Uploaded to MoviePilot on the 14th September, 2017
So, this one I actually am going to upload something different than the rest of them. Everything else I’ve copied from my Creators/MoviePilot account I did minor edit’s to fix typos I noticed but here I’m gonna upload the original version of my Rotten Tomatoes piece because when I uploaded it, the piece got edited down to 2000 words and I feel like a lot of the punch was removed from the piece in that form. I did the edits there because I understood it was their site and their standards had to be abided by… it’s my site now, the only standards that matter here are my own so here’s my original version. It might have fewer pictures than it probably should because I can’t find all the ones I used originally, but the text is what matters. Warning, this one’s long, go get a drink.
“I think it’s the destruction of our business”
That quote comes from a September 7 article in the New York Times by director Brett Ratner (The quote… not the article, the article was by Brooks Barnes). The thing that Brett claimed to be destroying the business of film? Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregate website. The claim is that because Rotten Tomatoes lacks nuance and just throws scores together by ‘reviewers’ that therefore it’s not a good system and is the cause of films like Baywatch or King Arthur under-performing. Of course, in order to accept this theory, you would have to pretend that this was the first time that Hollywood has tried this. It’s not, they do this quite a lot. This time, they’ve picked Rotten Tomatoes as the scapegoat.
It’s the latest round in their gigantic game of “Boy who cried wolf” and much like that boy, when the wolf does come to eat them, no one’s going to care. That’s what we’re here to talk about, debunking the idea that Rotten Tomatoes is going to be the destruction of the movie business. I also am going to show you, in as much detail as I can, the other times that the industry pulled this exact same stunt and how those claims went… spoilers, they didn’t go well.
Attack Of The Rotten Tomatoes
Surprisingly, Rotten Tomatoes is not actually that open a website. As much as I wish I could actually be a part of the Rotten Tomatoes family, I’m not an official reviewer on the site because I can’t become one. I doubt I ever can because they have some pretty specific hoops one has to jump through in order to become an official Rotten Tomatoes reviewer. For example, in the Online medium, a critic has to publish 100 reviews over two years at a Tomatometer approved publication with an average of 300 words per review. I checked, WordPress isn’t one of those so this little blog where I review movies I saw can’t be covered, but specific papers and sites can. Sometimes it’s just specific people from certain sites. For example, Moviepilot (which as of writing is considered a Legacy Reviewer AKA one hasn’t been published in a year) only counts on Rotten Tomatoes when Fred Topel does it. Meaning the two reviews I did on that site (Those being War For The Planet Of The Apes and 31) do not count on the Tomatometer.
It’s OK, I didn’t want to be part of your super special reviewer club anyway
These standards are designed to lead to a varied number of people getting counted in the aggregate, meaning varied opinions can be put up on the site. This is done specifically for diversity, as mentioned in the article because most mainstream critics tend to be old white men and by casting a wider net they can include voices of women and people of colour. Sometimes you need to show the opinions of someone who isn’t mainstream. A good example of a non-mainstream opinion might be a negative review of Get Out which got pretty much universal acclaim with a 99% fresh rating based on 281 “Fresh” ratings and two “Rotten” ones. Those two rotten ones included Jeff Beck who gave it a 3/5 (Which, uh, is a good score. It’s not great, but that’s an average) and another man named Armond White from the National Review who blasted the movie as inept and race-baiting. He will be my example of ‘Non-mainstream opinion’ for this segment.
If anyone remembers back when this movie came out, Armond got mud slung at him from all directions because he broke Get Out‘s 100% rating with his review. I’m going to admit, I’m not a fan of Armond’s work. Not due to his conservatism but because he appears to basically be trolling with his reviews designed to piss off those who aren’t conservative. His Wonder Woman review opened with the tagline “Gal Gadot is a tomboy superheroine designed for our PC times”. He wants liberals to not like him… but he’s ticked all the Rotten Tomatoes boxes, he’s been reviewing for a while and while I do not agree with his conclusions there are some who think like him and they need a movie reviewer too. Rotten Tomatoes treats him like any other reviewer and his reviews affect the aggregate score. That’s the importance of the diversity of opinion that Rotten Tomatoes encourages, it allows his side to be given the exact same weight as the reviewer for the New York Times.
Hey Armond, this isn’t what a Tomboy looks like… this is a Princess, get it right [Credit: Warner Bros]
That’s what Rotten Tomatoes does, that’s ALL it does, it takes hundreds of reviews and condenses them to give people a general sense of if a movie is good or bad. For Hollywood to blame their less-than-spectacular year on a review aggregate is insane. It implies that they believe they would make more money if the audience, their paying customers, didn’t know ahead of time if the movie is good or bad. They want you to go in blind and go in to see the movies they paid big money to sell to you, no matter the quality. They want The Emoji Movie to be in the top 10 of highest earning films of the year, and not at #32 where it currently sits. And they want to blame the entire downfall of the movie industry on this one website because the industry is doing… bad? It would make sense but, I need to repeat this, it’s not the first time that they’ve tried this stunt.
