Debate of the Day: How Much Do You Trust Rotten Tomatoes?

Whether it deserves to be or not, Rotten Tomatoes is kind of the ultimate gage of a movie’s critical success, as the site has become the authority on compiling critics’ reviews of films giving them a “Fresh” or “Rotten” rating. Over 60% positive reviews is Fresh, under is Rotten.

Personally, I used the site all the time when judging how worthwhile a movie is. My answer to my own question is yes, I do trust the site, as way, way more often than not, I’ve found myself agreeing with what the consensus is among its critics.

If a movie has under a ten percent, you’ll probably not even be able to sit through it. Anything over 90 is a must see and a possible Oscar contender.

When do we disagree? There are many times, but I think the praise/hate metric can be a bit skewed. I liked The Muppets, but is it really worth a 98%, which would make it seem like it’s almost a perfect film? No, not at all, and that’s where the rating system can be a bit skewed. It’s an enjoyable film, but if every critic gave it 3/5 stars, that would give it a 100% on RT, even when it seems like it should be a 60%. That’s where a site like Metacritic comes in which gives weight to those numbers, and it can be a more accurate picture of how good a film really is.

What’s your biggest opinion difference about a film that was rated highly or poorly on Rotten Tomatoes? And how much do you trust the site overall?

  • Guy Incognitus

    I think you’re misinterpreting what the Tomatometer rating actually is. A rating above 90% on that scale doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s an Oscar contender at all, just that almost everyone enjoyed the movie. It’s a ratio of positive reviews to negative reviews. If you look closer you’ll see that the average rating of The Muppets is actually 8/10 which is more reasonable. It’s just that there were very few negative reviews, which gives it a higher Tomatometer rating.

    The thing that makes that rating system great is that it caters more to casual moviegoers. A movie with a high rating is sure to please. You can’t use that scale as an indicator of Oscar favourites, though.

    A good example is this summer’s Fast Five. By no means a good movie by any film-making standards. Its average score is 6.3, slightly below average, which seems about right. But it was certainly an entertaining movie which many more people enjoyed than disliked despite its flaws, thus the 78% Tomatometer rating.

    The Tomatometer is a measure of how enjoyable a movie is, not how good it is, if that makes any sense.

  • Mark

    I’m a big fan of movie review intelligence (, as it seems to factor in quality of the positive or negative ratings when arriving at it’s percentage ratings, rather than simply a count of positive versus negative reviews. It also applies some weighting to the various critics based on the critic’s popularity as measured by readership levels. I don’t know that it necessarily makes it more accurate, but I like the way it aggregates better.

    I still check RT as well though… However, now that it’s owned by Warner Brothers, I have concerns that it will find a way to subversively bias ratings towards WB films. I have no evidence of this, but a healthy skepticism.

    Despite all my blathering, I think the best way to be able to pre-judge what level of enjoyment you will get out of a movie is by experience with a number of specific critics. Follow some critics/blogs and compare their reviews/ratings to what you think of films. over time, you’ll end up finding ones that share similar tastes and have similar approaches to films. with enough time, you can even start to narrow down by genre which critic you trust the most.

  • Pauli

    I personally don’t trust Rotten Tomatoes all that much. Enjoyment of a movie is subjective. Recent example that could cause some ultra negative comments. Dylan Dog, Dead of Night. Holds like a 4% on RT. But I enjoyed the hell out of it. Oscar contender? Hell no, but a decent waste of a couple hours. Most of the time, RT critics are pretentious and convinced of their own opinions. I just like to watch a movie and enjoy it on my own terms, without relying on the opinions of random “critics”.

  • Guy Incognitus

    Another example:

    Casino Royale, by no means a contender for Best Picture but everyone loved it. Tomatometer: 94%, Avg Rating: 7.8.

  • andrew

    It all depends on perspective. Using Guy’s example above: I would never watch any movie in the Fast & the Furious series, because I hate them. The most recent one, as he pointed out, has a decent tomato meter rating. Doesn’t matter to me. You have to filter all critics (as well as critical respositories, apparently) through your own homemade bullshit detector. This applies to any movie/music/game review site out there, you find critics you trust, and stick with them. RT obviously isn’t just one critic but it doesn’t change anything. I know that if Transformers 4 gets a 98% fresh rating, it won’t matter to me, that rating sure as hell won’t convince me that it’s not a total dumpster fire of a movie.

