Is Rotten Tomatoes Reliable?

My thoughts on one of the titans of movie news.

Rotten or Fresh?



As the summer movie season kicks into high gear, there are a lot of good looking  and highly anticipated movies to be released. This poses the question of whether these movies are actually worth seeing or not. Sure there are the big huge blockbuster movies like Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Wonder Woman, and Despicable Me 3  that audiences will undoubtedly pay to see, but there are other ones that could be hit or miss such as Baywatch, The Mummy, and Dunkirk. As a college student, I don’t want to waste my time or money on a movie that has gotten disastrous reviews which is why I try to follow a lot of movie review channels to gauge whether a film is worth it. This brings me to Rotten Tomatoes.

In the past few years, Rotten Tomatoes has secured itself as one of the top review sites for entertainment be it movies or TV Shows. When thinking about a movie, individuals may check up on the review score of a movie and if it is generally in the higher range then they will go and check it out. If the score falls in the lower percentile, then they may consider skipping the movie, even though it could be a big blockbuster movie (or more likely a movie sequel). People rely on this score more often than not to help make decisions about movies. I even use this tool a lot to help gauge the quality of a film.

However, I believe that Rotten Tomatoes has a bit too much power and is widely misunderstood. Having a good score on Rotten Tomatoes, to me, does not always equate to a good film and vice versa. The majority of the time it works out this way, but there are a lot of exceptions. The way the scores are compiled is, in my opinion, flawed and provides a false sense of security or pitfall for a movie.

How Does Rotten Tomatoes Work:

The way the score is compiled is such: a number of well established movie reviewers will visit the site and post their review. They will then give a score for the movie based on whatever scale they choose. That score is then converted to one of two categories: Rotten or Fresh. The number of fresh reviews are then divided by the total amount of critics who reviewed the film on the site and multiplied by 100. (Example a movie has 200 reviews and 150 are considered fresh. 150/200 * 100 = 75%). It’s a fairly simply system and makes sense but has a big misunderstood caveat: how does the reviewer score get converted to rotten or fresh?

The definition of “fresh” by Rotten Tomato standards is a movie that has a “passing grade”. A passing grade, according to their site is at least a 60%, anything below that is considered rotten. A movie given a 6/10 would be considered as a “fresh review” and added to that corresponding total while a movie that is considered rotten is anything from 5/10 and below.

Why I Believe It Is Flawed:

If I were in school and I got a “C” or “D” on a test (a 60% to 70%), personally I would not be satisfied with that. I understand that everyone has different standards and doing well on a test can be subjective, but for me that kind of grade won’t cut it. In fact, I know numerous amounts of people who held this same mentality. Indeed a “D” is a passing grade, but most people do not just want to pass, they want to excel!

This definition is the system’s greatest and most misunderstood flaw. Back in 2016, I gave Suicide Squad a 6.2/10. This would be considered a “fresh review” on Rotten Tomatoes and contribute to giving the movie a higher score. I thoroughly disliked Suicide Squad and judging by the 25% score on their site based off 311 reviews, most people generally hated it as well. However, I would not consider the movie a complete fail. While it is a mess there are a few redeemable qualities and cool scenes that do not make it fall completely flat. But according to Rotten Tomatoes my review is more positive than negative.

While Rotten Tomatoes mostly has professional reviewers on their site contributing (which I most certainly do not consider myself to be one), there are the user scores as well (yup that would be me). However, no one really pays any attention to the user score and solely focus on the critic’s consensus. Movies like Batman v Superman are considered divisive for this reason. The movie has approximately a 27% critic score with 359 reviews and a user score of 63% with over 200,000 people contributing. A 27%, to me, is beyond failure while a 63% means the movie was more “okayish”. With that movie, I would fall more in the “okayish” section.

How It Has Affected Movie Culture:

Now yes, everyone’s opinion is their own and we are free to think of a movie in any way we want.  Each person goes into each movie with a different set of expectations. Most critics on the site are encouraged to keep an open mind about films and not really delve into their own fan expectations or background knowledge they have on the film. However, this is why the score can become misleading because it is trying to appeal to the most general audience. There are films like the Oscar movies that generally have no expectations going in but for the big blockbuster movies, there is a lot riding on them to be successful.

This has drastically affected the box office especially for the past two years. Films like Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, Independence Day 2, Fant4stic, and Spectre, all movies that have a huge fan appeal all had some pretty low box office numbers. The expected projections for these movies were pretty high and those are based off interest in the movie, fan appeal, and some other factors that I won’t really get into. All of the above movies had some pretty bad Rotten Tomatoes scores faring between 10% to 40% (with Spectre as an exception). Bearing this in mind, an argument can be made that Rotten Tomatoes affects the fan interest and sways a large majority of audiences away from seeing certain films. Yes all of the above films were pretty bad however, they are not complete disasters (exception of Fant4stic).


All in all, it really is up to the individual on whether or not they trust the system. While I am guilty of using it and relying it, I still make sure to read other reviewers I trust to form a well rounded decision to see a movie. People should go see movies because they want to, or because their friend recommended it highly not because critics praise the movie as amazing. You should go out and form your own opinion of the movie. The system has a flaw in what it dictates to be a “fresh” movie and that creates an aura of disillusionment. Everyone should be able to form an opinion without having an influence from other sources. Certainly read movie reviews (this page wouldn’t be successful if people did not read them), but to put faith solely in a score that has flaws in how it’s generated can compromise a good movie going experience for yourself.

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