Interpreting RottenTomatoes: What the Rating Truly Indicates

20120621-182439.jpg

Will great reviews of a movie strengthen my resolve to see a film? Of course it will. Will I have higher expectations for that movie? Hell yes. Is this fair to do? Probably not. Like I mentioned in my previous article, I frequently use Rottentomatoes (RT) to gauge my expectations for the quality of a film prior to viewing it. The website takes all of the reviews that the movie has and gives it a percentage number (out of 100) based on the amount of positive reviews it has (the higher the number, the better). Now don’t get me wrong, I think that this system is great for the most part. Hell, I use the ratings all the time. I find that there is an inherent flaw, however, in how it works. In my opinion, rottentomatoes does a great job gauging the likability of a movie, but I believe it fails to truly gauge the greatness of a film. I will use the movie The Town (2010) to prove my point.

When The Town was coming out, I was definitely excited to see it. Affleck, Hamm, Renner, and Lively all in a film about gangsters in Boston sounds awesome. When the film was released, it rocked a 94% rating on RT. A score of 94% on RT is almost unheard of when it comes to films. To give you an idea of how high of a score that is, the average movie rating on RT in 2010 was 60% (via slate). That is over 30% higher than the average! So when I saw the 94% I started thinking that this movie may be an instant classic. Naturally, my expectations went through the roof. I walked into the movie ready to critique every little aspect of the film. I put that movie through a fine comb. Walking out of the movie, I immediately thought, “Yeah this movie was good, but was it 94% good? No.” This was not the classic that I was looking for it to be. I am not saying the The Town is bad, but I was so confused with how the movie got such a high rating. The more I thought about it though, the more it made sense. The Town had a great cast, was well directed, and was an overall enjoyable film. Other than the fairly unoriginal plot and some very cliché moments, there was nothing not to like. Looking at the reviews, it seemed that the critics agreed. All of the reviews basically state it is an enjoyable film, but none go out of their way to state it is one of the best films of recent memory.

This brings me back to my original point. The way RT works, it takes critic reviews and interprets them into an overall positive or negative review: a binary 0 or 1 score. This often prevents the truly great films from being distinguished from the adequate ones. Do you know what other film has a 94% on RT? The Dark Knight. That’s right, possibly one of the most beloved movies in the last decade has the same RT rating as The Town. A generally enjoyable film like the The Town benefits from this “thumbs-up/thumbs-down” scoring system because there is no reason for anyone to not enjoy the film.

I did not write this article to bash on RT for what it does, because I love RT and I love to use its ratings. I just want to make sure that everyone is aware of what the scores imply. My previous article proves that the scores do inherently affect my viewing experience (and I assume many others too) so further insight into what those RT scores actually indicate can only benefit those who use it.

Do you agree with my interpretation of Rottentomatoes? Let me know below.

6 Comments


  1. Aiden says:

    I think this is exactly right, and kind of explains the reason why RT and Metacritic can coexist. RT is great for gauging whether I’ll enjoy my time watching a certain movie (which admittedly doesn’t take that much), but if you want to go deeper and try to measure just how good one “certified fresh” movie is compared to another, Metacritic is great because it takes into account the specific grade of each review, compiles them, and normalizes the rating so something like a 94 on Metacritic is guaranteed to be an all-time classic, while most merely “good” movies will be in the 60s or 70s. Case in point: On Metacritic, The Town scored 74 while The Dark Knight scored 82.

  2. Dale Beggs says:

    Metacritic is far superior to RT

  3. The Real Dale says:

    Get your own name scumbag


Leave a Comment