There’s a lot of pissing and moaning about Rotten Tomatoes scores this year. Part of the issue this week was RT deciding to hold back reviews – and the dreaded Tomatometer™ score – for “Justice League”, until after it’s new Facebook series See It/Skip It aired. The major film critics have been crying foul because they feel they’re not being treated fairly, as they usually are able to publish reviews a couple of days before a film opens. And in that aspect, they are correct to bemoan the situation.
The other aspect of the RT controversy this year has been Hollywood heavyweights coming out and complaining that the site is ruining film criticism as a whole. It can screw up a major film release with a bad score. They’re also mostly right on this point.
The problem isn’t with the score, the problem is that people are paying attention to the wrong one. Film critics, hear me out before you jump all over me on this one.
Film critics DO serve a very important purpose in the general film community. Their long term look at films can be a great service to future filmmakers, producers, directors, and the like. But when they start pandering to the Tomatometer™ they’ve lost all credibility. And yet, that’s what a small but growing minority do.
Check Twitter out any day and you’ll find this film critic and that film critic talking about a new film. Some of them even talk about how much they can’t wait to see the film crash, and are looking to the Tomatometer™ to do said crashing.
This summer, it worked, in an unexpected way – some of the scores for major blockbusters were so bad that the blockbusters failed and caused their studios untold embarrassment, and the studios fired back at the critics who post reviews on RT for their bad scores.
But…here’s the thing, folks: Rotten Tomatoes publishes TWO Scores, not one – The Tomatometer™ – that’s the critics – and the Audience Score – that’s YOU, Joe Average moviegoer!
Film critics howl when they’re called out on it that they are absolutely unbiased in every way. Hogwash. Go to any major film news site on the web – Deadline, The Wrap, The Playlist, Indiewire – and you’ll find DOZENS of articles covering films that have yet to be released and all kinds of dire predictions about how the films are going to bomb. The Playlist – all of the major writers formerly with Indiewire before the Penske buyout of that site two years ago – is especially good at this. Kevin Jagermuth and his group of writers start predicting doom and gloom for any movie from DC from the moment it’s announced. More than once they attacked one of this year’s biggest hits, “Wonder Woman“, with stories about “sources” telling them that “they saw it last night and it’s another bomb…it’s unwatchable…it’s going to be an epic fail” and other such clearly biased stories. This continued until just a few days before the film was released. Then, it was a riot to watch ALL of them try to backpedal when the film’s reviews were released and most of them were glowing, about how DC finally nailed it, and how Patti Jenkins was going to be in the Oscar race, etc. If there was EVER a definition of the term “Fake News”, believe me, The Playlist has it covered, hands down. Deadline is lucky – at least Pete Hammond stays above the fray with his clear and concise reviews, most of which he admits are personal “gut feeling” reviews. On the other hand, David Ehrlich, chief film critic at IndieWire, finds it utterly impossible to keep his extremely left-wing political bias out of his reviews. He can’t help mentioning the words “Donald” and “Trump” in EVERY SINGLE REVIEW. So somehow the fact that you hated “The Latest Blockbuster” is supposed to be the President’s fault? REALLY? To quote many a Peanuts character, “Oh Good Grief!” For Pete’s sake I want a film review, not four paragraphs on politics and three sentences on the film. This kind of review is a DIRECT contributor to the slowly deteriorating profession of film criticism. Hey Mr. Ehrlich and others like you – most people couldn’t care less about your personal political manifesto. If the film has a political side, fine, then talk about it. But if not – and most DO NOT – SHUT UP and review the damn film already!
My point in this – some people who depend on film criticism as a profession clearly DO occasionally have their own biases to overcome. And most of them can’t do it, and don’t even attempt to. Are they REALLY out to sink a film? Probably not. But from what I’ve seen on the various sites, on social media, and such, they’re also not unhappy when a film they don’t like tanks or gets a terrible reputation, as was the case with “Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice” last year.
At eCinemaOne, and on our podcast, Subject:CINEMA (which is, by the way, the second-longest running film podcast on the PLANET, people!), we do film reviews as well. And we do it from our gut. We don’t expect everyone to agree with us or disagree with us, we expect people to merely consider our opinions and make up their own minds about it. We don’t mind that one bit. In fact, it’s the very reason WHY we call ourselves Joe Average movie critics – because that’s what we are – critics for the common man.
Soooo….because of all the fuss the last couple of days over the “Justice League” score debacle, I decided to do a completely unscientific survey of the opinions using just RT‘s two main scores above and was honestly surprised to find that critics and the public usually generally agree with each other’s opinions about films about 70-80% of the time. But when they don’t agree – the chasm is usually HUGE.
Here’s what I decided to do – where the Tomatometer™ score and the Audience Score was within 10 points of each other, I considered this to be an agreement – each person is going to vary in their opinions, and this allows for such opinion. I took what was left, and made a list of these films from the past three months or so, and discovered that the difference can go both ways. Most often, the most difference betweens scores happen because the critics scored it poorly, but the public liked it a little (or a lot) better, but occasionally it WAS the other way around.
