No, Bad Rotten Tomatoes Scores Aren’t to Blame for Lousy Box Office

Study finds Hollywood executives are trying to “scapegoat” the aggregate website

The Emoji Movie
Sony Pictures Animation

Is Rotten Tomatoes really to blame for this summer’s weak box office? According to one study, no.

Yves Bergquist, director of the Data & Analytics Project at USC’s Entertainment Technology Center, published findings on Medium Monday, showing that there appears to be no connection between Rotten Tomatoes score and box office results.

Bergquist compared box office data, according to Box Office Mojo, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores and audience scores for those titles (150 in all from 2017). He found that there was no correlation — positive or negative — between box office and Rotten Tomatoes score.

He even narrowed it down to just summer releases and the result was similar, with no “meaningful impact.”

In fact, by looking at the median scores over multiple summers, he found that Rotten Tomatoes scores are actually up by a few points, meaning that critics are liking more summer releases.

The study was released following a New York Times article, “Attacked by Rotten Tomatoes,” which reported Hollywood executives were blaming the review aggregate website for one of the worst summer movie seasons in years. Director Brett Ratner, for example, called it “the destruction of our business.”

“It’s unclear how much of some creative executives’ opinions related by The New York Times reflect actual belief that critics are hurting the top line, and how much they reflect the need to scapegoat Rotten Tomatoes,” he wrote. “What is clear, from looking at all film data since 2000, is that Rotten Tomatoes scores have never played a very big role in driving box office performance, either positively or negatively.”

Additionally, Bergquist found one correlation that was starting to add up — between audience scores and Rotten Tomatoes scores. He took this to mean that moviegoing fans are becoming more savvy and are aligning more with critics.

“Audiences are becoming experts at smelling a ‘bad’ movie and staying away,” he wrote. “When Hollywood executives complain about Rotten Tomatoes scores, they actually complain about their audiences’ tastes, because it’s almost the same thing.”

This extra piece of information puts a pin in the belief that some movies are for fans while others are for critics, which was the excuse made for “Baywatch” following its poor box office performance.

There are even more findings in the post, which you can view over on Medium.