Rotten Tomatoes vs. Hollywood

movie reviews, hollywood, boxoffice, rotten tomatoes


Can a website bring down a multibillion-dollar industry? For some Hollywood executives, the answer is yes. The website in question is Rotten Tomatoes, the popular film and TV review aggregator that also measures quality by stamping a film or TV series as either certified “fresh” (over 60% positive reviews) or “rotten” (under 59%). After a slow summer at the box office, some studio executives are blaming Rotten Tomatoes for holding too much influence over moviegoers and discouraging them from going to the movies.

A Bad Year for Hollywood

As of September 2017, the North American box office has experienced a shocking downturn. The Labour Day long weekend, usually a strong four-day period for new releases, had its most dismal performance in 17 years. According to Vox, despite some strong returns for Wonder Woman and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the U.S. box office was down over 12% from the previous year. In fact, August was the sixth straight month where the box office receipts showed a decline.

Cast As the Villain

Created in 1998 by Senh Duong, Rotten Tomatoes has since become synonymous with film and TV criticism. Marketing campaigns for films have effectively replaced the classic “two thumbs up” seal of critical approval with the proclamation of a film’s “freshness.” One of the most vocal critics of Rotten Tomatoes has been director and producer Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour films), who called the website, “the destruction of our business.”

Ratner, and many others in Hollywood, believes that the site has undermined the art of film criticism and has reduced what was once articulate journalism to an aggregated number.

Is Hollywood Deflecting Blame?

What Rotten Tomatoes really does is just make information accessible. In addition to reviews by critics, the site also aggregates user reviews, meaning that consumers can decide who they trust, the public or the critics. And honestly, have bad reviews ever hurt an Adam Sandler film or a Transformers movie?

Reasons for Hollywood’s bottom-line nosedive are more likely connected with economics and quality control within the blockbuster business. Soaring ticket prices, along with the skyrocketing production costs, make it much harder for a movie to break even, let alone turn a profit. For instance, 2016’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice cost roughly $250 million before marketing, so it had to make a huge amount back at the box office to be financially successful. Even though the film cleared $900 million worldwide, it’s still considered a failure, and the abhorrent reviews only made it worse. And this brings up what many see as the true issue, that Hollywood continues to release films that simply aren’t enticing the public. A steady diet of reboots, franchises, cinematic universes, sequels and prequels may have exhausted much of the audience’s appetite over the last decade.

Rather than being the problem, Rotten Tomatoes simply highlights Hollywood’s issues. Audiences are free to ignore reviews, or even post their own opinions. Blaming a website like Rotten Tomatoes for a film’s bad box office is like blaming booing sports fans for a team’s poor play.

Rob Shapiro | The Edge Blog


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