Rotten Tomatoes is an American review-aggregation website for film and television. The company was launched in August 1998 by three undergraduate students at the University of California, Berkeley: Senh Duong, Patrick Y. Lee and Stephen Wang. The name "Rotten Tomatoes" derives from the practice of audiences throwing rotten tomatoes when disapproving of a poor stage performance.
Since January 2010, Rotten Tomatoes has been owned by Flixster, which was in turn acquired by Warner Bros. in 2011. In February 2016, Rotten Tomatoes and its parent site Flixster were sold to Comcast's Fandango. Warner Bros. retained a minority stake in the merged entities, including Fandango.
Type of site
|Film and television review aggregator and user community|
|Alexa rank||376 (August 2018)|
|Launched||August 12, 1998|
Rotten Tomatoes was launched on August 12, 1998, as a spare-time project by Senh Duong. His goal in creating Rotten Tomatoes was "to create a site where people can get access to reviews from a variety of critics in the U.S." As a fan of Jackie Chan's, Duong was inspired to create the website after collecting all the reviews of Chan's movies as they were being published in the United States. The first movie whose reviews were featured on Rotten Tomatoes was Your Friends & Neighbors (1998). The website was an immediate success, receiving mentions by Netscape, Yahoo!, and USA Today within the first week of its launch; it attracted "600–1000 daily unique visitors" as a result.
Duong teamed up with University of California, Berkeley classmates Patrick Y. Lee and Stephen Wang, his former partners at the Berkeley, California-based web design firm Design Reactor, to pursue Rotten Tomatoes on a full-time basis. They officially launched it on April 1, 2000.
In June 2004, IGN Entertainment acquired Rotten Tomatoes for an undisclosed sum. In September 2005, IGN was bought by News Corp's Fox Interactive Media. In January 2010, IGN sold the website to Flixster. The combined reach of both companies is 30 million unique visitors a month across all different platforms, according to the companies. In 2011, Warner Bros. acquired Rotten Tomatoes. In February 2016, Flixster, including Rotten Tomatoes, was acquired by Fandango, a company that Warner Bros. has a minority share.
Rotten Tomatoes is a top 1000 site, placing around #400 globally and top 150 for the US only, according to website ranker Alexa. Monthly unique visitors to the rottentomatoes.com domain is 26M global (14.4M US) according to audience measurement service Quantcast.
Rotten Tomatoes staff first collect online reviews from writers who are certified members of various writing guilds or film critic-associations. To be accepted as a critic on the website, a critic's original reviews must garner a specific number of "likes" from users. Those classified as "Top Critics" generally write for major newspapers. The staff determine for each review whether it is positive ("fresh", marked by a small icon of a red tomato) or negative ("rotten", marked by a small icon of a green splattered tomato). Staff assessment is needed as some reviews assign a qualitative assessment rather than a numeric rating.
The website keeps track of all of the reviews counted for each film and the percentage of positive reviews is calculated. Major, recently released films can attract up to 300 reviews. If the positive reviews make up 60% or more, the film is considered "fresh", in that a supermajority of the reviewers approve of the film. If the positive reviews are less than 60%, the film is considered "rotten". An average score on a 0 to 10 scale is also calculated. With each review, a short excerpt of the review is quoted that also serves a hyperlink to the complete review essay for anyone interested to read the critic's full thoughts on the subject.
"Top Critics", such as Roger Ebert (deceased), Desson Thomson, Stephen Hunter, Owen Gleiberman, Lisa Schwarzbaum, Peter Travers and Michael Phillips are identified in a sub-listing that calculates their reviews separately. Their opinions are also included in the general rating. When there are sufficient reviews, the staff creates and posts a consensus statement to express the general reasons for the collective opinion of the film.
This rating is indicated by an equivalent icon at the film listing, to give the reader a one-glance look at the general critical opinion about the work. The "Certified Fresh" seal is reserved for movies that satisfy two criteria: a "Tomatometer" of 75% or better and at least 40 reviews (for limited release movies, otherwise 80) from "Tomatometer" critics (including 5 Top Critics). Films earning this status will keep it unless the positive critical percentage drops below 70%. Films with 100% positive ratings but fewer than required reviews may not receive the "Certified Fresh" seal.
|70–100%||Certified Fresh. Wide-release films with a score of 75% or higher that are reviewed by at least 80 critics, of which 5 are "Top Critics", are given this seal. The "Certified Fresh" seal remains until the score drops below 70%. Films with limited releases require only 40 reviews (including 5 from "Top Critics") to qualify for this seal.|
|60–100%||Fresh. Films with a score of 60% or higher that do not meet the requirements for the "Certified Fresh" seal.|
|0–59%||Rotten. Films with a score of 0–59% receive this seal.|
In the year 2000, Rotten Tomatoes announced the RT Awards honoring the best-reviewed films of the year according to the website's rating system. This was later renamed the Golden Tomato Awards. The nominees and winners are announced on the website, although there is no actual awards ceremony.
The films are divided into wide release and limited release categories. Limited releases are defined as opening in 599 or fewer theaters at initial release. Platform releases, movies initially released under 600 theaters but later receiving wider distribution, fall under this definition. Any film opening in more than 600 theaters is considered wide release. There are also two categories purely for British and Australian films. The "User"-category represents the highest rated film among users, and the "Mouldy"-award represents the worst-reviewed films of the year. A movie must have 40 (originally 20) or more rated reviews to be considered for domestic categories. It must have 500 or more user ratings to be considered for the "User"-category.
Films are further classified based on film genre. Each movie is eligible in only one genre, aside from non-English language films, which can be included in both their genre and the respective "Foreign" category.
