Healthy Tomatoes? The Danger of Film Critics Speaking as One

Emoji Movie
Courtesy of Sony

As the influence of Rotten Tomatoes grows, so does the new relevance of film critics. But only if they agree with each other.

Remember when film critics were obsolete? When we’d lost our swagger, our sway, our influence? When it seemed like the entire world had gone critic-proof, because we just didn’t matter anymore? It’s hard to pinpoint when, exactly, film critics attained Peak Irrelevance, but it’s starting to seem like an eon ago, because this summer a chorus of people — moviegoers, film-industry executives, critics themselves — have been singing a very different tune. It’s called: We’re back! Critics, in case you hadn’t heard, have emerged from the dark cave of our obsolescence and are once again bringing the news, keeping the studios in check, making the world safe for bad movies to die the grisly box-office death they deserve. Look out, “Emoji Movie”! We’re coming at you with a pitchfork.

As someone with a vested interest in thinking that critics matter, I’d argue that our influence never totally went away. There was certainly a perception that it did, a feeling that went hand in hand with the notion that we were elitist art-head snobs who stood on the other side of a divide from the mainstream audience. Film critics have been called out for elitism ever since there were movies, but in an age when mega-budget franchise filmmaking had become a literal universe, one that dwarfs everything around it (including critics), that hostility reached a new pitch of jaded dismissal.

This summer, though, a trend that’s been building for a while zoomed into view. Audiences, it seemed, were starting to turn their backs, and with far more flippant speed, on junky would-be blockbusters that didn’t cut it as entertainment. And critics arguably became part of that equation. A low score on Rottentomatoes.com, the web site that aggregates reviews, dividing them into “Fresh” or “Rotten” and crunching those judgments into a metric, could seriously hurt a movie. It might even be the stake through the heart of a lousy “Pirates” or “Alien” sequel or a film like “The Dark Tower,” which adapted Stephen King’s epic series of multiverse novels by making the brilliant decision to toss out the novels. Critics did the same thing to the movie — they took it out to the trash. And audiences heeded the call.

It’s part of a critic’s job to steer people away from bad movies, but it’s even more vital that we shine a light on good ones, and this summer the influence of critics in that direction has also been noted. There’s been one major crossover indie hit, the romantic comedy “The Big Sick,” a movie that critics championed. And before “Wonder Woman” opened, critics got behind it and helped to herald and define the qualities that audiences would wind up embracing about it.

In many cases, the word got out on Rotten Tomatoes. And though the influence of Rotten Tomatoes may, in fact, be no greater than the influence enjoyed by critics before Rotten Tomatoes came along, the fact that that influence is now about a score, a rating, a number lends it a unique weight. In an age of marketing surveys and corporate quantification, “The critics liked it” doesn’t seem to be as powerful a statement as “It got a 94% Fresh rating.” Critics, who are only human, like to believe that they carry a hint of power, a vestige of influence in this fragmented world. Rotten Tomatoes attaches a concrete number to their clout.

Yet the preeminence of Rotten Tomatoes — which is to say, the site’s all but official status as the place that testifies to the continuing influence of film critics — comes, I would argue, with a downside. And I don’t just mean the obvious one that’s been cited for years: that it encourages people to look at a rating and not bother reading a review. No, I’m referring to the fact that it isn’t just moviegoers who are listening to Rotten Tomatoes. It’s critics themselves. And doing so has become, for them, a Faustian bargain.

It works like this. Critics, despite the image some may have of us, are not monsters of haughtiness. We care about movies, and we have a natural hope that when we review one, we aren’t just talking to ourselves. So if we beat up on a movie and news of it gets out there on Rotten Tomatoes, or if we champion a film and help to usher it into the marketplace, a process facilitated by Rotten Tomatoes, what could be the downside of that?

Here’s the downside. The “influence” only works if the Rotten Tomatoes number is high (or low) enough. It only works if “the critics” are truly speaking as one. And so the built-in dynamic of Rotten Tomatoes is to encourage critics to agree with one another so that their voices can all add up to a single powerful voice that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

What happens if you’re a critic who breaks ranks? The very fact that I would put it that way is an indication of what happens. In the world of film criticism, if you’re out of step with the majority, then you’re now in the position of not helping the cause — the cause, in this case, being visibility and influence. And your off-kilter opinion is going to be spotlighted — almost put on trial — by Rotten Tomatoes. That situation has put a subtle pressure on critics, though the pressure is really one that critics put on themselves.

