equate to rotten ratings, despite that score equaling 62.5% which is even higher than the standard 3/5.
As it currently stands, Taken just misses the mark of becoming a fresh film after 169 reviews. However, after taking a look at the film’s rotten reviews, there were, by my count, six “false rottens,” meaning that scores were misreported as rotten on six separate occasions. If those reviews were accurately reported, Taken would have 104 fresh reviews and 65 rotten reviews. With those numbers in place, Taken would have a fresh score of about 62% and would most likely be perceived better with that appealing, bright tomato at its side. There’s a clear correlation between a movie having a fresh rating and how it percieved by moviegoers and how much many it makes at the box office.
So Should I Even Use Rotten Tomatoes?
Absolutely! Rotten Tomatoes is still a good tool for helping you to create an informed decision on how to spend your hard earned money. But it’s just that: a tool. Rotten Tomatoes should not be the defining factor in whether you decide to see a movie or not. However, it can definitely still be part of the equation. No system is perfect, and there’s still a solid correlation between movies that do poorly on the tomatometer and films that are received poorly by the general public and vice versa.
The best way to use Rotten Tomatoes is to understand which statistic gives the most accurate representation of the film. In most cases, that probably comes from looking at the average rating.
There are a bunch of different outlets to help you. Metacritic and IMDb are two solid alternatives that will help you better gauge a film. Or, simply follow a single reviewer that shares the same, general opinions as you, like me!
However, the best option is just to go out and see the film for yourself. Does the film have a cool trailer? A good cast? A neat story? Awesome, then go see it! At the end of the day, your opinion on a film is the only one that matters.
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on Rotten Tomatoes? Comment down below!
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