The Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer, pitiless scourge of misguided arguments about what hurts the box-office performance of films, is back in the news. This time, it’s not because people are concerned about a rating. Quite the opposite: They’re surprised by the lack of one.
Rotten Tomatoes has decided to withhold the Tomatometer score of upcoming superhero film Justice League until Thursday, more than a full day after the review embargo lifts, and mere hours prior to the film’s arrival in theaters. Sure, some responses to the franchise tentpole are already online—as Screen Rant notes, the social media embargo lifted on Friday last week—so there have already been plenty of chances for people to see the common refrain, “JL was decent tho needs more neck snappings LOL” followed by a GIF from Man Of Steel. Some have suggested the delay, combined with the review embargo lifting around 3 a.m. Eastern (meaning less online traffic), means the studio is worried about a negative response, and frankly, who could blame them? Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad are both hovering at 27 and 26 percent, respectively. If two out of the last three pot roasts I cooked made my friends projectile vomit (Wonder Woman currently stands at 92 percent fresh), I’d be a bit hesitant about bringing another one to the next potluck.
But there’s actually a very clear business reason for the delay: Rotten Tomatoes has a new Facebook show called See It/Skip It, and the company is saving the reveal of the score for the show, going up at 12:01 a.m. Eastern Thursday. While not the first film to receive a debut score release on See It/Skip It—that dubious honor went to A Bad Moms Christmas, on the show’s premiere—it’s far and away a much bigger movie, with far more money at stake. We’ve explained multiple times that the Tomatometer score isn’t really that big a deal, and doesn’t have anywhere near the impact executives, looking to blame the poor showing of their crappy films on literally anyone else, say it does on sales. However, there is another reason this might be a bit problematic:
The confluence of corporate interests does make this all a bit more suspect, and provides far more impetus and ability to try and game the system, to which the overlapping financial stake of these companies offers incentive. But on a more practical level, the problem with Rotten Tomatoes’ new show is that by turning the Tomatometer score into a definitive decider of good or bad, “see a movie” or don’t, it’s literally becoming the very thing all of us defending the aggregation process said it wasn’t—namely, an official verdict of quality (or lack thereof). Basically, the site is undercutting the primary defense for its algorithmic system by equating the score with critical and editorial weight. So once more, we’ll end with a request that should, much like the likely Tomatometer score of Grown Ups 2, be obvious to anyone with critical faculties: Just read the reviews instead.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article referred to Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad as the “last two” DCEU movies to be released by Warner Bros. The story has been updated to account for Wonder Woman and its critical success. We regret the error.