It’s a phenomenon that I’ve witnessed, anecdotally, over and over again. The critic I boarded a shuttle bus with at Sundance, right after a major movie let out, who chatted with me for about 20 seconds before he turned to his phone with the fever of someone in a war zone, nearly antic in his desire to see what other people were saying, and within minutes he had snorted up their opinions like lines of cocaine, ingesting the collective wisdom of the Twitterverse. Or, conversely, a critic friend of mine who only last week wrote one of the rare negative reviews of Steven Soderbergh’s “Logan Lucky,” and she was attacked and harassed and ridiculed for it, as if she had struck some note of blasphemy, with the number of critics who liked the movie on Rotten Tomatoes (RT score: 93% Fresh) brandished as a weapon against her.

The sting of the pressure to conform is omnipresent. A few months ago, during the Tribeca Film Festival, I attended the premiere of “The Circle,” a sci-fi parable of social media and lost privacy that seized my attention, rarely let it go, and had some ominous insights into the metaphysics of digital communion. (Emma Watson’s performance: deft, layered, wide awake.) Later that night I posted my enthusiastic review, which I stand by, but the next morning I looked on-line and felt like the entire world had pressed a red buzzer that said “WRONG!” (The movie’s RT score now stands at 17% Fresh.) I’m not saying that I’m right and they’re not, but what I am saying is that “The Circle” was too smartly crafted and provocative a drama to deserve such a unanimous dismissal. It felt like a response one wasn’t allowed to go against.

The issue isn’t just knee-jerk condemnation; it’s also knee-jerk adulation. This summer, I kept thinking: Where were the dissenting voices on “War for the Planet of the Apes” (RT score: 93% Fresh) or “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (RT score: 92% Fresh) or “Baby Driver” (RT score: 94% Fresh), a rock-‘n’-roll-on-wheels action spree that I, for one, thought played like a paint-by-numbers fanboy Tarantino pastiche? Maybe I’m the only one in the world who felt that way, but I experienced the lack of diversity of opinion on all these films as a violation, rather than a fulfillment, of what film criticism should be. Were all these movies good enough to deserve a collective hosanna? In each case, though, the critics made their voices — or maybe we should just say their voice — heard.

Let’s be clear: This is not a conspiracy — by Rotten Tomatoes or anyone else. It’s a subtle and insidious tendency made tangible by the ritualized collating of reviews. Yet critics are the last people on earth who should want to be conformists, and the rise of Rotten Tomatoes, not simply as a cult destination but as a cultural institution, now encourages them, on a weekly basis, to do so. Fresh and Rotten have become the new thumbs, and if that’s the digit you’re going to be using, it doesn’t allow for much wiggle room.

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  1. Movieguy says:

    The mob mentality of RottenTomatoes is definitely having a negative impact. Especially with so many other options and a general reluctance of audiences to see all but the highest-profile tentpoles, like Super Hero franchises and Disney remakes.

  2. fluffy says:

    Pot calling the kettle black.

  3. tlsnyder42 says:

    Rotten Tomatoes is an example of group think. I still don;’t think much of it, OR most film critics. Every year, I look at the 10 Best Lists, and they’re absolutely TERRIBLE! They ARE elitist.

    • Movieguy says:

      Those lists are terrible, its almost like the critics who write them know that no audiences will ever see at least 2 or 3 of them, so they can write anything in their blurb.

  4. tlsnyder42 says:

    The critics were wrong about the new PIRATES movie. And, they underpriced THE BOSS BABY, which was really fun. And, Owen Gliebverman needs to vary the length of his paragraphs, and not start out with such as long one. He should have started a new paragraph after his third sentence. As an example of writing, I give him a 5 out of 10

    • Movieguy says:

      This is a really overdue article. Haven’t seen Pirates but the herd of critics was definitely wrong about The Boss Baby. They didn’t think the premise would hold up, so the critics piled on in fear that they would be the lone critic who liked it. I was glad that audiences ignored them and Boss Baby was a hit.

