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So That's How Rotten Tomatoes Works

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by Matt Singer
March 7, 2012 9:00 AM
7 Comments
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In an article on Movies.com, Rotten Tomatoes editor-in-chief Matt Atchity responds to complaints leveled by indie filmmakers about the site in a previous Movies.com piece by Christopher Campbell.  All of Atchity's comments are interesting if you're curious about how a site like Rotten Tomatoes works, but for the purposes of a blog about film criticism, it's the info about how reviews are selected and included on the site -- and therefore averaged into a film's all-important Tomatometer score -- that's most pertinent. 

As Atichity explains there are two ways to get onto Rotten Tomatoes and into the Tomatometer -- to write something for an approved website (like, say, Time Out New York) or to write enough for approved websites that you become an approved critic.  As a writer, I've been on both sides of this.  Way back when I was an intern for The Village Voice in the mid-2000s, my occasional capsule reviews would get published on Rotten Tomatoes. I didn't have to submit them to the site either; RT automatically added every film review published in The Voice to the Tomatometer.  But once I left The Voice, I didn't have enough juice on my own to get my reviews on the site, and my Rotten Tomatoes page lay dormant for a long time.  Eventually, after a few years of writing for IFC and assorted other sites, I got approved as a critic.  Now I can log in to Rotten Tomatoes and upload my reviews as I write them.

Campbell links to a "Tomatometer Criteria" page that features even more info on just how they make the widgets. For example, online-only outlets looking to join Rotten Tomatoes' network "must achieve and maintain a minimum 500,000 unique monthly visitors."  Perhaps even more problematic is this requirement:

"Publications must also show a consistent standard of professionalism, writing quality, and editorial integrity across all reviews and articles."

Ouch, that's tough.  Looks like my blog of reviews written as dirty limericks ain't getting added anytime soon (the man from Nantucket is going to be so bummed, too).

Why am I sharing all this ever-so-dry information?  Because this is the stuff we don't think about when we haphazardly throw out a movie's "Rotten Tomatoes score" like it's the gospel truth.  I think Rotten Tomatoes is a great site and a very useful resource (especially if you're writing a blog about film criticism), but it is important to remember a Tomatometer rating is not necessarily the whole story about the critical consensus surrounding a film. If you started another Tomatometer comprised entirely of outlets that aren't approved by Rotten Tomatoes -- you'd have to call it the Tomatometer, but pronounce it "Toe-MAH-Toe Meter" -- the resultant scores could be very different than the one that gets attached to movies.  The outlets you include make a huge difference.  If you poll horror sites, for example, that might affect the scores of horror movies (whether more positively or negatively, I'm honestly not sure).  So keep this in mind when you're calling movies fresh or rotten.  Always be mindful of just who is hurling those tomatoes.

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7 Comments

  • Evan G | February 24, 2013 4:58 PMReply

    How do I become a Super Reviewer?

  • J.M. Cozzoli | March 19, 2012 4:02 PMReply

    I give as much weight to the RT ratings total score as I do the IMDb ratings total score, which is somewhat lighter than a feather. Where horror movies are concerned, especially, I prefer reading horror bloggers.

  • Christopher | March 15, 2012 7:35 AMReply

    The Tomatometer is best thought of as a starting point on the journey of movie awareness.

  • jepressman | March 12, 2012 5:22 PMReply

    Rotten tomatoes is problematic and hardly a reliable source for the worth of a film. I've seen films praised by critics which are, for me real duds.Why? Well the reviewer hates the idea eg; that Tim Burton and Depp have made Alice in Wonderland according to their standards,which is the main reason a world wide audience sees the movie.The movie must be punished and so it gets a low score.There is a pile-on of critics against the film and soon enough the movie's reputation is tarnished. This Alice was mugged by the critics and while the film wasn't perfect it wasn't a disaster. What is the motivation behind such behavior?

  • jay | January 18, 2014 6:26 PM

    @Jepressman

    sexism is one reason. Films that have women as the main protagonist and/or if the film happens to be in the romantic comedy genre automatically get rotten reviews. that's why I detest that website.

  • Katy | March 7, 2012 11:36 AMReply

    I submit my reviews to RT and am now considered a Super Reviewer under the audience section. Not sure how that happened but many of my reviews stay on the front page even months after I submitted them. I have tried to become one of the critics on RT, mainly because my view on movies I feel are different than most critics. Also, the average score on RT holds little value to me in selecting a movie.

    First, I am a movie fan and don't always compare movies to other movies especially great ones just because one failed to be perfect. Second, I am not a fan of previews, they can be worse than some critics' critiques in telling too much. Last, my goal with many of my reviews is to entice audience members to see a movie especially the independents ones that may not have the big studio money back it. There are so many I see that I never heard of but stumbled upon: The Perfect Host, Certified Copy, Snow Flower and the Secret fan, Martha Marcy Mae Marlene, Love, Forget Me Not (not the horror), and I have had a few screeners sent to me by first time directors. Some of these films were outstanding but hardly anyone saw them. I hope my reviews have encouraged others to see them.
    Anyway, I write for my own blog called Tired of Previews and I am now the movie reviewer for Expats Post; and someday I hope to be officially on RT and other sources so I can entice more people to go to the movies :-)

  • Chandler | March 28, 2012 3:35 PM

    @Katy

    Hi Katy. I agree with you that there are a good many films that are either underexposed or inappropriately critiqued relative to their cinematic merit, but it confounds me that you would aspire to be a recognized critic on RT and at the same time disparage the utility of the site. Yes, there are times I find myself disagreeing with a film's T-meter score, but those instances are exceptions rather than the norm. Furthermore, I think it would be a futile exercise to even attempt to qualify a film without consideration of the exemplary works of its respective genre. Even if you could succeed in such an endeavor (which you can't), your critique would be of no value. Who would care to read a critic's examination of a cubist painting if said critic had no knowledge (or, even worse, pretended to have no knowledge) of Picasso or Braque? No one with discerning taste.

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