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Rotten Tomatoes vs. Metacritic

by Anne Thompson
August 24, 2009 8:59 AM
21 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood

The online movie critics aggregators Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes each have their strong and weak points, supporters and detractors. I like smaller site Metacritic's lean and elegant interface and respect their brainy selection of 40 or so established film critics, whose taste and erudition I trust more than Rotten Tomatoes' less discriminating list of hundreds of critics. That group gives a better sense, however, of how a movie will actually fare with the public. And the fresh/rotten stamp is delicious.

Rotten Tomatoes is a more crowded, noisy, content-filled eclectic site for movie fans. RT is more likely to post a few critics early without waiting for the official review date. And their Cream of the Crop list is equivalent, really, to the Metacritic list. While some folks decry the debasement of film literature brought by Rotten Tomatoes (hello Don Murphy), I argue that exposing large numbers of film fans--who do use these sites to make their decisions about what to see--to more film critics is a good thing. (I try to link to both sites.)

OK. You tell me. Which do you prefer and why? And if you don't use them, who do you read to inform your movie choices?

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More: Reviews

21 Comments

  • Sreekiran | July 28, 2013 10:52 AMReply

    Yes I always first see the top critics. Big Blockbusters take nearly 50 critics, whereas other movies are reviewed at an average of 40 critics. There is a big exception for horror films, where metacritic does not show interest, because it has just about 25 reviews to the maximum. So I depend on rotten tomatoes for that. Hence Metacritic must improve in that..

  • Indie Publicist | August 28, 2009 7:36 AMReply

    Responding to Mitch Cumstein. You misread my post. I do not hound Rotten Tomatoes to up its scores. Rotten Toms and Metacritic rate reviews; neither is a critics site. If one or both sites post a negative rating for a positive review, it's my job on behalf of the filmmaker and distributor to challenge it.

  • Mitch Cumstein | August 27, 2009 10:21 AMReply

    Indie Publicist should stop hounding the critics to get her Rotten Tomatoes scores to go up. This happens in other industries, and people like you are trying to ruin things for the film public. Promote your films, but get out of the critic-manipulation biz.

  • Gary Weiland | August 27, 2009 5:13 AMReply

    I haven't been to the mettacritic site yet but RT's site became too painful to look at. Once a good concept, Rotten Tomatoes turn me off with too much info and pages taking forever to load, and ADS everywhere. Goodbye!

  • Jive Ass MoFo | August 26, 2009 12:09 PMReply

    Metacritic's search returns no hits for "Black Dynamite" and therefore the site SUCKS BY DEFINITION!!!!

  • Righteous Mocha Motha | March 9, 2012 9:31 PM

    Right on brother!

  • J. Sperling Reich | August 26, 2009 10:48 AMReply

    I use both Metacritic and RottenTomatoes when I'm looking for a broad consensus on what movie critics thought of a film. But over time there are a number of critics whose writing I like and whose opinions I trust so I seek them out individually. . . sometimes through one of these sites.

    So, in some way I'm "old school" about it by building a level of trust with a critic over time based on their reviews, rather than simply making any judgment on a film based on an aggregate of critics whose opinions I may or may not agree with.

    - J. Sperling Reich
    www.showbizsandbox.com

  • Houston | August 25, 2009 8:18 AMReply

    Indie Publicist is right. Metacritic's number attributed to films often do not reflect the critics actual opinion of the film. I have seen raves with 70 attributed and so so reviews with 90 attributed. Having critics go back to metacritic and challenge is not practical.

  • Manuel10589 | August 25, 2009 7:54 AMReply

    Never checked out Metacritic before. Like RT could be quite helpful in deciding between two movies but I don't watch that much movies anymore anyway (I used to work as a script reader, much more then). Nowadays I choose more carefully and the critics that help me decide what to see or motivate me to see something are Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott. Besides the often brilliant writing they have the knowledge, the aesthetic instinct, and, especially in the case of Ms. Dargis, a firm moral standpoint. (See her review of Inglorious Basterds.)

  • Indie Publicist | August 25, 2009 3:13 AMReply

    Following on zxcvb's comment regarding Metacritic not listing indie film releases, on at least two occasions I've had to remind MC to post film openings. That said, I regretted it soon after reading its inaccurate ratings.

    Agreed, the MC site should expand its critics' list given a huge percentage of the indie film audience reads reviews before plonking down hard earned $$$s at the local cinema.

  • Rogers | August 25, 2009 3:04 AMReply

    I use Metacritic and I read Roger Ebert, Garth Franklin, AO Scott and Kris Tapley.

  • Brian | August 25, 2009 3:02 AMReply

    I'm old school. I've never checked out either site. I read the critics in the New York Times, the New York Post, the Village Voice (esp. Hoberman), Entertainment Weekly, and, of course, the indispensable Armond White in New York Press. (All print editions, I should stress.) The Times, Post and EW critics often wildly praise films I don't like (UP!) and they often dismiss films I absolutely love (PUNISHER: WAR ZONE, hello?), but they tend to be intelligent writers with a love of film and essential understanding of its history. And I can often read between the lines of negative reviews to see if it's something I'll like anyway. If I'm really intrigued by the description they give of a film they're panning, then it's often something I know I should see (CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE). I can read between the same lines on a positive review and see if it's something I'll find excruciating to sit through. Sometimes I'm wrong there. The Times' rave review of DUPLICITY gave me no clue as to how bad it would be.