  5. Gary Susman says:

    Owen, this analysis is good as far as it goes, and I’m glad you are willing to call out critical groupthink, something I’d say you’ve successfully avoided in your own reviews throughout your career. A few additional points, however:
    1) RT’s newfound influence stems from its association with Fandango — something that ought to be worth mentioning in a trade publication. The research suggests that low RT scores, posted at the point of purchase at Fandango, may discourage advance ticket sales, but high RT scores do not have the opposite effect. So the influence is limited and flows in only one direction.
    2) As others have mentioned here, there’s a lot that’s wrong with RT’s statistical methodology, primarily that it removes all nuance by rating every review as either a rave or a pan, without accounting for the so-so reviews that, let’s face it, describe most new films.
    3) Just because Hollywood insiders are grumbling about RT’s perceived increase in influence doesn’t mean the massive wave of layoffs that decimated the ranks of print critics over the past 15 years is going to slow down or reverse itself. For better or worse, the Internet (and RT in particular) has devalued criticism. Readers trust their own gut more than they do a critic’s expertise, and editors (including, back when he ran Variety, Peter Bart) think of critics as an anti-populist nuisance at best and an expensive buzzkill that drives away movie advertising at worst. The print media have decided that criticism is something anyone with an opposable thumb can do (something they’d never do with, say, sports writing or politics), and pretty soon, every paper will just have the same wire copy reviews if they have any at all, even though a local critic with sensitivity to local taste might be the kind of unique draw that helps sell subscriptions and attract Web traffic.
    4) The paradox is, the more critics lose their jobs, the smaller the sample that RT aggregates, and the less statistical value it has as a measure of critical consensus. RT is killing its own golden goose, which is why I suspect your euphoria over the resurgence of critical power will be short-lived.

  6. Vincent says:

    “Logan Lucky” got 93% on RottenTomatoes, one of the best-reviewed films of Soderbergh’s career,
    but it has the weakest first weekend of all his wide releases….

    “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” did much better, but is rotten on RT….

    “Alien: Covenant” has GOOD REVIEWS and a 71% FRESH on RT, but it still bombed…

    You see, Mr. Gleiberman ? It’s not that easy.

    I think, it’s true, that RT has become an influence on choices, but it shouldn’t be overestimated.

    • Fernando says:

      There are two definitions of a ‘good movie’.

      One is used by critics.

      The other one makes huge boxoffice profits.

    • Vincent says:

      And take a look at “Detroit”: Very good reviews, 84% on RT, but it’s one of Bigelow’s biggest flops.

  7. Fernando says:

    The Emojie Movie made almost 3 times it’s production budget. Logan Lucky was a megaflop.

    Yeah, you critics have sooooo much influence. You’re movie gods really.

    Owen Gleiberman, “Chief Film Critic”, you and your colleagues stil have no clue what movies will be succesful and which won’t.

    So please don’t imagine yourself important.

    • RC says:

      A low-budget movie can make back three times its pathetic budget and still be considered a flop when it was foolishly DESIGNED to be the next big animated smash. You deliberately left out the EXPECTATIONS its producers had for the film, which was NOT a meagre tripling of production costs.

      • Movieguy says:

        Fernando must work for Sony. Boxofficemojo lists Emoji at $125 million WORLDWIDE. If you think Sony is getting every one of those foreign B.O. dollars you are insane. It probably is a wash, money wise, but there is no franchise, and that is why it is a flop. Think of the Lego Movie, which spawned Lego Batman, Lego Ninjago, and an upcoming sequel.

      • Fernando says:

        Earning almost 150 million (!) dollars is NOT meagre. You clearly have no real sense of money. 50M is not a pathetic budget by any measure. YOU try raising that yourself, let’s see how far you will come.

        But the discussion was about the influence of critics. They didn’t put a dent into the size of the audience that went to see The Emoji Movie.

        Please refrain from commenting if you don’t understand the topic and/or have no clue about this business.

  8. Cath says:

    Find a critic (or two or three) whose views you understand and may be similar to your tastes. That makes it easier to know whether you will enjoy a movie or not. I’ve even read reviews by certain critics that I am fairly sure are always wrong and I see a movie, or not, accordingly. Do your own research. Rotten Tomatoes is so odd because they will sometimes take what is basically a negative comment and use it to say the movie is good or might use a positive comment to say a movie is bad. Personally I think the cost of a movie is the biggest stumbling block. A family of four, if it gets food, easily spends $60 to $80 each time it sees a movie in a theater. That is a big chunk of a family’s budget. You better hope the film is worth the money.

  9. Wayne says:

    As I sat watching It comes At Night, Baby Driver. Kept thinking “who the heck liked these films and why?” Neither one delivered and critically, I think that it was a matter of just liking something different not necessarily something good.