The following is a list of what i found, and at the end I’ll have some commentary on it. They are listed in no particular order, but generally chronologically, with newest films first. All of the scores are of 7 PM ET Saturday, November 18th:
“Justice League” Tomatometer™ 40, Audience Score 86
“A Bad Moms Christmas” Tomatometer™ 28, Audience Score 52
“Jigsaw” Tomatometer™ 32. Audience Score 92
“Daddy’s Home 2” Tomatometer™ 17, Audience Score 63
“The Florida Project” Tomatometer™ 95, Audience Score 77
“My Little Pony: The Movie” Tomatometer™ 45, Audience Score 81
“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” Tomatometer™ 51, Audience Score 69
“Same Kind Of Different As Me” Tomatometer™29, Audience Score 92
“Leap!” Tomatometer™ 37, Audience Score 63
“A Question Of Faith” Tomatometer™ 40, Audience Score 63
“The Stray” Tomatometer™ 33, Audience Score 72
“Bill Nye:Science Guy” Tomatometer™ 100, Audience Score 68
“Novitiate” Tomatometer™ 87, Audience Score 67
“The Snowman” Tomatometer™ 8, Audience Score 21
“Friend Request” Tomatometer™ 15, Audience Score 30
“Geostorm” Tomatometer™ 14, Audience Score 42
As I’ve pointed out before, the most disparate score differences are on faith based films; I’ve had heated discussions with a few fellow members of Boston’s Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film over this subject, but I maintain that unless the critic is particularly religious – and from what I’ve seen, most of them are not, and even the great Ebert was an atheist – they tend not to like these films. The public does, especially the faithful churchgoers of the American Midwest. And that huge 29-92 chasm on “Same Kind Of Different As Me” is a great example. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the film is for every Joe Average fan, but churchgoing folk appear to really love it. As they did “Little Boy” a few years ago, another film with a huge chasm. And “Fireproof” as well.
Family films also tend to do only marginally well with critics unless they’re a true out-of-the-ballpark smash, as director/writer Stephen Chbosky’s “Wonder” is shaping up to be this weekend. Here, I think it depends on the critic, and most of them that like these films also tend to mention kids in their reviews. Critics tend to forget that these types of films are also not meant to be for them, they’re meant for the average American family.
Comic book films also divide the masses. With only one exception – the aforementioned “Wonder Woman” – critics tend to pass poor judgement on films based on DC comics. Last year, a number of thin-skinned critics got furious with the DC fanboys who loved “Batman V Superman“, who basicially told critics that they didn’t know a good film when they saw it. The same is now happening for “Justice League” – that 40-86 chasm is HUGE. To be fair, the score came up a bit today on the critics’ side, as it had been an even lower 37% on the release of the numbers on Friday. But more than two and a half times the number of fans to critics give it a passing score, and it’s a very high score to boot. That’s really something, but sadly not surprising given the 27-63 difference of “BVS” last year, and the 26-61 difference for The DC Extended Universe film that directly followed it, “Suicide Squad” (which, full disclosure, I agreed with most of my fellow critics on).
Then there are the critical darlings, which the public sometimes just don’t agree with. In the case of one of those rare films with a perfect Tomatometer™ score, “Bill Nye:Science Guy“, the film-goers are not nearly as enamored with it, probably owing to the fact that it’s not a documentary about Nye’s long running TV show or his interactions with fans, but is more of a politically charged documentary about Nye’s climate change beliefs and his efforts to keep the debate going. Either way, the 100-68 difference is quite a gap. A smaller gap may cause problems for one of the Oscar darlings this year, “The Florida Project” – critics are in love with it, giving it a 95. but filmgoers are finding it a bit more average with a mere 77, which is still great but it does show that there’s less love for it with the public.
Although there is some disparity in the scores, it’s also clear that both critics and fans seem to know when a film is bad, but the public generally scored even a bad film slightly higher, even though they also didn’t like it. “The Snowman“, “Friend Request”, and “Geostorm” are all across the board flops, even though the fans liked the latter far more than the critics (14-42), but still didn’t give it a passing grade.
Now, like I said, this is completely unscientific, and also doesn’t take into account the number of critics vs the number of fans voting – there’s no way to gauge this, since RT does not release fan vote numbers. But even so, as a rounded figure meant to generalize whether or not a film is good – and let’s face it, that’s what RT is really all about – homogeneous reviews for the short attention span – it’s a pretty interesting indicator.
There was one other recent film not on the list above that shocked the hell out of me, because it produced something I have never seen before in my more than a decade of writing about film and hosting Subject:CINEMA – an EXACT MATCH between its two scores. The critics and film-goers alike have fallen in love with the darkly comic horror pseudo-biopic “My Friend Dahmer” – as of when I’m writing this, both groups gave it a score of 80. Go figure.
So what am I trying to say here with all of this drivel above? I’m trying to say that it’s fine to check out the critics, but if you want a little insight on what people like YOU are thinking, you should leave the Tomatometer™ behind, and go for the Audience Score. After all, it’s scoring YOU, the audience. These are other people like you. They’re average film-goers. And really, with your patronage and your dollars, YOU are the ultimate decider of what movies will be popular, and what ones will drift slowly away like sands in an hourglass…not the critics.
Also published on Medium.