Recent studies commissioned by Hollywood studios find a film’s Rotten Tomatoes score has some influence over whether or not people make the trip to see it in theaters. By now, many viewers are familiar with the website, which is a movie review aggregate that assesses each title released a “fresh” or “rotten” score depending on how many of the critic reviews are positive. Those that earn a 75 percent or above are awarded with the coveted Certified Fresh rating, indicating it has widespread critical acclaim. Over the years, Rotten Tomatoes has become a valuable tool for audiences, providing a snapshot of a project’s quality. The system admittedly isn’t perfect and there are a number of variables to keep in mind (like the “Average Rating”), but it’s still a nice resource for cinephiles.
Those who follow big franchises like the DC Extended Universe and Marvel Cinematic Universe know that fans take a great deal of stock in Rotten Tomatoes scores, hoping their most anticipated movies do well with the critics. Some of the larger industry tentpoles are arguably review proof, meaning they will do well at the box office regardless of what the word-of-mouth is. But after a disappointing summer movie season that saw multiple high-profile endeavors struggle commercially, studios are trying to see if there is any correlation between grosses and Rotten Tomatoes scores. Their research indicates there is.
According to THR, a study conducted by the Nielsen Research Group states seven out of 10 moviegoers are less likely to see a movie if the Rotten Tomatoes score was between 0 – 25 percent. Fizziology, a social media research firm that tracks conversations about “every major Hollywood release,” discovered Rotten Tomatoes has high amounts of influence on audience members aged 25 and younger. The organizations said Rotten Tomatoes has become a “truth serum” to see if a title lives up to the hype, and movies anticipated for months can disappear from discussion on Twitter if the reviews are not up to par.
After panned offerings like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and Baywatch were non-starters at the box office (while the likes of fresh hits Wonder Woman and Dunkirk exceeded expectations), studios are looking for ways to combat the so-called “Rotten Tomatoes Effect.” One sneaky strategy employed by Sony last week was to embargo professional reviews for The Emoji Movie until hours before its Thursday night preview screenings on July 27. The result was a $24.5 million opening weekend, narrowly losing first place to Dunkirk. It should be noted that similar approaches did not work well for The Mummy or The House, so this isn’t exactly a foolproof solution.
Savvy moviegoers know that if reviews are withheld for an extended period of time, it’s not a good sign.
The rise of Rotten Tomatoes’ influence is a complex situation for studios; when a film receives several positive reviews, marketing is quick to add the Rotten Tomatoes score to trailers and TV spots, but when the opposite happens, executives blame the reviews for poor audience turnout. It will be interesting to see how they handle it moving forward, since it looks like Rotten Tomatoes and similar aggregates are here to stay. Many would be in agreement that filmmakers should simply produce better movies, but that is sometimes easier said than done.
In an age where a movie’s quality can be reduced to a number, it’s a challenge for all involved.