  10. deantreadway10 says:

    I completely agree. I’m one of the three hosts of Movie Geeks United, a podcast running on Blog Talk Radio for over ten years now. Our opinions are not counted on Rotten Tomatoes, and we’re not part of any major critics organization. I, personally, do not use Twitter at all (even if I do have a long dormant account). As such, we break ranks with the critical community quite often. We’re often mystified by the group adulation of movies like Baby Driver, It Comes at Night, or Good Time, and we’ll express our misgivings freely. And at the same time, we’ll stick up for movies that night have been unfairly mistreated (for all its negatives in the plot and tone departments, I agree that The Circle was too chilling a film to be as roundly dismissed as it was, and last year we raved about Rules Don’t Apply, Warren Beatty’s misunderstood picture). I think it helps to have a rule as a film critic to NOT investigate other people’s opinions before expressing your own in either print or broadcast. It used to be kind an unspoken rule to avoid even talk to a fellow critic before one did their own review. I guess that’s out the window these days, but it should be an ethical issue among critics, if not an artistic one. I want my opinions to come from my own inner voice, and not from what I think other people are going to think (about the work being analysed, or about the opinions expressed). I think our avoidance of these critical tropes are one of the reasons Movie Geeks United has such a loyal and passionate fan base. At any rate, very good piece here!

  11. Garrick Dowhen says:

    A commentary written well! My compliments.

  12. MichaelDennis says:

    Turnabout is fair play. Let’s critique the critic! “It’s part of a critic’s job to steer people away from bad movies, but it’s even more vital that we shine a light on good ones”. Really? Looking out for my best interests? Helping me to cross the street? Helping me to see a film as bad or good in your eyes? I had no idea. How very charitable of you! “It works like this. Critics, despite the image some may have of us, are not monsters of haughtiness. We care about movies, and we have a natural hope that when we review one, we aren’t just talking to ourselves.” Amazing! What superhumans you are! Sorry, but you do come off, all of you, as “monsters of haughtiness”. If anything is obsolete, it’s the film critic. Audiences choose for themselves. It’s heartening when a film that critics pan becomes a box office success. Take the hint.

    • deantreadway10 says:

      Speak for yourself. As a movie lover all my life, I have always relied on film analysts to tell me about something they saw that they thought was good. In the same way, I relied also on film historians to tell me about the good stuff from the past. If you’re not a serious movie lover (or a lover of serious movies), then I could see you being the kind of person that picks a movie like you would pick a place to have dinner. That’s fine. But some of us want to hear about the stuff that’s out there in the past, present or future of motion pictures, and we want to hear it from learned voices that know the quality work from the sub-par, and who are able to express those qualities of a film accurately and with verve through their words. I think film writers or enthusiasts (I hate the word critic; it implies negativity) are essential to the progress of movies as an art form and as a business. It’s definitely okay not to read them or pay attention to them, though I don’t see why people get so stuffy about people who love movies trying to tell other people who love movies which movies they should try to check out. Seems like a wonderful vocation to me.

  13. Me says:

    Let’s make and KEEP a distinction from the “old days” (like about 2002). Rotten Tomatoes was a forum for the hoi paloi, online, peanut gallery of comment-and-run opinionists, a little more articulate than those on the IMDb. Metacritic was for the published reviewers, the ones we read for years in print but were now making their way into the online sphere. The ones that maybe even have an editor’s scrutiny before it goes out to the world. Let’s keep and maintain a class distinction between Rotten Tomatoes and everybody else – or maybe it’s best said: Everybody else – who is Rotten Tomatoes and established critics.

  14. Ellie says:

    I decide on my own if I want to see a movie, never visit RT. If I did let critics (professional or otherwise) influence my viewing, knowing that the writer thinks The Circle is “smartly crafted and provocative” film in which EW gives a “deft, layered, wide awake” performance would mark him off my list.

  15. MalcolmC says:

    Valid points, but I’m not sure the initial implied causation can be necessarily inferred – cpuld it not be a simple case of correlation?

    i.e. It needn’t be the statement of “rotten” or “fresh” that drives audiences from or to a movie, it’s the quality of the film that sees audiences and critics agree.

    Wonder Woman was championed. It was also hands-down the best DC film as well as a lightning-rod for women, fans of female directors and a dozen other factors. Critical disagreement might have harmed it, but that’s improbable (and un-testable). The most-recent Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers films were very-much-unnecessary sequels to unncessary sequels (etc.).. no surprise perhaps that hubris/formula (and, ironically, divergence from formula) somewhat caught up with them.

