Well, after over 100 years of films and film criticism, movie studios have now blamed Rotten Tomatoes for killing their profit margins this year.
It is really strange considering that the Rotten Tomatoes has existed for 19 years and film criticism has existed far longer than that. Despite this, major blockbuster movies very rarely failed to make a profit.
So it would not surprise you that I believe the movie studio arguments do not really hold. I am about 90-10 in terms of disagreeing with them over agreeing with them.
I will be writing about
- The movie studio’s main argument
- How Rotten Tomatoes works and how little correlation Rotten Tomatoes is to box office performance
- How these movies the movie studio mentioned may have failed
- Where the money is really made.
- Finally, I will write about what people, movie studios and Rotten Tomatoes can do to make the overall movie experience better.
Movie Studio Argument
The argument movie studios have for their diminishing returns is that young adult’s purchase online more often and since the purchase of Rotten Tomatoes website from Fandango, there has been a significant drop in box office revenue from movies that have given poor reviews. This is because they see the rating before they purchase movie tickets. They also questioned the Rotten Tomatoes rating system and how it works and how that contributes to the box office decline.
The “Questionable” Rotten Tomatoes System
I will respond to the dumbest part of the argument first which is that Rotten Tomatoes is a questionable system in how it rates movies. They argue that it is a misrepresentation, which is partly true, but it is not intended to be deceitful. This misrepresentation only happens when critical opinion is mixed and even then it’s only in specific situations. The system is an aggerate of many critics opinions boiled down to either liking it (Fresh) or not liking it (rotten) which creates an approval rating percentage (The Tomatometer). If the Tomatometer is more than 60% positive (6 out 10 critics like the movie), it is considered “fresh” and anything less is considered “rotten”. The misrepresentation here is that the Tomatometer does not measure how much a movie critic loves or loathes a movie.
To delve further into what critics really rate a movie, there is a weighted average mean that is scored out of ten to weed out the mixed reviews that The Tomatometer could misrepresent. The weighted average is more accurate to critic sentiment than the Tomatometer as the Tomatometer does not represent mixed reviews very well sometimes and is a better indicator on how much they liked or disliked a movie.
Theoretically, a movie that has a weighted average of 6/10 may get 100% because if every critic gave it a 6/10 they are all considered positive responses. Another movie could get an average 9/10 and get the same 100% score on the Tomatometer because 9/10 is also considered a positive score. Conversely, a movie may 0% on the Tomatometer despite the average score to be a 4/10 because 4/10 is considered a negative score. This is the only time in which I believe the Tomatometer can become skewed. That is the main disadvantage of the Tomatometer.
In other words, movies with 0% could only be mildly negative when you read the weighted average and a movie with an 100% rating in reality may only be passable entertainment.
However, I do wish the weighted average score is emphasized (larger font size) more and the Tomatometer is emphasized less on their website as the weighted score is a better representation for critical consensus. If moviegoers are only reading the percentage, then I can see why this may be a problem for movie studios when their movies are actually half decent when the Tomatometer measure a 20% or less approval rating.
But if you really want the best information, look at what critics think of a movie by reading their reviews. Rotten Tomatoes provide links to the full reviews that they have collected and you can gain a wealth of information that way. Lot of critics I have found would like or dislike a movie for similar reasons, movie studios may even see the trend and transfer it into their movie making!
Rotten Tomatoes is not a rigged system nor do they intend to be misleading, Rotten Tomatoes accurately provies aggerates from many (sometimes even hundreds) of critics per movie and you can even have access to what each individual says about the movie. It’s a wealth of data that comes from many people, which is why the website is popular in the first place.
The “Correlation” of Rotten Tomatoes and the Box Office
Now that we are done with the dumbest part of their argument which was the entree lets move on to the meat of their argument which is there is a strong correlation between Rotten Tomatoes scores via Fandango and each movie’s box office performance.
Well, Fandango purchased Rotten Tomatoes in February of 2016. Since that time here is a list of movies that contradicts the theory. Anything less than 60% is considered “rotten” or negative by Rotten Tomatoes scoring
1. How to be Single 47% positive, cost $38 million and made $112 million
2. London Has Fallen 25% positive, cost $60 million and made $205 million
3. Batman vs. Superman 27% positive cost $300 million and made $873 million
4. Suicide Squad 25% positive: cost $175 million and made $745 million
5. Alice Through the Looking Glass: 30% positive, Cost $170 million and made $300 million
6. Me Before You: 58% positive: Cost $20 million and made $200 million
7, Ice Age Collision Course: 15% Positive, cost $105 million and made $400 million
8. Blair Witch: 36% positive: Cost $5 million and made $45 million
9.xXx The Return of Xander Cage (my favorite bad film:) Cost $85 million and Made $346 million
10. A Dog’s Purpose: 30% positive: Cost $22 million and made $194 million
11. Rings 7% positive, cost $25 million: and made $83 million
12. Fifty Shades Darker: $55 million and made $378 million
13. The Mummy: 16% positive, Cost $ 125-195 million and made $407 million
Yes, I did cherry pick, I cherry picked because there are a lot more movies released since February of 2016 that have made a ton of money despite negative critical reviews. I just thought you’d get the picture by the thirteenth example
Also, if the inverse were to be true, all positively reviewed movies make money. That is not true either. There have been many movies that have had positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and have failed. Examples like Raw, Land of Mine, Lovesong, Free Fire, Logan Lucky, Silence, Things to Come, Miss Slone and Morris from America were all received positive reviews in the last two years but did not make twice their production budget (the general amount of money needed to break even) back.
