The Limitations of Rotten Tomatoes

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With Justice League currently playing in cinemas, the controversy of the critical reception to the films in the DCEU canon continues. One important aspect to many people is the Rotten Tomatoes score of the film, which people have been keen to follow. For those unfamiliar, Rotten Tomatoes is a site that measures how many critics gave a favourable review to a film, in the form of a percentage. If 60% of the reviews are deemed positive, the film is rated as ‘fresh’ and anything less, ‘rotten’.

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Of course, there are limitations with this model with the notion that a films can be reduced to scores and also the score doesn’t inform generally how much people liked or disliked a film. Take the recent release of Darren Aronofsky‘s mother! for example, a film that is intentionally designed to be divisive, which attained a 68% (fresh) score from critics. To those unaware, 68% would suggest that the film was pretty good but perhaps flawed in some way. What the score fails to divulge is that mother! is a film which people either loved or loathed or were, like myself, somewhere in between. How are you supposed to gauge from a score the varying attitudes and opinions to these reviews? All 68% tells you is that 68% of the critics featured in this poll would give a positive review to the film.

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When Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS) opened towards the beginning of last year, the famous critical backlash to the film lead to fans losing their heads over the damning 27% score (therefore, judged as ‘rotten’). This was furthered by Suicide Squad‘s also less-than-stellar critical reception, also scoring a measly 27%. Petitions were even created to “close the site down”, from dismayed fans who thought these scores had been rigged and  also believed that these scores may damage the legacies of these films.

Although the reception of Wonder Woman served as a U-turn for the critical reception of the DCEU with a 92% ‘fresh’ score, the reception to Justice League was still one of trepidation due to the turbulent production of the film and the fact that it serves as a follow-up to BvS, largely featuring the same cast and crew.

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The scores came in and Justice League has been deemed as ‘rotten’ and currently sits on a disappointing 41%. But before the scores were revealed in what was in my opinion, a long drawn-out affair with a very late embargo, it became very apparent to me that a lot of people (even a couple of YouTubers that I have respect for) didn’t seem to know what Rotten Tomatoes is. I have heard things such as “Justice League deserves at least a 70%” and “27% is too harsh for BvS“.

I would like to point out that a film cannot deserve a score. In the case of BvS, all 27% means is that just over a quarter of people who watched the film thought it was at the very least, good. Like with my previous example of mother!, 27% doesn’t tell you how skewed the reviews were in either direction.

As flawed a system as Rotten Tomatoes is, I think people need to understand that it is just an indication of the general consensus to a film and not something that dishes out its own score. And please, no more of this shutting down business – it’s petty and childish and the so-called ‘fans’ that petitioned for this need to grow up.

Rotten Tomatoes is definitely useful as a tool, but should in no way affect your opinion of a film. Watch Justice League for yourself to form your own verdict – don’t judge it by a statistic. As film critic Mark Kermode puts it, aggregate scores “aren’t criticism, they’re just number-crunching”.

Justice League is out now in UK cinemas. 

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One thought on “The Limitations of Rotten Tomatoes

  1. 100% agree with you on this one Oscar. Rotten Tomatoes is a useful tool but shouldn’t affect your opinion of a film. If you like something, don’t let others tell you you’re wrong!

    Liked by 1 person

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