    Lastly, if tangentially, many of the “flops” of the last few years are largely only rated as such because of their initial costs. They make money, just not at a high enough rate to make a profit.

  16. Jacques Strappe says:

    Overall, I love aggregator sites like RT and Metacritic but they can also be highly frustrating in the putative power they possess to kill some very good films I’ve liked and promoted success for some very mediocre ones about which I wasn’t so rapturously approving.

    The addition of international critics lend a much needed global perspective on an industry that values foreign box office, if not more than US domestic, at least as much as the domestic receipts. Increasingly, movies are created from with a nod to global market tastes. And while it is noble to think that all or most films are constructed purely out of creative artistry, this is a business so the financial pressures can be significant for filmmakers to fall back on some tropes and formulas that have worked before.

    It is always fascinating how some reviews, even from top, seasoned critics can be so polar opposite in their respective assessments, as if entirely different movies were reviewed. It’s a little easier to spot these grand canyon size contrasts on Metacritic where numeric scores are assigned anywhere from “0” to “100” Still it is incumbent on movie goers to read a cross section of reviews, good, bad and indifferent, including those from some critics who are typically not part of the movie goer’s go-to reviewers.

    I also wonder how early aggregator reviews might influence those later or last minute reviews, if a clear trend is developing of applause or boos for a film. And do social pressures–even political correctness–factor into reviews and if so, should that matter in a review? Case in point was this summer’s top hit, Wonder Woman. While I thought it was an okay superhero movie, I saw a lot more mediocrity in the film than most reviewers who were quick to point out the significance of the first big dollar superhero film with a female lead which was also directed by a woman (and I believe penned by a woman as well). I personally champion women’s rights and a push in Hollywood to incorporate more diversity in front of and behind the camera but I struggle with how these noble and inclusive elements of a film should factor into a review or if they have any place in one at all. I wonder if there were any reviewers fearful of a very loud and ugly social media backlash if they were to trash a film like Wonder Woman just based on the merits of the film. I don’t have the answers here but I look forward to reading “civil” comments here.

    • MalcolmC says:

      Good points.

      I certainly think – as the article strongly suggests – that it might take greater reserves of character to ‘break ranks’, and that early reviews may influence later ones in tone and content.

      There’s definitely also a trend that puts politics and cultural sensitivities ahead of pure honesty – criticising one aspect can be wrongly seen as condemning others. (Witness the scrambling around the Ghostbusters film.)

      More importantly, one of the negative implications of aggregates is that it rewards – demands, even – EXTREMES. It’s the Internet hyperbole/Simpsons quote: “Best. EVER.” summary that is both overly exaggerated and under-explained (as well as unlikely). You see this reflected elsewhere – academics, businesses – where anything less than (near)perfect isn’t good enough; not making MORE money than last time is equable with failure, etc.

      Also, applying a numerical figure to a written paragraph seems arbitrary in many cases. Most reviews surely do not tend to award 100 or 0, they hedge in the middle. Even the ‘best’ new films should surely be unlikely to break through the 80s; the worst unlikely to be lower than mid-20s. There are some superb – and awful – films out there. Few-to-none are 100s or 0s.

      Few would even be under 10 or over 90 by my reckoning…

  17. EK says:

    As one who reviewed movies, TV, music and theatre in the era before the internet, before moving on to the business side of entertainment, I can only say that we took our responsibility as reviewers very seriously in those days and our voices then were heard/read individually, not collectively. There was an identity to our work and we were identified by who we were, where we worked and what we said. We knew and respected one another and, in my case, the trade for whom I was writing. We read each other’s work and sometimes even commented to one another on our/their opinions. What we said mattered individually, not collectively, and we were to some extent defined by our criticism. Reviewers were known by name, not as a numerical coefficient. It made for good, responsible journalism.

