Rotten Tomatoes Is Not Killing The Movie Industry

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Photo: Rotten Tomatoes Logo

Rotten Tomatoes is suddenly the new bad guy in town. There are news stories everywhere about the menace the review-aggregator website has become for the movie industry. It's easy to make a lazy co-relation. By most accounts, this summer has seen the worst box-office performance in the last 17 years. Several movies with large box-office expectations have failed to even recoup the humongous production and marketing budgets. With all the financial gains heavily tied to a good summer showing, they need to know the reason why they are failing. But, have these studios introspected at the quality of the movie they keep churning out? Likely no. The blame has to lie elsewhere.

This is where Rotten Tomatoes comes in. It has existed for almost 20 years now, but suddenly for some reason, in 2017, the website is warping the audiences' mind about what to watch at the theatres.  And the studios are livid. Oh, some shady executive is even making plans to bring it down.

One would think that journalists would look into the data before writing a piece on whether rotten scores influence audience behaviour. I am talking to you, New York Times. This respected newspaper has a wonderful data-journalism team in Upshot. Crunch some numbers and find some correlation for god sakes. You have the resources. But, they were as lazy as the studio execs in indicting Rotten Tomatoes.

Wait. Here comes Yves Bergquist to the rescue. He is the Director of the “Data & Analytics” Project at USC’s Entertainment Technology Center and he has data to prove that the studios' accusations are just sour tomatoes. He collected the earnings data of 150 movies that grossed over $1million from Box-Office Mojo, and then the Rotten Scores (critics rating) and the Audience Scores from the Rotten Tomatoes website. Based on some pretty complex maths, he debunked two common accusations at the website. Here are the findings:

  1. There is no correlation or link between the Rotten Tomatoes Score and the box-office performance of a movie.

  2. However, the audience rating and the critics rating showed a strong correlation. Meaning, the audience taste and the critics' taste in movies is pretty much the same most times.

The second point is also important, considering that there are assumptions made that the critics are out of touch with the audience's preference and taste in movies. Yes, there will always be outliers in the analysis.

Hopefully, Yves' analysis will prompt the right investigation at the factors that influence movie-goers. For most of us, however, it is simple: make good movies.

P.S: Here's the link to the entire statistical research. COGNITIVE HOLLYWOOD, Part 1: Data Shows Box Office Economics in Turmoil