Be Kind, Rewind
Remember the good old days when you could just go out and buy a VHS tape and record a TV show when it aired? Or when you could rent a copy of some cheesy Straight-to-Video movie to enjoy at a sleepover? I’m sure Walt Disney and Universal remember, because they literally sued Sony in order to stop that way back in ’79. The case was Sony Corp of America v. Universal City Studios and the intent was to prove that Sony’s Betamax was tantamount to copyright infringement. Sony ended up winning because the taping of shows was just time shifting and therefore not copyright infringement. The studios quickly began a new rallying cry that VHS was going to destroy the industry with all that copyright abuse that they claimed was going on.
Well, spoilers, that didn’t happen. In fact, the companies that sued Sony would go on to release straight to video movies themselves because it turns out that VHS was a booming market where movies could be made cheaply and sold to stores worldwide. This was probably the first case of something that the industry claimed was hurting it that ended up saving it, the 80’s were a bit of a low time for the movie market but the rise of the VHS saved it and allowed them to keep going when, let’s never forget this, they wanted it stopped. They wanted the consumer to be unable to purchase a VHS tape and record an episode of Cheers from the TV because they thought that was copyright infringement.
Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name [Credit: NBC]
Here’s how extreme the hatred of VCR’s was, from the mouth of Jack Valenti himself when he testified to Congress in 82, in another attempt to stop VHS tapes.
“I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.”
Yep, that’s the head of the MPAA (At the time) telling Congress that VHS tapes are the equivalent to a serial killer… because the movie industry is fickle and they should be able to make all the money in the world and it’s just not fair that consumers get to consume products how they choose, waah waaah waaaaaaah.
Sorry, that’s just my natural reaction to this kind of argument because it was pretty much proven with time that VHS tapes did nothing negative to the industry, the industry adapted and offered the service that the customers wanted, customers rewarded them with money and things got better… and then we got internet.
Yo Ho Ho Ho, A Pirates Life For Me
With the VHS tape no longer a good excuse for why Hollywood wasn’t making all the money in the world, they needed a new one and thanks to Napster, Limewire and Kazaa they got one. The music industry might have gotten the ball rolling in regards to screaming about the evils of piracy, but Hollywood is pretty spectacular at it too. Papers screaming that the internet is destroying the world as we know it, film directors calling people who download movies “Parasites”, news websites accuse the internet of destroying the market for films, music and newspapers.
Actual quote by Valenti… I’m assuming (Source: Delphi Films)
So, I have a fun little factoid to share with you that really puts this entire “Piracy is destroying cinema” thing into perspective. In 2011 the news site TorrentFreak published a list of the top 10 Most Pirated Movies Of All Time. The top movie on the list? Avatar. At 21 Million downloads (Back in 2011, so those numbers probably went up). Now if we run over to Box Office Mojo and look at the all-time box office returns for Worldwide Grosses we see, right up the top as the highest grossing film of all time, Avatar. Now maybe that might be a bit of a trick, maybe people downloaded the movie and saw it was in 3D then went to buy the ticket? Well go back to that TorrentFreak list and just take in the fact that every movie on it, with the exception of Kick Ass, made well over $100 million… they all, without exception, made their budgets back.
While we’re on Box Office Mojo, go to their yearly box office page and look at the top years on record… every single one is post 2000, the year of the legendary Napster case that really changed how copyright and the internet worked as a whole. Are there drops in totals, certainly, but if you’re making $10.9 billion in 2013 and then $10.3 billion in 2014 then I think you can admit that you’re fine. Since 2000, the years where there was growth in the amount that the industry got is so much more than the losses in the five years where their average grosses were down. Oh, yeah, there are exactly five years since 2000 when the industry seemed to take a hit, the biggest one being 2014… the year American Sniper was the highest grossing movie of the year, for some reason.
Let me make this clear, in no way am I advocating piracy. What I am saying is that, objectively, it didn’t destroy the industry. It didn’t even really hurt it that much. What it did do was something that the industry doesn’t enjoy doing that much and didn’t do since the VHS days… it forced them to change. Instead of fighting it outright, some companies tried to offer a competing service and that paid off. Hulu is, in effect, the industry trying to offer the same thing that the pirates are offering, except better and where everyone can get what they want. Are there flaws in that system? Sure, for starters it’s US only and that’s just awful, but it’s a start. Netflix actually changes it’s prices based on the piracy levels in certain countries, making it lower to entice people to use their service and it’s been working pretty well, piracy levels have dropped since why would anyone bother pirating a movie when Netflix will have it to stream anytime, take up less hard drive space and remember where I was if I have to stop the movie to go run an errand? No one would bother, that’s why Netflix still works… except when Game of Thrones episodes leak and then all hell breaks loose.
