It was only recently that posters began touting a film’s score on Rotten Tomatoes, the ratings aggregator that assigns movies a numeric score based on its reviews. It was a subtle, effective shift in film marketing, that yellow and red icon conveying more than any number of breathless blog quotes. But just because studios are acknowledging the site’s power doesn’t mean they’re happy about it.
Vanity Fair recently got its mitts on an independent study commissioned by 20th Century Fox in 2015. Called “Rotten Tomatoes And The Box Office,” the study concluded, “The power of Rotten Tomatoes and fast-breaking word of mouth will only get stronger. Many Millennials and even Gen Xers now vet every single purchase through the internet, whether it’s restaurants, video games, make-up, consumer electronics, or movies. As they get older and comprise an even larger share of total moviegoers, this behavior is unlikely to change.”
Studios have already seen how much a low Rotten Tomatoes score can tank a tentpole release or prop one up. The Mummy, Baywatch, and the latest Pirates Of The Caribbean film all underperformed upon opening, while Wonder Woman soared to box office dominance after its score surpassed 90 percent.
“Consider not giving the critics a chance to slam you,” is one solution offered up by Fox’s internal report. “While it’s never a great feeling to withhold from critics, now it may help to at least preserve your Friday.”
Or you could, you know, make better movies.
But it’s not that simple. Rotten Tomatoes both thrives and frustrates because it operates on binaries. Instead of offering, say, a Green Tomato in the event of a film simply being “not bad” or “just fine” or “ultra niche,” Rotten Tomatoes is forced to categorize all films as either Fresh or Rotten, thus perpetuating what’s become an unfortunate trend in this age of too much information. Everything nowadays must be either “totally brilliant” or “utter horseshit”—the content of the aggregated reviews doesn’t matter when all people are looking at is a score based on its grade.
All that said, they were right about Baywatch. It sucks.