  18. good article. glad to hear you explain how much the “pressure to conform” affects critics. too bad.

    we now downplay “aggregators” like rotten tomatoes and instead rely on the relatively few critics we find reliable. and “word of mouth” from friends we also find reliable. when relevant, the views of non-u.s. critics, which usually are more distanced from u.s. promoters (often their films’ worst enemies) and critics, can be helpful, even when those views are divided.

    we have found, unfortunately, that although there are no “conspiracies” among critics, many have agendas and conflicts that aren’t always apparent on the surface. some just have very short attention spans or are unduly affected by misleading promotion. and some, really, don’t understand and consequently misrepresent what they are seeing, apparently: anyone with a platform and motivation can become a critic.

    you are right about “the circle”–which we and our friends found to be entertaining and important. we especially admire the supporting performance of bill paxton. happily, the herd instinct didn’t kill it; as we understand, its box office gross in the u.s. was decent and has grown internationally. many friends in france loved the film. we liked it even more the second time we saw it and just purchased the dvd.

  19. Do Critics Matter? says:

    The author’s points about other critics being influenced by posted opinions feel extremely valid to me. While it’s true that movies mean different things to different people a glowing example (I think) is Jordan Peele’s Get Out. It got a 99% on RT. As someone who saw the movie it feels like that score is exceedingly high for it. But in a day and age where racial issues are a big deal in Hollywood it felt a lot more like critics were afraid of being called racists if they pointed out flaws.

    I’m also not sure it’s possible for a critic to be a fair voice. Their job is watching movies.

    They watch numerous movies. So how on earth can they be seeing something through the eyes of a normal movie-goer who sees far fewer movies?

    If your job is being a music critic and you listen to just one new song per week that means you listened to 50 new songs that year. Chances are pretty good that by song number 20 of your 6th year of providing critical reviews the bloom’s off of the rose. You’ve heard 270 different songs. What are the odds you’re still fresh and unaffected enough to provide a review that hasn’t been affected by having heard so many songs before it?

    I think there’s a reason why so many times box-office results feel polar opposite of RT numbers. Critics slam movies they feel are lowbrow or common while trumpeting others that have a high level of positive word of mouth thanks to great PR/social media work. Look at this weeks results with Logan Lucky and The Hitman’s Bodyguard. Rated 93 and 38 on RT respectively with box-office results the exact opposite.

    And neither of them is a previously known robot or superhero movie.

    Critics have a job to do and I respect them for it. I’m not going to like everything they like and that’s okay, to each his/her own!

    I’m just not certain their reviews are actually as qualified as we make them out to be.

    • michael says:

      Your comment speaks to a key problem with Rotten Tomatoes. GET OUT receiving a 99 rating doesn’t mean that the critical consensus says it deserves a 99 score out of 100; it means that 99 percent of critics felt positively about it on some level, perhaps marginally so. A movie that gets 50 halfway decent reviews will get a higher RT score than one that gets 49 raves and one pan. Yet the RT scoring system encourages a flawed comparative reading. As others have pointed out here, Metacritic has a much more accurate scoring system.

    • MalcolmC says:

      As you say, the fatal flaw of aggregates is that different people rate different films differently for different reasons.

      Part of the purpose – to my eyes – of professional critics is BECAUSE they see so many films, they (theoretically) know more about the craft and can therefore rate/judge new releases from a more grounded and wide base.

      Similarly, bringing different interests and knowledge to bear on judging things can be beneficial in creating a more rounded view of something. But that requires judging reviews as judiciously as the reviewers judge films..!

      There are far too many metrics and possibilities from which to judge different films for aggregates (or individuals) to be of much benefit without a great deal of personal insight and thought… or occasionally an offhand dismissal.

      There are great films. There are great plots, great dialogue, great direction, great [insert genre] films, etc. Any of those factors could lead to a casual review being “positive” but that casualness stacks up a dozen films on equal footings when they really have no business being mentioned in the same breath. Equally, there are “important” films, “best example of [whatever]” films, etc. and so forth. Different metrics entirely than “I liked this film, it was enjoyable.”

    • truth is stranger than fiction says:

      I’m in agreement with this comment. I wish (I know it will never happen) that top critics would repudiate Rotten Tomatoes, and refuse to post on it, leaving the site to less consequential bloggers. That would be best for critics and filmmakers both. People might go back to actually reading reviews. And word of mouth is probably the most valuable barometer for spending hard-earned dollars to see a movie.

