The previous several weeks were a crowning moment for Rotten Tomatoes, Fandango’s 19-year-old review aggregator. Studios have already been raising their hands at what they can see as RT’s unearned and unrestrained influence in the face of would-be blockbusters that garnered a collective yawn from the public. The next would-be casualty is Paramount’s “Transformers: The Last Knight,” which has a 16 per cent RT rating and is expected to gross $60 million domestically in its first five days, a record-breaking low for a series that is used to grossing $100 million or even more.
RT’s corporate parents, on the other hand, must be ecstatic: they own a property that is set to dethrone the star system and has already become a synonym for critical response. It’s no surprise that Hollywood’s most prominent players are terrified of it.
And my policy hasn’t changed in the six and a half years I’ve been reporting box office data: I don’t mention them. I have no problems reviewing aggregation, but I do disagree with their methodology, the deterioration of the critical process, and the manner in which they convey their scores.
These weren’t the same reason studios (sometimes) desire them dead, however, the studios and I both believe Rotten Tomatoes is a bad influence in the film industry.
The notion of limiting evaluations to positive/negative was already well-known when the site started in 1998. The method was first used by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert as part of their successful television collaboration, which began in 1975 on a small Chicago station and ultimately expanded nationwide with the Disney-syndicated “Siskel & Ebert.” Of course, it wasn’t their thumbs that made the show; it was the impassioned debate that followed their up/down decisions.
Siskel as well as Ebert were members of a critical tradition that assumed readers came to the discussion with their own intellectual curiosity in the work. Today, the vast majority of movie reviews are regarded by readers as a basic purchasing recommendation — and with the public rallying cry of “no spoilers,” the less mentioned about the film, the better.
Rotten Tomatoes has simplified the notion even further, offering only two interpretations of a film (three if you include the “certified fresh” subgroup). Isolating a great performance or recognising a strong aspect inside a bad picture is not an option.