But despite Rotten Tomatoes’s reputed importance, it’s worth a
reminder: Its math stinks. Scores are calculated by classifying
each review as either positive or negative and then dividing the
number of positives by the total. That’s the whole formula.
Every review carries the same weight whether it runs in a major
newspaper or a Substack with a dozen subscribers.
If a review straddles positive and negative, too bad. “I read some
reviews of my own films where the writer might say that he doesn’t
think that I pull something off, but, boy, is it interesting in
the way that I don’t pull it off,” says Schrader, a former critic.
“To me, that’s a good review, but it would count as negative on
Rotten Tomatoes.” [...]
Another problem — and where the trickery often begins — is that
Rotten Tomatoes scores are posted after a movie receives only a
handful of reviews, sometimes as few as five, even if those
reviews may be an unrepresentative sample. This is sort of like a
cable-news network declaring an Election Night winner after a
single county reports its results. But studios see it as a
feature, since, with a little elbow grease, they can sometimes
fool people into believing a movie is better than it is.
Brown also uncovers implicit payola, with a Hollywood PR firm paying small-time critics tracked by Rotten Tomatoes $50 (fifty measly bucks!) for positive reviews. My whole family has been growing ever more skeptical of Rotten Tomatoes scores for years, but we reached a breaking point earlier this year when we rented M3gan, which we all found to be a shitty movie, but scored a 93 from Rotten Tomatoes. (It has a “generally favorable” 72 from Metacritic.)