By: Brandon McClure
Rotten Tomatoes is a review aggregation website that takes reviews from all the critic sites and calculates a percentage to give the films a rotten or fresh tomato rating. Currently the site is owned by Fandango with a minority stake retained by Warner Bros. While not the first film to highlight issues with this system, Captain Marvel is the most recent film to see exploitation of it.
Captain Marvel is the 21st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and stars Brie Larson as the title character. The movie has been the source of much controversy these past couple months due to Brie Larson speaking out for diversity among other things. Many felt angered and planned a “review bomb” on Rotten Tomatoes. The review aggregate saw the films “want to see” score drop to a dramatic low. A move that prompted them to change the format of that section on February 25th.
In a blog post on their site they stated “we will no longer show the ‘Want to See’ percentage score for a movie during its pre-release period. Why you might ask? We’ve found that the ‘Want to See’ percentage score is often times confused with the ‘Audience Score’ percentage number.” Rotten Tomatoes moved the “want to see” section under the scores and made it a counter instead of a percentage. Many have felt this change was a long time coming.
When Captain Marvel opened last week, the film gained over 58,000 audience reviews in little over an hour, that’s more than Avengers: Infinity War gained in a year. Many of these reviews were from people who didn’t see the film. A problem Rotten Tomatoes has attempted to fix. The audience score for the film went up from 32% to 62%, in part due to the website deleting certain reviews. They claimed the influx of negative reviews was due to a “bug”.
“We have identified a bug in the post-release functionality for the movies that have released into theaters since our product update last week. The quantity of user ratings had included both pre-release and post-release fan voting.”
Rotten Tomatoes has grown in popularity over the years, starting as a site people rarely used to an industry leader. Now, their percentage scores can often make or break a film and the scores can be seen in commercials, on DVD cases and on websites where you can purchase movies. Audiences have gravitated towards the idea of a convenient percentage score and will often use the site to determine whether a movie is good or bad.
In short, audiences aren’t really sure how to use the site, and Rotten Tomatoes is aware of this. A growing sentiment is that critics are disconnected from audiences. Suicide Squad was released in 2016, Rotten Tomatoes actively pitted audiences and critics against each other to engage in a debate to boost interest in the site. This type of rhetoric is only growing with disparaging differences between the audience score and the critic score.
Captain Marvel isn’t the first film that have had these “review bombs”, Black Panther and the 2016 remake of Ghostbusters had similar movements behind them. To deter this, Rotten Tomatoes is planning on making more changes to its site. Vice President of Communications for Fandango, Dana Benson, said “We are disappointed that there was a group of people who were obviously very passionate and who had a negative opinion of the movie, whether they saw it or not. We are in the middle of evolving the audience score. We want to ensure its credibility.”
Some of these “evolutions” being considered are verification for people having seen the movie before being able to review it on the site. Though, admittedly, it would be difficult to employ such a measure.
Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t comprehend the power it has over audiences in this age. There is a need for a truly neutral aggregate for movie reviews and a fix to the algorithms is not unwarranted. For example: a two out of four-star review, can either be seen as a fresh or a rotten review. A three out of five and a six out of ten should be considered the same score, however, often, they are not.
Perhaps taking away the audiences’ ability to review on the site, is the true first step that they need to take. It shouldn’t be considered a forum for people to express an opinion, rather, it should be a place for a truly neutral and unbiased look at a film or television show. The ability for audiences to review a film is unnecessary on the site, critic reviews are all that are needed. Rotten Tomatoes should be that neutral aggregation that the industry desires and shouldn’t flaunt the sway it wields on audiences.
One thing is certain, changes are needed for the site, and hopefully Captain Marvel finally shown a light on where those changes need to be made.
Follow Brandon T. McClure at @BTMcClure and The Fake Nerd Podcast and Mythellaneous Podcast.