Throw The Tomatoes
So now we return to the current ‘menace’ attacking the industry, that being the ever horrible site Rotten Tomatoes. Hollywood blames it for people not going to see certain movies, but is it? Let’s look at my current favorite punching bag The Emoji Movie, a movie I hate so much that I actively tried to fix it. That movie, at the time I am writing this article, has a 9% on Rotten Tomatoes. By the suggestion of the studio system, that low a score should mean that the film does horribly right? As of right now, with its cinema run worldwide over and done with, it’s at $216 million worldwide at the box office. It’s made back quadruple it’s budget, probably going to reach quadruple before it finishes it’s run and hits DVD.
This film has made nearly four times as much, worldwide, as the 2016 Best Picture Oscar Winner.
Let that sink in for a minute (Source: Sony)
Just for comparison, let’s look at a good kids movie. Captain Underpants currently sits at an amazing 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s getting critical praise out the ass, it’s based on a beloved book franchise… it’s made $125 million worldwide, almost half of what The Emoji Movie made. Now, granted, it’s budget was $38 million so it’s still made quadruple the budget back but you’d think if Rotten Tomatoes was as powerful as the industry claims it is that those box office numbers would be switched around.
Here’s the truth. Rotten Tomatoes is a tool that some people use to pick what movie they’re going to see, to know if it’s good or bad and it might help them decide… but it’s not everything. Critics and Audiences have always had varied opinions on movies. Take the film that had three weeks as the highest grossing movie, The Hitman’s Bodyguard. If you look on Rotten Tomatoes that film sits at 40%, it’s rotten… but if you look at the Audience Score, it’s 69% (Nice). Critics are looking for something other than the average filmgoer. A film critic tries to put the film in a context, to explore what does and doesn’t work about the film, to point out flaws in structure… your average moviegoer want’s to be entertained for a few hours and will be pretty happy with Deadpool and Nick Fury screaming motherfucker like it’s going out of style. Most of the time, no one actually cares what the critics say. We go to Rotten Tomatoes to see what fellow moviegoers have to say, or we ignore it completely.
So, What’s Actually Wrong With Hollywood
…nothing. Well, to be specific, nothing that WE, THE AUDIENCE caused. The problem is honestly that Hollywood hasn’t grown up with us. Films cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make for reasons that are beyond me, and they wonder why they have difficulty making their money back. Hollywood hasn’t figured out that you don’t need to spend hundreds of millions in order to make money. In fact, it’s better to just make a cheaper/better film that gets people to turn up. If you make good movies, you don’t need to worry about anything else. Get Out was a fantastic movie, it had a $4.5 million budget, made $250 million worldwide. Why? It was good and people will go to see good films if they know they’re there!
This is the face of every executive crying because this cheap little film made SO MUCH MONEY! (Source: Blumhouse Productions)
Another big problem that Hollywood has is that it refuses point blank to adapt to the current times. They still take an eternity to allow their films to be put on streaming services, they still have that arbitrary several month waiting period between the end of the theatrical run and the home video release, they still think that it’s absolutely fine to take months to release films internationally. Down here in Australia, we waited four months for the release of Captain Underpants. It came out in the US during June, Australia got it in September. What was to stop me from just downloading it instead of waiting until September? Morality, that’s it, that’s all they have to hope for. They intentionally just held it back waiting for the September holidays… Which is about two weeks long. Meanwhile, they could’ve released it here in June, enjoyed a month of holiday box office and not been complete idiots about their release schedule. God, do I have to fix everything?
How Does Hollywood Fix This?
Instead of blaming Rotten Tomatoes… or downloads… or VHS… or whatever else they want to blame in 15 years when they try to come up with a new excuse for not making every dollar on the planet, how about Hollywood just adapt to the times? Stop making so many $100 million dollar bets. If you are so scared of your bottom line that a bad review on a site named after an ancient fruit is going to make you cry about the death of the industry well I’m sorry, you can’t afford to spend that much. Hollywood needs to tighten it’s belt and embrace those smaller movies that can make them a ton of money, like they did when they caught on that VHS might actually be a good thing and made a ton of cheap movies just for that market. Do the same thing for the new digital market, boom, there’s half your money problems solved right away.
Hollywood needs to also, just in general, treat your customers better. Give them access to the products that they are willing to hand money over for instead of smacking them for trying to get it because you didn’t give it too them when they literally waved cash in front of your face! If the studios hooked up with Netflix and just put every movie on the service, EVERY movie that they have in their considerable vaults and let the audience pay a monthly fee of maybe 10-15 bucks? I promise you, piracy would die a quick death and everyone with a internet connection would sign up. It would become a steady permanent stream of cash from around the world and all they’d have to do is give people the chance to see the movies they made.
TL:DR version? If you build it, they will come so stop being wimps about a few Rotten Tomatoes. You were wrong when you said video was going to kill you, you’re wrong now… because everyone knows, the only thing that video killed was the radio star.
Do you use Rotten Tomatoes before going to a movie? How does it influence your decision?