Entertainment Movies Rotten Tomatoes and sour grapes: why critics’ scores ‘don’t matter’
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Rotten Tomatoes and sour grapes: why critics’ scores ‘don’t matter’

margaret and david
David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz quit while they were ahead, and before audiences began disregarding critic scores. Photo: Getty
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Some may revere its scores as movie gospel, but new research has found review site Rotten Tomatoes has no bearing on how films perform at the box office.

Despite claims from industry executives the site’s “tomatometer score” – a percentage of positive reviews from critics – is killing ticket sales, it appears moviegoers don’t care what the reviews say.

Resident data scientist at the University of Southern California’s Entertainment Technology Centre, Yves Burquist, crunched the numbers to prove a film’s score had no bearing on its box office performance.

He analysed the 150 titles released in 2017 that grossed more than $US1 million ($A1.24 million) and found “the math is pretty overwhelming in saying there was no [positive or negative] correlation in 2017 between Rotten Tomatoes scores and box office returns”.

This is in stark contrast to the claims of industry professionals like American director and producer Brett Ratner, who told Entertainment Weekly in March that Rotten Tomatoes had killed movie culture.

“The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes,” Ratner declared.

“I think it’s the destruction of our business … When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that. Now it’s about a number.”

Earlier this week The New York Times ran a piece quoting a number of anonymous film industry executives who echoed Ratner’s complaints, saying the Tomatometer “hacks off critical nuance” with its “seemingly loose definition of who qualifies as a critic”.

Current box office scores on Rotten Tomatoes, with green splats indicating poor reviews, while red tomatoes indicate critical success.

Rotten Tomatoes vice-president Jeff Voris defended his company to EW, saying the scores should simply serve as a starting point for discussion.

But film companies are still over-compensating to protect movies from early criticism destroying pre-release hype.

Locally, Australian critics are regularly asked to sign embargo forms ahead of screenings so reviews are held until the day of release, with some even outlawing reviewers from posting their thoughts on social media.

This tactic can be a double-edged sword, as demonstrated earlier this year with the release of horror film Annabelle: Creation.

Limited screenings and a strict embargo meant the movie had a 100 per cent score on the Tomatometer at its release, but this quickly dropped to below 70 per cent as more reviews hit the internet.

In other cases, quieting reviewers can have huge financial benefits. This year’s poorly-received Emoji Movie managed to gross $US24.5 million in its opening weekend in the United States thanks to Sony’s strict embargo. It currently has only an 8 per cent rating on the site.

While people may not be letting Rotten Tomatoes dictate their movie-going choices, it’s clear they’re reading the site regardless, with it attracting more than 10 million visitors a month.

In a bizarre twist, according to NYT the site is owned by Fandango Media, a movie ticket company co-owned by film companies NBCUniversal and Warner Brothers.

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