Why Rotten Tomatoes scores don’t mean what they seem


Chances are you’ve seen this tomato before. It’s become ubiquitous — and quite contentious This chart helps to explain why. We’re releasing more films now than ever
before. And in a world of excess choice, people need
guidance to make tough decisions. Which is why we need services like Rotten
Tomatoes The internet staple got its start in the late
90s. And in 2016, Fandango bought its parent company. Now, you go to buy a ticket, and there it
is. Which makes that rating important to understand. Because the tomatometer — it’s more complex
than you might expect. Films can earn one of three designations:
rotten, for movies rated 60% of critics gave a positive review. Fresh, for those earning a rate above 60% Or Certified Fresh. That’s reserved for films that were reviewed
80 times and 70% or more of the reviews are positive. 5 of those reviews need to be from top critics. Critics submit a review with their own rating,
or sometimes Rotten Tomatoes asks the critic if it’s positive. If it’s borderline, Rotten Tomatoes usually
says the review is fresh. Rotten Tomatoes depends on a small army of
reviewers to make the tomatometer work. There’s about three thousand critics that
are counted right now though not every critic reviews every film so it’s usually a few hundred
per film. That’s Alissa Wilkinson — she’s a staff
film critic at Vox.com. Which means her reviews count toward the official
Tomatometer. But the nuance in Alissa’s writing is largely
reduced to the rating you’ll find near the top of her articles. Because Rotten Tomatoes uses a thumbs up thumbs
down method on everyone’s reviews it means that it kind of makes a vaguer statements
of consensus. we don’t get a sense so much of people who
have mixed ideas about a film. Look at these two films: Ridley Scott’s
Alien: Covenant, and Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. Both films are certified fresh, but the similarities
end there. Alien was an underwhelming blockbuster sequel
with a reported budget of 97 million dollars. Moonlight was an Oscar winning drama from
a fledgling director with a budget 1/24th the size of Alien’s. Both films achieved the blanket consensus
needed for the certified fresh badge. Alien finished with a Tomatometer at 70% — toward
the low end of the certified fresh spectrum. Moonlight received a 98 percent Tomatometer
— near total consensus. But Alien was rated 6.4 out of 10 on average,
after Rotten Tomatoes converted critical star ratings, letter grades, and number scores
to its 10 point scale. Moonlight, on the other hand, earned an average
rating of 9 out of 10 per review. Most critics loved it and agreed with one
another. So the two films earned the badge, but were
qualitatively world’s apart. This demonstrates the imperfection of the
Rotten Tomatoes system. This imperfection also appears when you compare
two of 2017’s most critically acclaimed films. Here’s another scenario:
Both Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, and Jordan Peele’s Get Out are highly rated and certified
fresh. But according to the Tomatometer, Get Out
edges out Dunkirk by 6 percentage points. If you saw these scores on the Fandango purchase
page, you might think that critics rated Get Out higher than Dunkirk. The Rotten Tomatoes page for each film shows
that Dunkirk earned a higher average rating per review. Dunkirk earned a lower tomatometer because
there was less agreement among critics — more variance in the data. And when there is less consensus, the rating
is lower. But a cute single tomato rating just can’t
give you all that information. Other rating systems try to circumvent these
problems with their own methodology. Metacritic, the most visible aggregator aside
from Rotten Tomatoes, is very subjective. It casts a much smaller net than Rotten Tomatoes,
and generally does more interpretation and weighting in their scoring. Metacritic is also less transparent about
their rating system than Rotten Tomatoes. So, is there a one-size fits all, killer method
to get digestible and accurate reviews of film in a fraction of time than it logically
could take? Absolutely not. That’s preposterous; the whole point of the Tomatometer is to help
you make a decision quickly. If you want context, you click and then you
read. Or, watch. And in a world of limited time and excess
choice, we all benefit from a bit of guidance. Just make sure you know how your guide is
getting you there.

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