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Is Rotten Tomatoes Fresh or Rotten for Film Culture?

Is Rotten Tomatoes Fresh or Rotten for Film Culture?

Cinephiles’ distaste for Rotten Tomatoes is nothing new. Few of us like the fact that critical judgment–something that is multifarious, sometimes conflicting and never 100% clear cut–could be reduced to a simple number. But when I wrote this indieWIRE piece (to call it an “expose” would be grandiose), “Fresh or Rotten Tomatoes for Film Culture“, I wasn’t out to strictly address this tired criticism, but to look at where the site’s backers are coming from and what the industry thinks of it. What I found surprised me on a number of levels, and I wanted to tease out some of the major ‘take-aways’ for those who need a crib sheet:

A. The Tomatometer itself is fallacious because:
1.) the site’s younger, web-based reviewers can favorably skew ratings for films that appeal to an online or fanboy sensibility. For example, Zach Snyder’s “Watchmen” lists on the site with a 64% rating. However, according to the less-visible “Top Critics” tab, which isolates reviews from prominent critics, the rating goes from fresh to a 44% rotten.
2.) “We’ve got a bunch of people on the Tomatometer from a lot of the film sites like IGN and Bloody Disgusting, who are relatively younger, whereas the Top Critics pool is more experienced and probably more mature,” says RT editor-in-chief Matt Atchity. “So with something like ‘Watchmen’ or ‘Dark Knight,’ sometimes you’re going to see a generational difference.”
3.) Matt Atchity also says not all of the site’s reviewers are up to the highest standards. “I will admit there’s a lot of people who got on in the early days who might not necessarily make the cut now,” he says. However, there are no plans to cut any existing members.

B. Rotten Tomatoes should do a better job of raising the profile of better-reviewed films:
– While the site does collect the year’s best-reviewed movies (currently, the top titles are micro-release documentaries “Waste Land,” “Marwencol” and “GasLand,” followed by “Toy Story 3”), the list is three clicks away from the main page and nearly impossible to find. “It’s buried now,” admits Atchity.

C. In contrast to disgruntled mainstream critics, Indie Distributors like RT:
– As IFC Films’ Ryan Werner told me, “I think anything that draws attention to critics and reviews is not a bad thing.”

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