Rotten Tomatoes is an interesting microcosm of film criticism and may not actually be helpful at all. Many people utilize it to decide how to spend their entertainment dollars. So much so that some films are even opting to include their scores in promotional material while the film is in theaters. Checking Rotten Tomatoes has almost reached the point of being synonymous with going to the movies.
Aggregation makes some sense to get a general overview of how a film is being received, but it removes all depth to the review process. Readers are left with a single number which may make or break a movie and an abundance of user responses which at best are simplistic and at worst are attacks on critics or films. The website has been criticized by filmmakers and film critics for a number of years because of these issues.
Suicide Squad has been one of the most anticipated movie releases of summer. Superhero fans across the board were excited for a film that seemed to be doing everything right. It still had the grittiness of the DC universe, but appeared to be lightening up from its consistent doom and gloom approach thus far. The film’s trailers have been fun and, despite numerous iterations, they have not given too much of the film away. Fans are still theorizing about what the plot will entail. Even I, who is not a fan of any of the characters and initially reluctant, has been drawn in by the fun and outstanding music in its trailers. All that enthusiasm has come to a head with the actual release of the film. Suicide Squad debuted Thursday to a onslaught of bad reviews.
Perhaps the first sign of trouble was that Warner Bros kept press screenings until the last minute, usually not a great signal for film quality. Now, the web is being flooded with disappointing reviews for the film. So much so that its Rotten Tomatoes score has fallen to under 30%. This is a devastating score for fans in part because of the power of Rotten Tomatoes itself. One fan even started a petition on Change.org suggesting a conspiracy against DC. The petitions instigator even acknowledged the absurdity and closed the petition less than 24 hours later.
The fact that it exists and that it gained 18,495 supporters in its initial 18 hours is bizarre. Creating a petition because the reviewers a site has aggregated don’t like your movie is a epitome of childish internet stunts. Yet, the petition does illustrate one important thing: That a single number on Rotten Tomatoes can have serious repercussions for a films success.
That is why fans are so quick to rebuke the website. Suicide Squad is not the first film this year to be at the center of this sort of review drama. It isn’t even the second. Batman v Superman had fans and critics in a standoff that is still noticeable on the film’s Rotten Tomatoes page. Just last month, Ghostbusters churned up a mess of responses that ranged from hateful to glowing. The truth lies somewhere in-between, but that’s not clear looking at its page. In fact, reading through some of them, you get the feeling many writers felt they had something to prove either way.
Some statistic savvy observers used it as an opportunity to highlight how easily skewed aggregators can be. Skewed scoring is not entirely surprising. There is a lot of subjectivity in whether or not you end up liking a film and often it is not the technical minutiae of what someone who studied film defines as good or bad. We have seen examples time and time again of aggregator sites having high or low ratings for a film and then drastically different user approval ratings.
All this drama is over the “Tomatometer”, Rotten Tomatoes system for rating films. The score is calculated by collecting reviews from across the web and reducing them to a binary system of good and bad. This removes the depth and critical thinking necessary for good reviews. It also disregards the wide range of opinions both in critics and audiences. Despite all that, we continue to rely on them rather than our own judgement or a single critical voice who resonates with us for better or worse. Ultimately, Rotten Tomatoes is a broken tool which can only be used to get a broad understanding on how a film was received, but should not be used a singular measure of film quality or even how much you will enjoy it.
Do you use Rotten Tomatoes? If so, how often does it align with how you feel about a film?
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