Monday, September 11, 2023

Let’s Talk About Rotten Tomatoes

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If you’ve been following Trust the Dice for any length of time, you know how much we tend to roll our eyes at Rotten Tomatoes. Particularly, the critic scores.
For our reviews, we include ratings from Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb, and Metacritic. Over the years, we’ve noticed things about the various websites. IMDb, for instance, seems to lean more toward what audiences think of the films – without concern for critics. Metacritic is often the most critical, even giving widely loved films lower scores. Then there’s Rotten Tomatoes.
One of the things we love about Rotten Tomatoes is that it separates the reviews in an easy to digest way: you have the critic score on one hand and the audience score on the other. With one glance you’re able to see what each group thinks. It’s almost impossible to not catch on to the little trends in various genres and sub-genres. Turn-your-brain-off films usually get poor reviews from critics, but audiences love them. While Oscar bait often thrills the critics but gets lower scores from audiences. There are exceptions, but there are a great many movies where the difference between audience and critic score can be calculated by just glancing over the IMDb page.
That kind of thing is to be expected, though. Critics and audiences are viewing the same thing from two vastly different perspectives. They’re looking for different things. What bothers me is when I open Rotten Tomatoes, glance through the reviews and wind up wondering if the critics even watched the same movie I did.
Opinions will differ. That’s a given. But when Vulture revealed that some critics were being paid for certain reviews, or at least paid to hide their bad ones, I was not shocked.
In the Sept. 6, 2023, article by Lane Brown, it was reported that Bunker 15, a publicity company, allegedly bought good reviews from critics for Ophelia (2018). It originally had a rotten score of 46% and, after allegedly paying $50 per review, Bunker 15 was able to get it up to a fresh 62%.
It’s not ethical to accept a monetary reward for a specific kind of review but there are always going to be bad apples. In every profession. Plenty of critics are paid for reviews, yes, but whether it’s a good one is supposed to rely solely on the experience.
Still, those bad apples can skew a score very easily.
That’s not to say that I think Rotten Tomatoes is useless.
I’ve never relied on just one score through Rotten Tomatoes. When I look at their page, I’m very rarely just trying to see the critic score. In fact, I’m not even just trying to see the audience score. Audiences can wind up judging a film on things that have nothing to the movie. I saw one bad review where they slammed the film just because the lead actor’s brother had done something bad. It had nothing to do with the actual actor.
The important thing to look at when you’re utilizing Rotten Tomatoes is the spread. The difference between the critic and audience score will tell you everything you need to know. It doesn’t matter if some of the critics have been paid off, or if some of the audiences are review-bombing. That spread will tell you if something wonky is going on.
Go into it knowing what you want out of a film, as well. Audiences tend to prioritize fun, while critics prioritize technique. Taking the average of the two scores will help you balance both, but if your priorities lean one way or the other, that’s something to take into account too, and it’s why Rotten Tomatoes is still useful. Even with the bad apples.
Regardless of what directors, producers, or anyone else says.
Wages are low. Movie tickets are expensive. Streaming subscriptions are expensive. Cable is expensive. Sites that give us insight on whether we’ll like a film are important. They can keep us from spending a dumb amount of money on a film that isn’t for us.
Unfortunately, people who rate things unethically can force viewers away from risky indie pictures. That’s why many audiences lean toward the fun, turn-your-brain-off flicks. It’s not because “audiences are dumber,” as suggested by Paul Schrader, writer of Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), and other iconic films. It’s because audiences know exactly what their money is buying with those films. They know that it’ll be a somewhat hollow experience, but that they’re going to leave the theater smiling.
Joy is in short supply these days. People need to get it wherever they can. It’s unfortunate that it means they miss some great indie films because some companies are intent on gaming the system.
Writers/directors pointing the finger at people consuming their work is a joke. Audiences are not the problem. Companies are. Audiences are just using the tools they have, to try to lighten their load.
I’ll continue rolling my eyes at some of the scores on Rotten Tomatoes. I’ll still complain about them in my reviews. That said, I’ll also still utilize the site and post the scores on each one I write. Even when I disagree with the scores, I can’t deny that Rotten Tomatoes is a useful tool, when you use it carefully.
We hope that you have the opportunity to judge each movie on its own merit. If you don’t, don’t let anyone sway you. Watch what you like, what you can afford, and what you are emotionally open to. Entertainment is for everyone.  

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