    Does this mean you have to be smarter than RT or a film snob? Absolutely not. I own “Dude, Where’s My Car?” and “Josie and the Pussycats.” Both are indefensibly terrible movies, but my wife and I love ’em. The shit makes me laugh. That’s what makes movies wonderful. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

  • Nate

    Don’t be confused by RT’s rating system. “The Muppets” rating of 98% does not mean that it is 2% shy of being a perfect movie. Rather, it means that 98% of all the critics who reviewed “The Muppets” gave it a favorable review. That’s all.

    If you are considering a movie, check RT. Your movie has a 68% rating? That means reviews are mixed. Some people liked it and some people didn’t. An 89% rating? That means 9 out of 10 critics recommend it.

    I like Rotten Tomatoes because the rating system doesn’t rank movies together or rate them against each other as with an A,B,C or Star system. Each movie is rated in isolation as a percentage of how many critics think it is “Fresh” or “Rotten”

  • Guy Incognitus

    Also want to add that Rotten Tomatoes is especially useful for genres that generally don’t receive any attention in the form of awards: Action, Comedy, Horror, Family, Sci-Fi.

    More examples to go along with that:

    Die Hard, probably the best action movie ever made. Tomatometer: 94%, Metacritic: 70

    Terminator 2. Tomatometer: 98%, Metacritic: 68

    Evil Dead II. Tomatometer: 98%, Metacritic: 69

    Shaun of the Dead. Tomatometer: 91%, Metacritic: 76

    There’s Something About Mary. Tomatometer: 83%, Metacritic: 69

    Groundhog Day. Tomatometer: 93%, Metacritic: 72

    Iron Man. Tomatometer: 94%, Metacritic: 79

  • vurr

    Doesn’t anyone use IMDB? 😀

  • @andrew – Bite your tongue sir! “Jossie and the Pussy Cats” is AWESOME!

  • Mr Cinema

    I’ve on many occasions have used it in making decisions on what to see as well. As many have pointed out, completely different perspectives can cause painful differences in opinion on whether they thought a movie was good or not. Case in point: the movie Drive ( has a 92% and “certified fresh” with critic soundbites as, “It’s a film that has its finger on the pulse of what’s current and in style, and one that has solidified its place as the coolest film of the year.” and “One of this year’s most original, entertaining and frankly shocking American movies.”

    I went into it and was bored out of my fucking mind (blah blah Michael Bay attention span). I was turned off by the awkwardness and somewhat mental retardation of Gosling’s character. I saw hardly any sentiment or substance. Any scene featuring Gosling and Mulligan was a chore to watch. So much so that all I was thinking in my head was this ( and at least it would do something. Starring blankly at each other for a minute and half with NOTHING to convey their emotions is not art, and pretentious for someone to say that “I didn’t get it”.

  • Huh?

    I trust only my own opinion when it comes to movies. Nobody else on the face of the planet can, with 100% accuracy, tell me what movies I will or will not enjoy. I actually hate the opinions of all movie critics because I feel they are pretentious and I feel like so many people believe their word is law.

  • Diarmuid212

    I’ve grown to dislike the Tomatometer that is generated by the critics. Too many times have they rated movies very hight that I thought were retarded, and the same with too low that were great.

    I do still go there to get ratings though because i’ve found that the audience rating is right along with what I like/dislike.

    I think the trick is to find some rating system that is the closest to your own personal likes/dislikes and just go there. Just saying that most of the rating systems around are probably really good for someone, just not everyone.

  • andrew

    @andrew – Bite your tongue sir! “Jossie and the Pussy Cats” is AWESOME!

    Du Jour means not being embarrased about loving Josie and the Pussycats.