Yes, there are many movies that have failed that have negative reviews and others have made lots of money while having positive reviews, but that there is no correlation to that being a formulaic rule. I have just disproven that with countless examples over the past two years that Fandango has purchased Rotten Tomatoes.
Reasons These Movies “Underperformed”
The majority of these examples that movie studios have come up with were franchise movies like Transformers: The Last Knight. All of these franchise movies made money, but not as much as they wanted to. Movie studios have to know that every product has a shelf life and nothing lasts forever because people either get tired of it or they find other things that are more entertaining or beneficial to them. From the fidget spinner to Kodak, nothing lasts forever.
Maybe after ten years and over 600 minutes of robots and explosions fighting against larger robots and more explosions, people have been numbed by the experience? Maybe after fourteen years and more than 600 minutes of crazy pirates, the audience has gotten a little sea sick? If people were not simply bored of a repetitive product, why am I not watching the 66th season of I Love Lucy that should be out today if they were still creating new episodes?
Also, what was also more believable about the decline in the movie industry is the increase in advanced technologies in home entertainment where people now are more than willing to stream content at the touch of a button at home, or the expansion of more television channels which gives consumers broader range of entertainment and make them less likely to leave their homes to watch movies.
Another reason for the decline is the increase of movie piracy through video torrenting and online streaming services. Because people can just get the movie for free that way, it would become harder for movie producers, distributors and cinemas to compete based on price. I would have also believed that more as a factor for industry decline than Rotten Tomatoes eroding profit margins
If movie companies sincerely believe in their own reasoning as to why they have failed at the box office recently, I wished I shared that fantasy. I’d love to be in a reality where all the great movies were successful and all the crappy movies were not. But that is not the reality and movie companies have known this for the last 40-50 years.
Where the Money Goes
The last 40-50 years of box office successess have harnessed hype to be successful. When people say that the movie industry is built on hype, that is absolutely true. Movie companies love hype and will pay advertising companies millions and millions of dollars to create it.
Marketing agencies will use every trick in the book to make a movie financially successful. They will use the press, guerrilla advertising, event marketing, publicity stunts, create websites and edit trailers to whatever mood they desire to get you in the door and I am only scratching the surface. They create such an event that they build hype and, if strong enough, people will be compelled to see the movie no matter how bad or good it may be.
If I tell a person in my University to not see the newest superhero movie they will shoot me. If I told them to watch Embrace of the Serpent, they would ask me why and I would tell them why. They would probably end up not watching it anyway.
A month ago I wrote a piece on how I wrote a blog titled “A Call to Action” where I wanted casual moviegoers to not tolerate mediocracy in movies as they have so often done (and continue to do to this day). If people only saw the good movies and rejected the poor ones, I would not have felt compelled to write that blog. The reality is, movie critics do not have a lot of power in persuading people to see or not to see a movie. Most of the time people read critics reviews to validate their own opinions on a movie. Critics only have the power of their word and that word is not strong enough, even though we try to make it stronger.
The people who have all the power in the world are the advertising agencies that market the movies because they resonate more with consumers by creating a major desire for them. That desire is so strong that moviegoers are willing to get out of their houses, drive to the cinema, pay to park, pay an expensive movie ticket and concessions and sit in a room with people they don’t want to be with, to spend two hours out of their time to simply watch a movie. That is a lot of opportunity cost that advertising agencies overcome, that is a lot of power.
That is what determines the success or failure at box office.
As I said earlier, I am glad movie studios believe their delusion. Why? Well, if they truly believe that the scores on Rotten Tomatoes are the results of their diminishing returns, then they have the solution in their own hands: Make better movies.
For the web designers at Rotten Tomatoes: emphasize the weighted average more so than the Tomatometer to better represent critical consensus so consumers gain more of an informed opinion
To moviegoers: Read more than the Tomatometer to gain some real insight into a film to determine what you may want to see. Generally, critics don’t like spoiling movies and they try to entertain the reader in the hopes you engage with them.
If people followed these steps, then the quality of movies would probably be better.