Rotten Tomatoes allowed some stinky score manipulation

Rotten Tomatoes manipulates Hollywood

Together with

The Future. An investigation by Vulture writer Lane Brown found one film publicity company was regularly trying to manipulate scores on Rotten Tomatoes in favor of the movies it was promoting. While that may seem like small tomatoes, it shows how powerful (and maybe destructive) a force the review aggregation site can be to audiences. As has already begun, expect studio greenlight committees to routinely hire data firms to predict what scores a potential movie or show could receive before putting in any financing.

Fresh fakery
Rotten Tomatoes may have a certified problem.

  • Brown found film publicity company Bunker 15 routinely paid critics verified by Rotten Tomatoes to write favorable reviews or bury bad ones.
  • The goal was to boost scores for movies it worked for, such as 2018’s Daisy Ridley-starring Ophelia, which had mostly negative reviews out of Sundance but still wound up “fresh,” helping the movie score US distribution.
  • Bunker 15 founder Daniel Harlow refutes those allegations, saying “a small handful [of critics] have set up a specific system where filmmakers can sponsor or pay to have them review a film” (as close a confession as you’ll get).
  • Rotten Tomatoes has since removed several movies associated with the company from its site and sent a warning to critics.

As the influence of individual critics has faded, Rotten Tomatoes has become the go-to arbiter for the common moviegoer — a simplistic score that aggregates reviews from 3,500 critics, who run the gamut from professional critics to bloggers with a few dozen followers… and all carry the same weight.

While studies can’t reach a consensus on whether RT scores make or break a movie (USC says no; The Ringer says yes), a third of US adults do at least check the site before going to the theaters. That’s definitely enough incentive for studios and production companies to put their thumbs on the scale, like pooling together favorable critics for an early look at a franchise movie in an effort to debut the RT score at a high number and juice ticket pre-sales.

None of this is illegal, of course… but it’s good to wipe the tomato from our eyes and see things for how they really are.

David Vendrell

Born and raised a stone’s-throw away from the Everglades, David left the Florida swamp for the California desert. Over-caffeinated, he stares at his computer too long either writing the TFP newsletter or screenplays. He is repped by Anonymous Content.


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