  • Jim Lahey

    @Guy Ingognitus +1

  • dj

    Willow 46% rating
    grandmas boy 18%

    Kingdom of the crystal skull 77%

    enough said

  • Guy Incognitus

    OK here’s some eye-opening ratings specific to the audience of this site from the two biggest review sites: Metacritic and RT. Here is how the relative scoring systems would rank the Star Wars series descending from best to worst:

    Rotten Tomatoes:
    1. Empire Strikes Back – 97%
    2. A New Hope – 94%
    3. Revenge of the Sith – 80%
    4. Return of the Jedi – 79%
    5. Attack of the Clones – 67%
    6. The Phantom Menace – 61%

    Jedi is the anomaly in my opinion. There’s no way any of the new trilogy is better than the originals but besides that one sticking point this probably matches the consensus among Star Wars fans.

    1. A New Hope – 91
    2. Empire Strikes Back – 78
    3. Revenge of the Sith – 68
    4. Attack of the Clones – 53
    5. The Phantom Menace & Return of the Jedi – 52

    This is just full of WTFery. Empire is that much worse than New Hope? The entire new trilogy is better than Jedi? I’m going to stick to RT.

    Oh and btw: the user ratings from metacritic, RT respectively:

    1. Empire Strikes Back – 9.5, 94%
    2. A New Hope – 8.9, 93%
    3. Return of the Jedi – 8.3, 93%
    4. Revenge of the Sith – 7.0, 64%
    5. Attack of the Clones – 6.2, 69%
    6. The Phantom Menace – 6.2, 65%

    That looks more like it.

  • olebull

    It WAS the authority on movie critics.
    But over the last year or two, they’ve become way too nice…

    Oh just to rant on things changing, what the bleeding hell did google do to their search criteria? Half of the things are no longer there, the rest of the time, the links that google spit out, doesn’t work.

  • Diablo

    I got to put out an example that for the life of me, I don’t understand why it was hated. “Revolver” which according to Rotten Tomatoes garnered a 16%.

    I love bad films. I try to check every bad films there is, just because I love to laugh at terrible flicks. In that vein, for the life of me, I don’t understand what movie reviewers hated so much about this flick. Its not “Citizen Kane” by any means, but its so low on the scale that I have a hard time not believing that a lot of reviewers were pissed that the film didn’t explicitly explain every damn thing to them so they tanked the reviews. Its an interesting film, has a pretty solid cast, and its not the straight forward gangster film. I think that because Guy Richie was dating Madonna at the time, everyone just ripped on the flick without really judging the film just on itself.

    In comparison, look at “Southland Tales” which is a clusterfuck of a bad film. It completely wastes its cast and there is ZERO plot development. Its not even really a film as it feels like the studio just decided halfway to end production and they released it unfinished. Yet this film has a 35% rating.

    I challenge anyone to watch these two flicks back to back and tell me that “Revolver” is even marginally worse than “Southland Tales”.

    In the end, especially with weird or non-mainstream films, its a total crap shoot really. Especially when you realize that a lot of these film reviewers are basically idiots. Just read the reviews from “Fight Club” or “Inception” that ripped on the films. They are hilarious.

  • I cannot believe 81% of RT’s critics recommend “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”, an unbearable film in my opinion. That’s just a recommendation that didn’t work for me. And it’s OK, since it’s not meant to be personalized.

    Now, the site “Movielens” (which I recommend wholeheartedly), based in my personal preferences, predicts I’d give the same film 3 out of 5 stars, a mere “it’s OK” by the site’s standards.

    After watching the movie, I gave it 2 out of 5, considering it fairly bad and tiresome.

    So, for me, RT is like an informed commentator that doesn’t really know me and either tells me “buy a ticket” or “pass”. I generally trust it as a money saver, and nothing more. Movielens is like a buddy that gives me actual recommendations, and I also trust it in general. I mean, Scott Pilgrim seemed like a reasonable gamble.

    According to Movielens, the one movie where my rating is lowest compared to the average is “Darkman”. RT gives it a staggering 89% of Top Critics, but Movielens only dares predict I’d give it a 2.5 out of 5. I actually awarded it one star. There’s always the unpredictable human factor, but it’s nice to have opinions.

  • I just try to keep in mind that high percentage means that most people liked it…not that it is close to a perfect meeting. I’m fairly agreeable. So if 200 critics say they enjoyed the movie, I’ll normally find myself right in there.

  • Mateus

    I think they are horrible to criticize comedy. It’s like reading articles written by aliens from other galaxy, that never heard a joke