Criticism of the Rotten Tomatoes movie review aggregator site reached a flashpoint this week over its Rotten score for “Suicide Squad.”
Someone going by “Abdullah Coldwater,” who listed his location as Alexandria, Egypt, attempted to get the site shut down with a Change.org petition.
“We need this site to be shut down because It’s [ sic ] Critics always give The DC Extended Universe movies unjust Bad Reviews,” Coldwater opined. “... and that Affects people’s opinion even if it’s a really great movies [ sic ].”
After some good-natured internet ribbing, the petition was eventually withdrawn, and Variety reported that Coldwater revised his comments about Rotten Tomatoes to “A petition definitely won’t shut down the site. The aim of the petition is to deliver a message to the critics that there is [ sic ] a lot of people disagree with their reviews.”
But can Rotten Tomatoes — which aggregates hundreds of reviews to provide users an overall rating, which it calls its TomatoMeter score — be blamed for a rating derived by averaging scores?
For the most part, no. However, there’s a however.
I gave “Suicide Squad” a rating of 2.5 stars (out of four). I liked a lot of the movie, but it bogged down midway through. I also thought it was an improvement over “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman.”
Rotten Tomatoes interpreted my assessment as “Rotten.”
However, a few weeks ago I also gave “The Legend of Tarzan” 2.5 stars, and Rotten Tomatoes interpreted that as “Fresh.”
Now, I’ll admit: A 2.5-star rating is a bit of a cop-out. I consider it better than average, but it also could be interpreted as being noncommittal.
But I also gave both “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Thor: The Dark World” 2.5 stars, and RT interpreted both of them as Fresh.
Some — perhaps most — critics post their own reviews to the site, and even those who don’t post their own review have the ability to go in and change Fresh to Rotten. But not everyone does so.
Additionally, a 2014 article on MTV.com titled “Sorry, But You’re Probably Reading Rotten Tomatoes Wrong” says “In cases where it’s more difficult to tell, the Rotten Tomatoes staff reaches out to critics for clarification.” Maybe RT has followed that procedure with everyone else, but no one has ever reached out to me for clarification.
There could be a simple fix to eliminate any question of inconsistency.
Rotten Tomatoes’ explanation for its overall TomatoMeter rating is “In order for a movie or TV show to receive an overall rating of Fresh, the reading on the TomatoMeter for that movie must be at least 60 percent.”
Expressed as a percentage, 2.5 stars on a 4-star scale is 62.5 percent, and 2.5 on a 5-star scale is 50 percent.
Therefore, using RT’s own measuring stick for its TomatoMeter rating to rate individual reviews, a 2.5-star rating on a 4-star scale — at 62.5 percent — should give the film’s review a Fresh rating.
Of the 28 2.5-star reviews for DC’s “Man of Steel,” 15 are on a 4-star scale and 13 are on a 5-star scale. Rotten Tomatoes — either via critics or its own staff — has only five listed as Fresh and 23 listed as Rotten.
At the same time, once those scores are aggregated, the changes in the TomatoMeter would not be that significant. “Man of Steel” would go from an overall 55 rating to a 59, still not enough to qualify as Fresh.
It is interesting, however, that about 80 percent of the time on recent supermovies, a 2.5 rating (regardless of scale) is Rotten on DC’s movies, while it’s Fresh about 50 percent of the time for Marvel.
Now before DC fans say, “A-ha! We knew Rotten Tomatoes and the critics were biased against DC movies!,” it’s important to note that Marvel’s “Ant-Man” has the same issue as “Man of Steel.” Twelve of its 2.5-star reviews should be Fresh, but only nine currently get that rating. And “Captain America: Civil War” has six of its seven 2.5 ratings as Rotten. (Additionally, Warner Bros. has ownership stakes in DC Entertainment and Fandango, which owns Rotten Tomatoes, so, come on.)
By nature, comic book fans are a superstitious lot. We can easily imagine a parallel universe where one or two critics are swayed by the opinions of others.
The numbers imply no conspiracy. They’re only curious. And perhaps cause for critics to evaluate the repercussions of a meh review and a mid-range ranking.
But if the intent is to reduce the art of criticism down to simple mathematics, it’s understandable why some fans think something isn’t adding up.