Her Cape Editorial: The impact of movie review aggregators


Critics’ reviews have always had a hand in the success or failure of a movie, but do review aggregator sites like Rotten Tomatoes do more harm than good?

Is it possible that Rotten Tomatoes is hurting the box office instead of helping it? Reviews have traditionally been important for movies since the beginning. Studios used to court the press in order to garner positive reviews for their films, but times have changed. Some people will watch a movie without looking at movie reviews or listening to friends’ opinions. Some people choose movies based upon what the critics have to say.

Reviews are everywhere these days thanks to social media and the abundance of movie review websites, so it makes perfect sense that review aggregators would be created to compile every review in one tidy package. A review aggregator creates a single rating (usually a percentage) based upon all available reviews. We do it for hotel prices and airfare, so why not movie reviews, right?

Deadline reports that movies like Baywatch and Pirates of the Caribbean 5 could have been derailed by aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes. Both movies tested in the 90s but were slapped with 19% and 32% aggregated ratings, which might have impacted their opening weekend hauls at the box office.

Rotten Tomatoes creates a rating that either certifies a movie “Fresh” or “Rotten” based on where the movie falls. In this case, both Pirates of the Caribbean 5 and Baywatch ended up in the”Rotten” category.

I’m not going to say whether or not Rotten Tomatoes is to blame for the performance of these movies, but I do believe that Deadline is correct that neither of these movies were made for critics. Some movies are made for fans. In this case, people who enjoy the Pirates franchise have been pleased to see Pirates 5, while Baywatch is meant to be pure fluff.  

It could be that reviews are coming out too soon. Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t post their numbers until the week the movie opens, but in the past reviews were embargoed until the day before or the day of the movie’s release. With embargoes lifting one to two weeks ahead of a movie’s release, there’s plenty of time for those reviews to impact public opinion, and when review aggregators present a less than flattering number, it has the potential to impact decision making in ways that didn’t exist before.

I like the idea of releasing reviews the day before or the day of a release. I like making my own decisions about movies, and I don’t like having reviews so far ahead of a movie’s release.

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The bottom line here is that people will see the movies they want to see, but those moviegoers on the fence between two movies have numbers in front of them that make it fairly easy to choose one film over another. Perhaps a delayed release of reviews would help films stand on their own merit.