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The Rotten Tomatoes experiment

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APRIL 07, 2016

With “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” receiving an abysmal 29 percent on Rotten Tomatoes after such high expectations and anticipation, the discussion of how Rotten Tomatoes reviews represent a movie saw a massive upswing in the past few weeks. But oftentimes, this percentage takes on a skewed image.

To clear the main misconception, the percentage is not representative of the average score, but rather it’s simply representative of how many critics liked it. I’m sure many of you know that there is an average score placed below the percentage on the website, but some see a percentage such as 29 percent and absorb the idea that the film is about a 3/10 — the truth for “Batman v Superman” is that it has an average score of 5/10, which is still pretty bad, but isn’t as terrible as a 3/10.

Oftentimes, the correlation between the percentage and the score isn’t consistent. A movie can receive a 90 percent with an average score of 7/10 because it was generally liked across the board while a movie can receive a 90 percent with an average score of an 8.5/10 because it was generally loved across the board. What gets each film to 90 percent is that fact that it was positively received across the board.

Rotten Tomatoes has caused us to become more harshly critical of movies. A percentage such as a 75 percent might seem like just a decent score, but if you and three friends were to go out to a movie with three of you enjoying it, that would be a very positive return.

This percentage takes on a strange life of its own, oftentimes being the deciding factor for whether a movie-goer spends the $10 or $15 on a ticket, which, in turn, could dictate whether a movie succeeds financially. While “Batman v Superman” will make a profit and succeed financially, this terrible Rotten Tomatoes percentage could cause it to bring in less than the Warner Bros. would’ve liked. This is already evident by its box office’s 69.1 percent revenue dropoff from its opening weekend to its second weekend, a massive drop worse than that of the horrendous “Fantastic Four” (which received a 9 percent) and indicative of wide disinterest. Such dropoffs could have a rippling effect on how the Warner Bros. handles the DC superhero universe — likely with more hesitance and hopefully with a removal of Zack Snyder.

And while I could ramble about occurrences and effects and skews for a while, what I’m here to do is a little experiment. Rotten Tomatoes is based on a simple concept of recording and quantifying the non-simple concept of subjective preference. But there are some ways in which the non-simple concept is measured. Similar to its determinant of 60 percent for if a movie qualifies as a “fresh” movie, Rotten Tomatoes, and many critics, use a score of 3/5 as the line for a “fresh” review. When it comes to grading instead of scoring, it would also make sense to use a C- as the line.

But I’ve also seen many critics give “rotten” reviews with what would seem to be positive scores, which skews the percentage downward. So my question is what if any review that gave a score or grade at or above those lines were counted as a “fresh” review? Would that change the Rotten Tomatoes percentage of a film? I’ll take a look at both of Snyder’s DC superhero movies as well as some other hotly-debated films from the past few years.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)


  • Current Rotten Tomatoes score: 29 percent
    • Breakdown
      • 89 Fresh
      • 218 Rotten
  • Adjusted Rotten Tomatoes score: 40 percent
    • Breakdown
      • 124 Fresh
      • 183 Rotten

Man of Steel  (2013)

HENRY CAVILL as Superman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “MAN OF STEEL,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

  • Current Rotten Tomatoes score: 56 percent
    • Breakdown
      • 162 Fresh
      • 129 Rotten
  • Adjusted Rotten Tomatoes score: 70 percent
    • Breakdown
      • 205 Fresh
      • 86 Rotten

The Revenant (2015)


  • Current Rotten Tomatoes score: 82 percent
    • Breakdown
      • 245 Fresh
      • 52 Rotten
  • Adjusted Rotten Tomatoes score: 87 percent
    • Breakdown
      • 257 Fresh
      • 40 Rotten

Interstellar (2014)


  • Current Rotten Tomatoes score: 71 percent
    • Breakdown
      • 212 Fresh
      • 85 Rotten
  • Adjusted Rotten Tomatoes score: 81 percent
    • Breakdown
      • 240 Fresh
      • 57 Rotten


The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, from Paramount Pictures and Red Granite Pictures.

  • Current Rotten Tomatoes score: 77 percent
    • Breakdown
      • 191 Fresh
      • 57 Rotten
  • Adjusted Rotten Tomatoes score: 87 percent
    • Breakdown
      • 208 Fresh
      • 40 Rotten

I’m not here to say that “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is a good movie and that Rotten Tomatoes is wrong — it’s not, and it isn’t. But it’s important to note that Rotten Tomatoes causes a definite negative skew, sometimes large and sometimes small, on many movies. Unfortunately, the kind of perception that Rotten Tomatoes aims for has caused us to become more critical, despite that perception not necessarily aligning with the kind of perception that a general moviegoer intends to have.

Rotten Tomatoes is a community of critics who analyze movies for a living. Most of us just want to be entertained and don’t particularly care if a movie has the best dialogue or the best direction. So, if you want to see a movie but it has a “rotten” percentage, go see it anyway! If you like a movie that everyone else hates, ignore everyone else. The only opinion that matters is yours.

Contact Kyle Kizu at[email protected].

APRIL 06, 2016