Since I started blogging about entertainment in 2011, I have to admit I’ve come to rely on Rotten Tomatoes more and more to get a quick snapshot of the buzz on upcoming films and whether they’re good or bad. In just a few minutes, you can skim multiple reviews and see what a variety of critics with a variety of tastes are saying about a movie. If the majority of the critics (60 percent or above) give a movie a thumb’s up, it’s certified “fresh.” If a film falls below that percentage, it’s designated “rotten” — a label that can help doom a movie to box office failure, as this summer’s “After Earth” (11 percent) showed.
Rotten Tomatoes has grown in popularity and visibility since it was started in the late 1990s, and this week the company expanded into TV ratings, as well (“Downton Abbey,” “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad” are some of the first to be certified fresh). However, Rotten Tomatoes does have its critics, and there are some who feel the site has done more to hurt the art of movie reviewing than to help it.
I found an interesting article on the site Film School Rejects that argues Rotten Tomatoes is treated with more importance than it should be: http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/features/why-rotten-tomatoes-is-bad-for-film-criticism-lpalm.php. The author states people have come to rely too much on the site as a definitive source for movie reviews and it shouldn’t be seen as a be-all, end-all.
I will admit that, for the most part, I am a fan of Rotten Tomatoes. Looking at whether a film is “fresh” or “rotten” gives me a quick idea of whether or not a film is going to be good, or whether a highly anticipated film is going to live up to its hype. I like the fact Rotten Tomatoes draws from a variety of movie reviewing sources to formulate the final score. Whether it’s fair or not, the public sometimes has the perception that “serious” movie reviewers are too tough on big-budget blockbusters, but Rotten Tomatoes seems to be balanced. The site appears to evaluate films for what they are, and a variety of genres are appreciated. As an example, the fun, crowd-pleasing superhero film “The Avengers” was certified fresh with a high percentage rating, 92, and the Oscar-contending drama “Blue Jasmine” earned a similar high score, 90.
That said, Rotten Tomatoes does have its drawbacks, and there can be some danger in using the fresh vs. rotten ratings to make a snap judgement about a film. It’s easy to have the perception that if a film scores a 50 percent and is rotten, the movie must be poor and it’s not worth watching. However, despite the unappealing green splatter that signifies a rotten rating on the site, a 50 percent score means that even though half the critics didn’t like it, the other half of them did. If you follow the logic of the site, that means an average viewer has a 50/50 chance of enjoying this movie.
Normally my enjoyment of a movie seems to be pretty proportional to the Rotten Tomatoes score (if it scores 70 percent or higher, I’ll usually really like it; if it scores 30 percent or lower, I probably won’t) — but this isn’t always the case. Last summer, one of my favorite movies was “Snow White and the Huntsman.” The gritty retelling of the classic fairy tale was certified rotten by the site and earned just a 47 percent. While the movie did have its flaws, I found I still really enjoyed the fresh perspective it brought to the Snow White story, and I ended up buying the movie when it came out on DVD. If I had only looked at the rotten rating, I would have missed out on a movie I ultimately really liked.
There isn’t a lot of room for nuance in a fresh vs. rotten rating. A fresh rating tells you critics liked a film, but it doesn’t tell you how much. You might not know if the film is merely “good” instead of “great.” It’s also challenging to compare films to each other using the scoring system. Is “The Avengers” a better movie than “Blue Jasmine” because it earned two percentage points higher? Or are they two totally different films that shouldn’t even be compared? Finally, Rotten Tomatoes can create a sense of peer pressure among reviewers. If a film is rotten, no one wants to be that lone reviewer who admits to liking it. Or, if a film is fresh, everyone else may feel pressured to praise the film.
Film criticism is a subjective art, and I think Rotten Tomatoes is an interesting tool for reviewers to use. The fresh and rotten ratings are a helpful guide, but shouldn’t necessarily be the final word on whether or not a film is good.
So, what do you think about Rotten Tomatoes? Do you think its scoring system is fair? How often do you use it as a source for movie reviews?