Rotten Tomatoes Scores Don’t Impact Box Office, Study Finds

Baywatch
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

A new study issued Monday debunks some of the mounting concerns that the scoring system Rotten Tomatoes publishes analyzing movie-critics reactions is hurting box-office performance.

Yves Bergquist, director of the Data & Analytics Project at USC’s Entertainment Technology Center, analyzed film data going back to 2000 and came to a conclusion quite counter to the conventional wisdom gaining steam in Hollywood: “Rotten Tomatoes scores have never played a very big role in driving box office performance, either positively or negatively,” he wrote in a blog post published on Medium.

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What’s more, his analysis of 2017 alone found that there is no positive or negative correlation between Rotten Tomatoes scores and box office. Bergquist found the same held true when looking at just the summer 2017 season alone, which was a rough one for the studios, and when looking strictly at opening-weekend box office.

Contrary to the notion that critics are too hard on blockbuster films, Bergquist discovered that critics have actually been kinder to movies grossing more than $300 million worldwide:  the median Rotten Tomatoes Score has gone up to 77.5 in 2017, several points higher than it’s been going back to the previous high of 73 in 2013.

As for the notion that critics are souring fans on films, Berquist’s analysis of the audience’s own Rotten Tomatoes scores found them in lockstep. “There’s virtually no difference between critics’ scores and audiences’ scores, and the more successful the film is at the box office, the smaller the difference,” wrote Bergquist. “Which means that audiences are becoming experts at smelling a ‘bad’ movie and staying away.”

Bergquist’s analysis also goes on to demolish other myths that studios may also find distressing with regard to whether the expense of CGI and other investments in production budgets are a reliable guarantor of box office success. Quite the opposite, it turns out.

“This means that, as financial exposure rises, so does financial risk,” he wrote. “This is not good (for a long time it was the opposite), and is a substantial reason why Wall Street has been so tough on entertainment stocks lately.”

The role of Rotten Tomatoes in box-office performance intensified over the summer as titles from “Baywatch” to “The Emoji Movie” saw their varying fortunes hotly debated.

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  1. MM says:

    This is preposterous. I always look at Rotten Tomatoes and it always influences what I will see in a theater.

    There are so many people like that. Of course it affects it. Who did this “Study” because it’s obviously wrong & not true at all.

    • Sally Metzler says:

      SMART moviegoers pay attention to and let Rotten Tomatoes influence them. But there are still a lot of people who say “oh I never listen to what the critics say. They don’t know what they’re talking about!”
      I won’t watch a movie if Rotten Tomatoes says it’s bad. And I sure won’t spend Movie Theater prices to go watch any movie until I check it out there. All that to say, a lot of people don’t pay attention to Rotten Tomatoes, but it influences those of us who believe in its accuracy.

  2. KT Chong says:

    I know I skipped Sucide Squad due to its Rotten Tomatoes scores, (and the disappointment of Batman v Superman – should have listened to Rotten Tomatoes on that one,) even though I loved its trailers.

    I know I saw Wonder Woman on its opening weekend because of it got 92% at Rotten Tomatoes at opening. At the time, I had already written off the DC Expanded Universe (DCEU). I had already decided that I would not pay to see any more DCEU movie. Then Wonder Woman’s RT score changed my mind, and I am glad it did.

    I know I saw Baby Driver on its opening weekend due to its initial Rotten Tomatoes score of 100%. Before I saw the 100% score in its trailer, I did not know about the movie. I had no interest in it. I am generally not interested in heist or teenage romance movie. Rotten Tomatoes was definitely the only reason that sold me the movie.

    I was not going to see any more Spider-man movies after the two Amazing Spider-man movies, which sucked. Again, the opening Rotten Tomatoes scores of 92% for Spider-man: Homecoming changed my mind. Again, Rotten Tomatoes has turned out to be reliable gauge of a movie’s quality.

    Obviously I was not going to see any more Transformer or Pirates of the Carribean movie. They sucked and have been getting worse and worse. However, I supposed if one got a really good RT score, I would give it a chance.

    So, Rotten Tomatoes actually help more than hurt Hollywood. I would not have seen Wonder Woman, Baby Driver, or Spider-man: Homecoming if Rotten Tomatoes had not convinced me to give those movies a chance.

  3. Ellie says:

    I find it odd that folks decide which movies to see based on reviews.

    That’s all, just find it odd.

  4. John Nozzle says:

    For every movie that isn’t a tentpole franchise like Star Wars or Transformers, films 100% rely on positive reviews for financial success. In this day in age, word travels at light speed, so if a movie like Baywatch gets completely obliterated by the critics, you can bet that’s going to keep a lot of paying moviegoers away. It’s hard to blame Rotten Tomatoes too much as they are simply a review-aggregating site, but to pretend like reviews aren’t important to a film’s success or not, is crazy.

  5. Seth says:

    Really? This doesn’t seem true to me at all. There have been a lot of movies that have received praise and or criticism because of RT whether it be merited or not. Because of that, their box office earnings have been affected. I know there are some exceptions like Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise has notoriously low ratings on RT and yet these movies have grossed Billions. I’m not sure about this study. And by RT having so much pull and people trust it more that some people’s opinions even friends and family members. Especially when in TV spots they push the “freshness” rating on every film for the most part. Especially if they are financially successful in their first weekend. Trust your own judgement when going to the movies, your dollar dictates what is a success and what isn’t.If you want to see something see it, don’t go see it just because RT says it’s “rotten”. Be an individual, not a follower.

    • Hi all, I wrote this study and would like to respond to some of your comments with the following: you can of course disagree with my findings, but the argument that the study is flawed because you (or you and your friends) do review Rotten Tomatoes scores before deciding to go see a film is like saying that climate change isn’t real because “it’s August and it’s unusually cold today where I am”. It may feel very true from your own experience but carries no scientific value. You are a sample size of 1, and no data analysis is meant to generalize to every individual case. Moreover, Variety readers overall are a highly specific and highly biased sample of film professionals, hence whatever behavior you and your friends have is not reflective of the larger audience. I look at the data in aggregate, and without any agenda. It doesn’t matter much to me that RT scores have an influence or not, what matters to me is that Hollywood focuses its attention on real – not imagined- trends. The industry now operates in a highly complex and highly competitive environment, and without a more data-driven approach to how it makes decisions, it will die. It’s already not doing very well, and my fear in all of this is that any resistance to change and innovation will accelerate its decline. I love movies, and I love Hollywood, I would like to avoid that. My job is to support the studios (ETC is financially supported by them) by exposing their senior technical executives to new methods or tools to accelerate the deployment of data analysis throughout the industry, and help them achieve their financial and operational goals better and faster.

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