Launched in 1998, Rotten Tomatoes has become one of the largest websites in the world in the space of movies and movie reviews. But even with its 20 years in the business, many of us still don’t fully understand how the site and its metrics work, which isn’t a great thing. Over the last few years especially, the ability of Rotten Tomatoes to add to or take away from movie’s box office revenue has only increased, and seems to keep doing so. This increase in the “power” the website has on the average movie fan, is one I think is both good and bad. It’s great that audiences see it as a tool, that empowers them to avoid Hollywood’s less than best works, while in turn giving those films they deem deserving of, that extra boost. This power however, can be used unfairly, and it is especially used that way when its numbers are played against many peoples ignorance of the way the site really works. So how does it really work, and what do the numbers really mean?
To start with, the most fundamental thing to be understood about the site, is that it is an aggregator for reviews, and does not itself review anything. What that means, is that the site itself collects reviews from reviewers that it approves, and brings all those reviews to one place that is easy to find for anyone who’d like to see what these critics have to say. All of these reviews can be found along with some audience reviews on every movie that they score.
The second thing we have to discuss is the “Tomatometer”, which is where the site gets its famous percentage “scores” of films, only its not actually a score. As we stated earlier, this is an aggregator site, and the Tomatometer score is just that, its and aggregate of all the reviews the site recognizes, which it then converts to a simple and easy to see percentage out of 100. The way the site does this is two fold. First it must judge every review as either “Fresh” or “Rotten”. For a score to be granted a fresh, it must simply register as 60% or higher on its scale (3 or higher out of 5, 6 our higher out of 10 and so on). Conversely, any review that score 59% or less, is granted a Rotten. Now, once all the reviews are categorized as either fresh of rotten, they are all tallied together, and the ratio of fresh to rotten reviews is represented as a percentage, which represents the numbers we have grown accustomed to attaching to a films worth. Lets take two films to example. The recent Wonder Woman movie currently has a Tomatometer score of 92% and is considered Certified Fresh (this just means it received over a certain of scored reviews). Many people may think, that this score means, the movie is 92 out of 100 in terms of reviews or in quality, but that isn’t the case. If we look at the break down from the critics, we see that the movie has had 298 official scored reviews, of which, 274 were considered fresh, or over 60%, and only 24 where considered rotten, or under 60%. So we can get a better understanding, that that 92% means that 92 out of every 100 critics, had a positive review of this movie, but if we look at their averaged review score, the movie is rated at 7.5 out of 10 based on all the reviews they tallied. 92% and 75% are not insanely off of each other, but you can imagine the headlines if this movie’s Tomatometer score was 75%. Our second example is The Mummy, which currently has a 16% rating. With 215 reviews, 34 of which were fresh and 181 rotten, we get our 16 out of ever 100 critics gave this movie a less than positive review, however, if again we look at the average review score we get a 4.2 out of 10. 42% is more than double 16%, and it certainly looks a hell of a lot better than 16%, no matter if each is still a failed grade.
So I hope we can see that while the Tomatometer and Rotten Tomatoes on a whole is a great and powerful tool, that we can have a better understanding of how it works, and why sometimes we should be less concerned with simply attaching a Tomatometer rating to a movies quality, and thats for better and for worse. Did you know how the Tomatometer and Rotten Tomatoes worked before, or is this all new information to you? Comment and let me know what you think about their system and how much power they should or shouldn’t have on audience opinion of movies.