Hollywood is currently experiencing the tail end of one of the crappiest box office summers in recent memory, with movie fans coming out in droves to do pretty much everything other than go see Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson shoot people, or all the would-be flying in Leap! There are any number of reasons the theaters have been emptier than usual over the last few weeks—hurricane worries, bad marketing, just plain lousy films—but a new New York Times piece suggests that Hollywood has already decided on its favorite cause for the current slump: that old boogeyman, Rotten Tomatoes.
Per The Times, it sounds like any number of Hollywood executives have labeled—off the record, so as not to give the site any more power than it already has—the review aggregator as their number one foe, what with its simple, easy to understand rubric for whether the majority of critics enjoyed a given film. The site (which is owned by Fandango, which incorporates Tomatometer scores into its ticket listings) has become a key target for the studios’ critical release strategies, as they attempt to juke scores or avoid its effects altogether. Sometimes, that means previewing movies exclusively to critics who are likely to grant a film a positive reception (like horror fans for the upcoming Leatherface, which is currently sitting at 86 percent “Fresh” on the strength of 7 reviews), or—as in the case of The Emoji Movie—simply refusing to advance screen a film at all, in the hopes that families will pre-purchase tickets before the reviews can come in.
For its own part, RT denies its film-crushing power, as well as accusations that its thumbs-up, thumbs-down approach dumbs down the review process. “I actually think it’s the opposite of simplified,” the site’s vice president, Jeff Voris, told the Times. “It’s incredibly layered.” Voris notes that a film’s Rotten Tomatoes profile—which also includes snippets and quotes from numerous reviews—is a lot more nuanced than a simple score (even if that big cartoon tomato or splat is still the first thing you see when you check out a film on the site).