  • jl | August 25, 2009 2:41 AMReply

    I like the design of MC by far, but the "fresh"/"rotten" categorization of RT is brilliant. I haven't looked at it in detail recently, but in the past, I noticed that RT sometimes did not correctly categorize a review. A review that was neutral but positive would be given a rotten rating, etc., so that made me a bit suspicious that the tomatometer was cute, but potentially flawed if the data was "off"

  • Indie Publicist | August 25, 2009 2:15 AMReply

    I use both RT and Metacritic on a regular basis and from personal experience I believe MC's rating system could quite possibly damage an indie film release. I'm forever chasing down MC for underrating reviews. While RT will accept challenges from a disgruntled publicist and takes the time to ask three members of its staff to review its challenged rating, MC will not which means I must ask the critic to write and challenge a rating. Some critics will challenge but others can't citing lack of time or won't because they don't agree with the system.
    My MC challenge today was a 60 rating for a positive review from a major newspaper. The critic kindly wrote a note challenging the rating and it was upped to 80.
    I have repeatedly asked MC if it actually reads reviews from beginning to end rather than letting a computer look for buzz words but I have yet to receive an answer.
    I actually was planning on Twittering about this today but Anne beat me to it.

  • Russ Fischer | August 25, 2009 2:04 AMReply

    For personal use, it's always the more curated Metacritic. Generally, critics that aren't listed there whose stuff I like to read tend to be people I read/follow on Twitter/email on a regular basis, so I don't need to find their stuff via an aggregator.

    But if I'm writing/researching something and I need that sort of data, I use RT. As you say, the larger sample size means it is probably a bit more accurate reflection of majority opinion.

  • Ryan Sartor | August 25, 2009 1:03 AMReply

    I literally just use Rotten Tomatoes because I love their Top 5 Movies column and the whole site's just colorful.

    I always read Ebert and Manohla Dargis, and like to know what you think of films, Anne.

  • ThePlaylist | August 24, 2009 12:32 PMReply

    i sadly use RT each week. Why sadly?I don't think it's as good as Metacritic? So why do i use it? Easier to navigate and use. Maybe this should force me to rethink my position. Meta-critic IS more discerning.

  • Bob Westal | August 24, 2009 11:37 AMReply

    I already made this case in another comment, but I will add that the beauty of RT is that while it includes numerous less-than-genius critics is sheer numbers, both the washed and unwashed. Moreover, I think it's a HUGE falllacy that famed writers for mainstream pubs are more accurate, know more or less about about a movie's quality than lesser known writers and I'm fully suspicious of any system which attempts to weight them -- that's entirely a judgement call and how do you weight a Roger Ebert, who likes an awful lot of movies but has something interesting to say, versus the infamous Armond White? I don't think there's any mathmatical way to do that? All the Metacritic numbers seem to do is some of numb-out the differences with a lower high-end and a higher low-end. It's also unfair to smaller movies that get fewer reviews. Also, what about the New Yorker's Anthony Lane who, despite working for a great publication, knows less about movies that the most juvenile AICN fanboy?

    Also, RT does include a 1-10 average as well, so you can distinguish between the sort of half-hearted reviews and the full on praise or condemnation. Personally, I prefer it's more honest "let the chips fall where they may approach" -- though I will add I don't always agree with their determination of "fresh" or "rotten" on individual reviews, but that's often frequently a matter of opinion in itself on more nuanced reviews.

  • zxcvb | August 24, 2009 10:41 AMReply

    Metacritic because it differentiates between a rave and an "eh, enjoyable for what it is" thumbs up. I mostly look to certain critics I trust than the whole sweep of things. Peter Travers, Kyle Smith, The Hollywood Reporter or Film Threat don't mean squat to me. I will think twice if J Hoberman, Manohla Dargis, Andrew O'Hehir, or Robert Koehler love/hate it.

    But two things that bother me about Metacritic are:

    1) They don't list reviews for every eligible film. I've seen indie films that meet their minimum criteria...but aren't listed for some mysterious reason. Is it payola or what?

    2) They need to include more serious online film writers, even/especially those who don't cover most mainstream fare. No Karina Longworth? No Reverse Shot writers?

  • Joe Valdez | August 24, 2009 10:32 AMReply

    Metacritic/ Facebook : Rotten Tomatoes/ MySpace.

    I would argue that in addition to being ugly and dumb, Rotten Tomatoes may not be as great a barometer for how a movie is playing as you suggest. I think it does a good job reporting how a movie is playing with a particular audience: male geeks 25-45. Whether this means it's any good or is going to be a box office hit are open to debate.

  • Alan Green | August 24, 2009 10:02 AMReply

    i don't read either cause i have zero time (i stopped time to post this)

    i watch the trailer. it (almost) always tells me what i need to know and i'm (almost) always correct in my assessment

    the only time the critics sway me is when the consensus is that the movie is good (when i had thought it would be bad based on the trailer). this almost never happens, though. (when the trailer looks bad the movie is almost always bad).

    the obverse, when the trailer looks pretty cool but the movie isn't that good, happens now and then. in those cases i'm glad for the critics -- but i still don't read the aggregators, i just pick it up in the online clutter

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