Rotten Tomatoes scores do not hurt box office

NEW YORK • Did the critics who post comments on the Rotten Tomatoes website drag Hollywood through a dismal box-office summer?

But while the studio executives may believe that, the truth is that criticism is nothing new.

In 2010's Complete History Of American Film Criticism, Jerry Roberts highlighted the growing power of Chicago Tribune's Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel in the 1980s and the angst that caused film-makers.

Conversely, the duo are credited with "saving" small films lagging at the box office.

The Tomatometer is something like a hyper-powered version of Ebert and Siskel's patented thumbs-up/ thumbs-down rating system.

Rotten Tomatoes drew 13.6 million unique visitors in May while Roberts wrote that Siskel and Ebert drew between eight million and 11 million viewers a week at their peak.

But how much power does the Tomatometer actually wield?

In a study published in Medium, Mr Yves Bergquist, director of the Data & Analytics Project at University of Southern California's Entertainment Technology Centre, demolished the idea that negative scores from Rotten Tomatoes destroy box-office totals.

He found no correlation between overall grosses and Rotten Tomatoes scores and an even lower correlation between Rotten Tomatoes scores and opening weekend figures - even when potential audiences have little in the way of word-of-mouth from trusted friends and co-workers to go on.

The real reason for Hollywood's woes seems much simpler - audiences are bored over the lack of ideas.

This summer has been an endless river of sequels to franchises that should be dead and the attempted birthing of franchises that have no reason to exist (The Mummy, Baywatch, Kong: Skull Island).

Audiences do not mind spectacle or franchises so long as they are tied to solid storytelling, as the Rotten Tomatoes scores and box-office figures for the Marvel Cinematic Universe show.

It is easy to blame Rotten Tomatoes. It is much harder to make a movie people want to see.

No surprise, then, that Hollywood's movers and shakers have opted to throw rotten tomatoes at the critics instead.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2017, with the headline 'Rotten Tomatoes scores do not hurt box office'. Print Edition | Subscribe