Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes: do rating sites have the power?

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Martin Scorsese has attacked critical aggregators that make and break the reputation of a film even before its release. Are they really so influential?


The film industry now has to live with their presence. Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, and IMDb, these rating sites have gained their place for ten years in the sphere of entertainment. They put forward an average, often quantified, obtained by gathering the opinions and notes of professionals or average spectators. But to what extent does this average impact on the career of the filmmaker? Does the audience give it real attention? In a new column, in the Hollywood Reporter, the director Martin Scorsese judged severely critical aggregators that have established a “hostile climate”.


Scorsese commented that the violent comments, which turned movie weekends into a sport for bloodthirsty spectators, encouraged a more brutal approach to film criticism. He was speaking about firms of market research such as CinemaScore, which began operations towards the end of the ’70s, and also online aggregators such as Rotten Tomatoes, which have no connections with true movie reviews. They note a movie as we notice a horse for a horse race. According to him these firms and aggregators have created a hostile climate to serious filmmakers – just the name Rotten Tomatoes is insulting. While the idea of a critique written by passionate people with real knowledge of the history of cinema has disappeared, it seems that more and more people are only interested in judgments. These people want to see films and filmmakers being rejected, scrapped and sometimes torn into pieces.


The controversy Rotten Tomatoes

The site Rotten Tomatoes makes the rain and the good weather, at least in theory. The note aggregator uses a very basic system: rave reviews or rather good reviews will be assimilated to fresh tomatoes, while more negative writings are symbolised by rotten tomatoes launched against the film. The “tomato score”, as the site calls it, gives a final percentage of positive reviews. As soon as a movie falls below the 60% positive rating, it is considered bad. This rather simple mechanism has repeatedly created disagreement among many fans or professionals like Martin Scorsese.


The Pirates of the Caribbean 5 and Baywatch blockbusters did not win at the American box office, and the studios ended up blaming Rotten Tomatoes (Aggregator awarded 32% and 19% positive ratings to both feature films), reports a New York Times article in which big industry magnates flatly blame the platform for “destroying their business.”


Based on a study published on September 11, which analyzes hundreds of data, this is not the case: “What is clear, if we look at all the data since the 2000s, is what Rotten Tomatoes has never played a big role, positive or negative, in the results of feature films at the box office, “says the author of this survey. The author attempts to demonstrate, with figures in support, the very weak influence of the site on the performances of the film.


In this study, the authors see that films that are box-office successes (those that exceed $ 300 million in revenue) generally receive positive reviews, suggesting that there is a causal link between good critics and good results at the box office. Another important phenomenon comes into play said the data scientist behind the analysis. The ratings of the viewer and the press are becoming more and more correlated, which means that the audience has become an expert, able to sniff out bad movies and stay away from them. In other words, the public has more and more the same appreciation as professional critics. The survey concluded that when Hollywood executives complained about Rotten Tomatoes’ scores, they actually complained about the likes of the audience because it’s pretty much the same.


The solution: make good movies

Even if the site would not necessarily be to blame for the box office failure of a film, the management of Rotten Tomatoes has been trying lately to calm the game. The vice president of the site, Jeff Voris, had given a nuanced response to all these attacks in an interview on the Entertainment Weekly site: “The tomato score is just a flag for fans. We believe that it is only a starting point to allow them to discuss, debate and share their own opinions.”


How many viewers decide whether or not to see a movie after viewing his note on Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic?

The answer is it is impossible to know, but the trend seems to indicate in any case that the professional critics are less and less regarded as gospel speech by the public, who prefers to make their own opinion. Anyway, if the studios strive to make good films, the rating sites should not cause them any problems. And the debate will no longer be necessary.

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