  20. Bill B. says:

    I have rarely ever looked at RT. I heard about it for years, but paid no attention & when I finally did look at it due to someone I go to the movies a lot with bringing it up as her source to know what to go see, I found it of little interest and her stance very disappointing. I know what I like and I don’t need a website to tell me what is good and what isn’t. However, I do love intelligent & witty (if it applies) film criticism and that is what I wanted to be when growing up. That didn’t happen and I must admit I have lost the interest I once had as numerous newspapers and magazines faded away. Other than established sites such as this one, I have little interest in the endless amounts of opinions that exist on the Internet. I followed you for years when you were with EW, but most of the other really interesting film critics to me are gone for one reason or another. Glad that you are still around, but at this point in time I know what I like without the need to read much film criticism, though it was critics that got me to go see Dunkirk, a subject I had little interest in by a director who I have slowly come to think of as somewhat overrated. I am glad I listened. It is by far the best movie I’ve seen this year and I doubt I will see any in 2017 all that much better.

  21. AllWiledUp says:

    Gleiberman’s the critic I find best corresponds with my assessment of films. He doesn’t overpraise/trash films just to get hits like most of the reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes do. And most of the “reviewers” on Rotten Tomatoes are silly little bloggers whose opinion should count for no one. Metacritic at least gives percentages which allows for mixed reviews. RT’s dumb Yes/No is pointless and destructive and weighted in favor of Marvel. Doctor Strange, the most pointless, boring, derivative movie of the year, is rated 90%.

  22. Nate says:

    The herd mentality is unfortunate but I think it’s something you just have to deal with if you want an independent vehicle for vetting cinema. It’s critics’ responsibility to decide how much they let what other people think (whether they’re critics or audiences) influence their reviews.

  23. truth is stranger than fiction says:

    Why is this article all about the critics and their wounded feelings, and nothing about what RT, and its all-or-nothing-assessments, do to the nuance and art of filmmaking?

  24. Steve Barr says:

    The herd mentality is killing movie criticism . I do take exception to the person who said Armond White deliberately panned Toy Story 3 to wreck its 100%. rating . Armond White is not a quote whore like Peter Travers . I don’t always agree with his reviews but just because he doesn’t like a movie that everyone else does , does not mean that he doesn’t truly believe what he writes.

  25. Tomas says:

    While this article raises some valid points, I think most people are giving critics too much credit for box office revenues. From everything I’ve seen, word of mouth appears to be a far greater power than a number on a website. Yes that number is useful, but I’ll completely ignore it if people I trust tell me otherwise.

    A good example would be the new Alien movie, it sits at 71% with a Certified Fresh Rating, it’s also one of the best reviewed Alien films. However online blogs and hundreds of individuals have torn the movie apart and it suffered heavily at the box office. It even managed to set a record 71% drop from its opening weekend which shows just how powerful word of mouth can be.

    I could throw out more examples of movies that have done the opposite of what critical reviews would suggest, but I think deep down we all know that Rotten Tomatoes, both their scores and their influence, are best taken with a grain of salt.

    • RC says:

      The “online blogs and hundreds of individuals” have FAR less influence than you or they think they do. Once upon a time, people thought blogs were going to level the playing field of criticism (of anything, really) by letting every street-level “movie buff” play critic, often in spite of a lack of formal training in writing (trust me, that MATTERS) and a depth of experience viewing movies from every budget category, every era of film history and every country with a functioning film industry. Few if any “bloggers and individuals” out in that kind of effort and make a career out of it, and often abandon the pursuit when they lose interest or real life wakes them up. Their work will not survive long term because no one paid them to write it and no established publications have a vested interest in arching their work as a chronicle of film history (VERY important). Variety, THR and the major papers and magazines (and their web counterparts) DO that, and in the long run, that will matter long after most blogs have gone dormant and most individuals have grown tired of posting two-sentence “reviews” on IMDb or Amazon.

  26. cjkerry says:

    Personally I never look at Rotten Tomatoes. I do agree that the worth of a movie is about more than some stupid number on some website.

  27. John G. says:

    I think Metacritic has a much more useful metric than Rotten Tomatoes. They weight the scores by the degree of positivity – a two star review is not a simple thumbs up or thumbs down, but 50/100. They also weight reviews by critic, so the more prestigious writers and publications count more. Overall, it is a more nuanced picture of a movie’s reception.

  28. cadavra says:

    Well said, sir. What particularly bothers me about RT is that the lowliest jagoff blogger has virtually equal weight with the critics at the NY Times, LA Times or even Rolling Stone. Yes, there’s a “Top Critics” breakout, but no one pays attention to that. Throw in a jerk like Armond White, who deliberately panned “Toy Story 3” to wreck its 100% rating, and the possibilities for mayhem are considerable.

  29. Chris says:

    You lost it along time ago back when you were at ew. One of the worst film critics around.

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