What Does a High Percentage on Rotten Tomatoes Mean?

by Andy Walton

The Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer system offers a standardized way for moviegoers to examine film reviews. By looking at multiple reviews of the same movie and producing a score based on the percentage of favorable reviews that movie received, Rotten Tomatoes helps users to directly compare films based on their critical reception. However, the system is often controversial, as reviewing a movie is a highly subjective pastime.

Tomatometer

Broadly speaking, the higher a movie's percentage on the Tomatometer, the better-received that movie has been by critics. Rotten Tomatoes has a network of publishers and critics that it draws on to produce the Tomatometer percentage scores. To be eligible to contribute to the Tomatometer, a critic must write for a Rotten Tomatoes-approved outlet, such as a national U.S. newspaper or website with over 500,000 monthly visitors. Reviews from eligible critics are collated for each movie, and a percentage of favorable reviews is calculated.

Audience Percentage

In addition to a movie's Tomatometer percentage, Rotten Tomatoes calculates an audience approval percentage based on feedback from its users. This percentage works in the same way as the Tomatometer score, but is based on data from the general public rather than selected critics. In general, movies tend to gain more user reviews than critic reviews, as there are many more users of the Rotten Tomatoes site than Tomatometer-approved movie critics.

Criticism

The line between a positive and negative review may be somewhat blurred, a fact which can skew the Rotten Tomatoes percentages. Unless a reviewer specifically states that they enjoyed a film, or gives it a numerical score, the decision on whether a review is positive or negative is open to interpretation. There is no way for a review to be recorded as “neutral” on Rotten Tomatoes. In addition, critics have been attacked on the site for posting negative reviews, which could compromise the neutrality of future reviews.

Advantages

Looking at an aggregated review score rather than a specific review helps users to see what the whole critical or user community has though of a movie, rather than just one reviewer. Individual reviews could potentially have hidden agendas or include bias. Aggregator sites such as Rotten Tomatoes attempt to bypass this on two fronts: by ensuring that the reviews examined are written by reputable sources, and by combining multiple reviews to form a consensus view.

About the Author

Andy Walton has been a technology writer since 2009, specializing in networking and mobile communications. He was previously an IT technician and product manager. Walton is based in Leicester, England, and holds a bachelor's degree in information systems from the University of Leeds.

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