It’s Time to Throw Out the Rotten Tomatoes

It shines at the end of nearly every critically-acclaimed movie trailer. You can spot it on the posters of movies on your watchlist, sticking out like a sore thumb, surrounded by film awards and nominations. The white sans serif font embossed atop the round fruit exudes a clean sheen of superiority.

But Rotten Tomatoes’ prominence in film is actually the site’s biggest problem. Rotten Tomatoes needs to clarify what it measures before more audiences use it to incorrectly make the decision to watch a film. 

In the digital age, it is hard to find a film fanatic who has not encountered Rotten Tomatoes. The review aggregator was among the first of its kind when launched in 1998 but has now grown into an international entity worth $535 million

In fact, the National Research Group found that seven out of 10 people would be less likely to see a movie if Rotten Tomatoes gave it a score of 0–25. 

“Some people do use it as a gauge of whether or not they should watch [a film],” science teacher and self-described film fanatic Michael Tang said. “I just feel like people shouldn’t use it. When it’s not used properly, I think it could be a detriment to a lot of movies.”

When it’s not used properly, I think it could be a detriment to a lot of movies.”

— Michael Tang

The majority of users do not truly understand the Tomatometer, a percentage-point scale given to each film by Rotten Tomatoes, and falsely believe that it gauges a movie’s quality rather than its reputation among critics, according to Vox.

The Tomatometer score given to a movie is the percentage of positive critic reviews awarded to that film, with films scoring greater than or equal to a 60% receiving the title of “Fresh,” and movies failing to meet the threshold being called “Rotten.” 

In addition to the critic score, Rotten Tomatoes provides an audience rating measured by the percentage of verified audience members that rate the film at least a 3.5/5 compared to those who rate it lower, according to Rotten Tomatoes’s official website.

Dictating whether a film should be celebrated or loathed simply based on whether the film’s score receives a 59 or 60 percentage point is extremely unreasonable, and the simple title of  “Fresh” or “Rotten” based on the general consensus of critics fails to accurately reflect the nuanced artistic merits of a film.

“Even if it’s 59%, I feel like that doesn’t really constitute a bad movie,” co-founder of student-run media review Instagram @tturningpage and senior Diya Jain said. “I think maybe under 20% it would be more reasonable for it to be rotten, but there’s too much, like I said, that range in the middle.”

Rotten Tomatoes devalues the mixed opinions of film critics, particularly when reviewers use a five-star scale. For example, the Tomatometer weighs both a three-and-a-half star review and a five-star review as equally positive, without acknowledging that the five-star review offers greater praise than the former.

Despite these flaws, some merit can still be awarded to Rotten Tomatoes.

“Rotten Tomatoes is genuinely an excellent resource. It gathers together reviews from across the world of modern movies, and in theory, allows you to find critical voices that tend to tally closely with your own tastes and follow their respective reviews,” according to Den of Geek.

However, this isn’t anything unique to Rotten Tomatoes, especially considering that newer alternatives, such as movie review platform Letterboxd, offer the same features but allow for even greater personalization. 

“You can follow specific people on [alternate websites], so I could go and see what this critic is like, why I agree with what they read,” Tang said. “I also go about [other websites] because there are filmmakers there. Some of them rate movies, some of them just write like a small blurb, so I think that’s always fun.”

Despite the various options online, the best way to gauge whether a person will enjoy a movie or not is for them to view the movie themselves. 

“If you like the plot or like what the synopsis is, you should just watch the movie and decide for yourself because no rating is going to be accurate to what impact it leaves on you,” Jain said.