New Study Shows Rotten Tomatoes Scores Don’t Affect Box Office
Well, that’s kinda awkward timing. On Thursday of last week, the New York Times published an article titled “Attacked by Rotten Tomatoes,” an in-depth look at the popular review aggregation site and the role it may have played in this summer’s disappointing box office numbers. The article ends with a prolonged examination of the various ways that studios are trying to “battle Rotten Tomatoes on multiple fronts,” seemingly accepting the idea that Rotten Tomatoes has been bad for the movie industry (despite the fact that Rotten Tomatoes is, in fact, owned by said members of the movie industry). The article may have been an interesting read for those unfamiliar with the controversy, but for those in the know, it was old news, part of an ongoing debate arguing that critics were duping poor, easily misled moviegoers.
And then, just like that, the entire premise was sorta debunked. Earlier today, Yves Bergquist, director at the University of Southern California’s Entertainment Technology Center, released a study (via Variety) that suggested there was no strong mathmatical correlation between Rotten Tomatoes scores and the success of individual movies. “What is clear, from looking at all film data since 2000,” Bergquist wrote in a Medium post, “is that Rotten Tomatoes scores have never played a very big role in driving box office performance, either positively or negatively.” Thus, after their brief moment in the spots as tastemakers, film critics are again relegated to the trenches of the film industry. It was sweet while it lasted.
Even without diving into the numbers, there are any number of reasons why Bergquist’s study makes sense on a gut-check level. Audiences have never been as stupid and/or maleable as studio executives would have you believe; for every The Emoji Movie that stumbles its way into the black, you have dozens of blockbusters with middling reviews that nevertheless fail to break even at the box office. Furthermore, audiences are often capable of picking real winners amidst all the noise, turning movies like It, Get Out, and Girls Trip into surprisingly winners over the summer. Finally, as more film outlets have popped up, the so-called elitism of film criticism has seen a decline. There are now certified Rotten Tomatoes critics who vastly prefer genre films to award season fare; the more critics enter the ratings system, the more the ratings system will reflect the taste of general audiences. This likely isn’t the last we’ve heard of the Terrible Rotten Tomatoes Tyranny, but for now, it’s good to see Hollywood forced to address the more significant issues behind box office stagnation.