Technobabble: Rotten Tomatoes

With all this talk about RottenTomatoes I thought it would be fitting to showcase this excellent article by Sicari. -DBMI

Welcome to the first installment of Technobabble… where I will try to bring my infinite knowledge to all you ignorant plebs in an effort to enrich your otherwise drab and mundane lives. No doubt you will bask in my magnificence and look upon me as your savior.

Too much? OK. Well, the idea here is to sort of explore the mechanics behind certain things in movies or movie-adjacent things. I don’t really want to go to far into the concept right now as it it still kind of evolving in my brain.

Today we’re going to take a look at Rotten Tomatoes. I’m sure many of you, like myself, use this site often…but, the question is, are you using it “right”?

First off…What is Rotten Tomatoes? Well, Wikipedia says “Rotten Tomatoes is an American review aggregator website for film and television.” What they do is collect reviews from places they have “certified” regarding movies and mash those reviews together and give a rating in a percentage. I’m sure most of us are familiar enough with how it looks:

Now, there’s basically three ranks on the Tomatometer. Rotten, Fresh, and Certified Fresh. We’ll look into each of those in just a second. For now, let’s focus on that percentage and what it actually means. A lot of people believe that the percentage is the average score of all the reviews they mashed together….but it isn’t. The average rating is actually shown right under the percentage. What the percentage is actually telling you is the percentage of reviews that were positive. So, if they collected 100 reviews for a movie and 70 of them were positive…the movie would receive a rating of 70%.

What constitutes a positive review?

Now, you might think a positive review would be anything over 5 out of 10. That’s not the case here. At Rotten tomatoes a positive review gives a score of 6 or more out of 10.

What about those ranks? What do they mean?

Rotten: A Rotten rating is a movie that had more negative reviews than positive reviews. So, again using 100 reviews….if only 30 of those reviews were positive…the movie would receive a “Rotten” rating.

Fresh: A Fresh Rating is a movie that had more positive reviews than negative reviews. So, to use the earlier example…a movie with 70 positive reviews out of 100 would be “Fresh”

Certified Fresh: Similar to Fresh…Certified Fresh is when the movie has more positive than negative reviews…but there are 2 factors that must also be present for a movie to be certified fresh:

1) The movie must have a 75% rating on the Tomatometer
2) If the movie is in wide release…it must have at least 80 certified reviews. If the movie only has a limited release…that number is dropped to 40.

A movie can keep it’s “Certified Fresh” status as long as it doesn’t drop below 70%.

How this rating can be misleading

The trouble with the Tomatometer is that, essentially, it is a binary system. Either a movie is “Fresh” (maybe even Certified Fresh) or it is “Rotten”. That means a review of 6/10 holds the same value as a review with 10/10…there’s really no distinction between the critics that absolutely loved the movie and the ones that simply thought it was ok. Same goes for Reviews under 6… in the RT formula…reviews that completely panned the movie are equal to reviews that just thought it needed a bit of work. So you might look at a movie with a 25% rating and, if you didnt know how the percentage worked, you might say “Oh that movie must be complete shit!” but the average review might only be 4.9/10…which, while still not a good rating by any means, is probably still generally watchable to most people.

So, how should I use Rotten Tomatoes?

Well, that’s still up to you. For some people, that percentage might be all they need to know. It does tell a general story about whether or not critics liked the movie. If that works for you…then by all means…use it like that. It’s totally valid to use the site in that capacity. Just keep in mind that it is a very generalized rating.

There’s also of course audience reviews on RT as well…which is similar to the tomatometer in that it is just a percentage of favourable reviews from just the general public. For whatever reason, instead of using the 1-10 scale the tomatometer uses..the audience score is on a 1-5 scale and a positive review is 3.5 and up. It’s good to use in comparison to the Tomatometer score though.

Anyway, that’s it for now. I hope at least some of you find the read interesting. If you think I missed something, have questions, or just believe I’m totally wrong then keep it to your damn self.


Please, let me know down below. Same goes if you have any ideas for what Technobabble can look into next…or even if you think it’s a dumb concept and I should feel great shame for wasting your time by posting it.

The next installment of Technobabble will focus on The Box Office, both domestic and foreign. If anyone has ideas for future installments…let me know in the comments section. I’ve got some things planned for the future but I’m always interested in what you guys think.