Once a film is considered eligible, its "votes" are counted. Each critic from the website's list gets one vote (as determined by their review), all weighted equally. Because reviews are continually added, manually and otherwise, a cutoff date at which new reviews are not counted toward the Golden Tomato awards is initiated each year, usually the first of the new year. Reviews without ratings are not counted toward the results of the Golden Tomato Awards.
Each movie features a brief summary of the reviews used in that entry's Tomatometer aggregate score. These are written by Jeff Giles, a longtime author for the site.
Positive and negative audience score icons
Each movie features a "user average", which calculates the percentage of registered users who have rated the film positively on a 5-star scale, similar to calculation of recognized critics' reviews.
Localized versions of the site available in the United Kingdom, India, and Australia were discontinued following the acquisition of Rotten Tomatoes by Fandango. The Mexican version of the site (Tomatazos) remains active.
The Rotten Tomatoes API provides limited access to critic and audience ratings and reviews, allowing developers to incorporate Rotten Tomatoes data on other websites. The free service is intended for use in the US only; permission is required for use elsewhere.
Major Hollywood studios have grown to see Rotten Tomatoes as a threat to their marketing. In 2017 several blockbuster films like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Baywatch and The Mummy were projected to open to a respective $90 million, $50 million and $45 million, but ended up debuting with $62.6 million, $23.1 million and $31.6 million. Rotten Tomatoes, which gave the films low scores of 30%, 19% and 16%, respectively, was faulted for undermining them. That same summer, films like Wonder Woman (92%) and Spider-Man: Homecoming (92%) received high scores and opened on par or exceeded expectations with their $100+ million trackings.
As result of this concern, 20th Century Fox commissioned a 2015 study, titled "Rotten Tomatoes and Box Office", that stated the website combined with social media was going to be an increasingly serious complication for the film business: "The power of Rotten Tomatoes and fast-breaking word of mouth will only get stronger. Many Millennials and even Gen X-ers now vet every single purchase through the Internet, whether it's restaurants, video games, make-up, consumer electronics or movies. As they get older and comprise an even larger share of total moviegoers, this behavior is unlikely to change". Other studios have commissioned a number of studies on the subject, with them finding that seven out of 10 people said they would be less interested in seeing a film if the Rotten Tomatoes score was 0-25, and that the site has the most influence on people 25 and younger.
The scores have reached a level of online ubiquity which film companies have found threatening. For instance, the scores are regularly posted in Google search results for films so reviewed. Furthermore, the scores are prominently featured in Fandango's popular ticket purchasing website and its mobile app, Flixster. This led to complaints that the scores, especially "rotten" ones, are prone to affect the purchasing decisions of the public, such as saying in no-so-many words "You are an idiot if you pay to see this movie".
Some studios have suggested embargoing or cancelling early critic screenings in a response to poor reviews prior to a film's release affecting pre-sales and opening weekend numbers. In July 2017, Sony embargoed critic reviews for The Emoji Movie until mid-day the Thursday before its release. The film ended up with a 9% rating (including 0% after the first 25 reviews), but still opened to $24 million, on par with projections. Josh Greenstein, Sony Pictures president of worldwide marketing and distribution, said: "The Emoji Movie was built for people under 18 ... so we wanted to give the movie its best chance. What other wide release with a score under 8 percent has opened north of $20 million? I don't think there is one". Conversely, Warner Bros. also did not do critic pre-screenings for The House, which ended up with a 16% rating, until the day of its release, but it still opened to just $8.7 million, the lowest of star Will Ferrell's career.
That marketing tactic can backfire, and has drawn the vocal disgust of influential critics such as Roger Ebert, who was prone to derisively condemn such moves, with gestures such as "The Wagging Finger of Shame", on At the Movies. Furthermore, the very nature of withholding reviews can draw early conclusions from the public that the film is of poor quality because of that marketing tactic.
Jon Penn of the National Research Group (NRG) noted that the website is an increasingly serious interference to movie marketing: “Moviegoers love trailers. They pay attention to the TV spots. But Rotten Tomatoes is like the truth serum on the entire [promotional] campaign: are all the things you're telling me about the movie true or not?".
In January 2010, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the New York Film Critics Circle, its chairman Armond White cited Rotten Tomatoes in particular and film review aggregators in general as examples of how "the Internet takes revenge on individual expression". He said they work by "dumping reviewers onto one website and assigning spurious percentage-enthusiasm points to the discrete reviews". According to White, such websites "offer consensus as a substitute for assessment". Director and producer Brett Ratner has criticized the website for "reducing hundreds of reviews culled from print and online sources into a popularized aggregate score", and feels it is the "worst thing that we have in today's movie culture". Writer Max Landis, following his film Victor Frankenstein receiving an approval rating of 24% on the site, wrote that the site "breaks down entire reviews into just the word 'yes' or 'no', making criticism binary in a destructive arbitrary way".
Following the negative reception of Mother! (2017) on Rotten Tomatoes, American director Martin Scorsese wrote a column in The Hollywood Reporter criticizing review aggregators such as Rotten Tomatoes.
Rotten Tomatoes deliberately withheld the critic score for Justice League based on early reviews until the premiere of its See It/Skip It episode on the Thursday before its release. Some critics viewed the move as a ploy to promote the web series, but some argued that the move was a deliberate conflict of interest on account of Warner Bros.' ownership of the film and Rotten Tomatoes, and the tepid critical reception to the DC Extended Universe films, barring Wonder Woman.
By contrast, others have noted that filmmakers have only themselves to blame if film critics dismiss their films, causing Rotten Tomatoes to give their product a bad score. As one independent film distributor marketing executive noted, "To me, it's a ridiculous argument that Rotten Tomatoes is the problem ... make a good movie!". ComScore's Paul Dergarabedian had similar comments, saying: "The best way for studios to combat the 'Rotten Tomatoes Effect' is to make better movies, plain and simple".