Brett Ratner Says Rotten Tomatoes Is “The Worst Thing We Have in Today’s Movie Culture”
A fresh Rotten Tomatoes score has become a highly coveted aspect of movie marketing. It’s somewhat shocking to think that movie studios will go out of their way to slap a “Fresh” sticker on a TV spot or Blu-ray for their movie, but indeed it’s become commonplace as studios look for new ways to get their films seen. But does a “fresh” Rotten Tomatoes score mean a movie is good, and does a “rotten” score mean a movie is bad? Absolutely not, and filmmaker Brett Ratner had some incisive thoughts on the matter while speaking at the Sun Valley Film Festival.
Per EW, Ratner singled out Rotten Tomatoes as a giant thorn in the film business’ side rather than an ally:
“The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes. I think it’s the destruction of our business. I have such respect and admiration for film criticism. When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that. And you would read Pauline’s Kael’s reviews, or some others, and that doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s about a number. A compounded number of how many positives vs. negatives. Now it’s about, ‘What’s your Rotten Tomatoes score?’ And that’s sad, because the Rotten Tomatoes score was so low on Batman v Superman I think it put a cloud over a movie that was incredibly successful.”
I didn’t necessarily think I’d find myself agreeing with the director behind Tower Heist and After the Sunset on film criticism, but he’s not wrong. Rotten Tomatoes is simply a guidepost, and it doesn’t allow for nuance. Just because Rogue One got an 85% and Split got a 76% doesn’t definitively mean Rogue One is the better movie—the percentage is a barometer of how well-liked a movie is, not how good it is. The percentage merely takes a “thumbs up/thumbs down” approach where every “positive” review counts as fresh and every “negative” review counts as rotten. Meaning mixed reviews can go either way, and a film with a 96% score doesn’t mean every review was glowing, just that most of the reviews were simply positive. Again, there’s no room for nuance—for reviews ranging from poor to fair to good to very good to great.
Ratner continued, rightly pointing out that a lot of moviegoers now are simply glancing at a Rotten Tomatoes score to decide whether a film is worth seeing:
“It’s mind-blowing. It’s just insane, it’s hurting the business, it’s getting people to not see a movie. In Middle America it’s, ‘Oh, it’s a low Rotten Tomatoes score so I’m not going to go see it because it must suck.’ But that number is an aggregate and one that nobody can figure out exactly what it means, and it’s not always correct. I’ve seen some great movies with really abysmal Rotten Tomatoes scores. What’s sad is film criticism has disappeared. It’s really sad.”
EW did its due diligence and reached out to Rotten Tomatoes for comment, and Jeff Voris offered a statement that kind of supports what Ratner was saying:
“At Rotten Tomatoes, we completely agree that film criticism is valuable and important, and we’re making it easier than it has ever been for fans to access potentially hundreds of professional reviews for a given film or TV show in one place. The Tomatometer score, which is the percentage of positive reviews published by professional critics, has become a useful decision-making tool for fans, but we believe it’s just a starting point for them to begin discussing, debating and sharing their own opinions.”
Again, Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t allow for nuance, and if you’re judging whether to see a movie or not by merely looking at an arbitrary number, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re serious about film, seek out critics whose writing you enjoy. You’re not going to agree with them every time, but at least you can trust they’ll give you a thoughtful, nuanced, honest critique of the film.
I can remember looking up Roger Ebert’s reviews for every movie I was interested in, both past and present. Sometimes I couldn’t disagree more, but I enjoyed reading his thoughts on the matter. Judging art is not an objective experience. It’s personal, and we all bring our own baggage to each film we see. The joy and value of film criticism is creating a dialogue with those different from ourselves. A good film review can incite a conversation about agreements, disagreements, or maybe even a subtextual theme the reviewer picked up on that you didn’t. There’s no way a simple Rotten Tomatoes score can convey all of that, so while it’s a mildly interesting barometer of how many critics liked a movie, it should serve as a starting point.
So don’t put too much stock into Rotten Tomatoes scores, don’t sweat a “rotten” score for a movie you love, and don’t misunderstand what they mean. There’s a reason the site includes blurbs and links to the full reviews of the critics that make up those scores—use it! Let’s not let something as expansive and diverse as cinema be boiled down to a number on a website.