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

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.

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.