Rotten Reviews

Linda Qiu, Staff Writer

Something that most people do before heading out to see a movie is read reviews. Reviews, while not always completely reflective of a film, are a helpful indicator of whether a movie is a decent watch. However, there are some instances where a large disparity exists between two different ratings of a movie: the audience score and the critic score. It goes without saying that critics and moviegoers often disagree. There are plenty of blockbusters audiences love that send critics into hysterics, and there are many art films critics adore but casual film fans don’t get. One movie review site where this is evident is Rotten Tomatoes.

Rotten Tomatoes is a review aggregator that collects both critical reviews and audience reactions. Typically, the gaps between scores are insignificant. But sometimes, the differences are drastic. So when this gap occurs, are the critic reviews or audience reviews more reliable? The audience reviews are.

There are a few factors that make critic reviews less trustworthy. For one, critic reviews are based on a different set of criteria than audience reviews. Whereas audience reviews hinge mainly on the criteria “Did I enjoy it” or “Was it fun to watch”, critic reviews may also take into consideration aspects such as film technique, lighting, or originality. An example would be the movie It Comes At Night. The audience gave this movie a tepid rating on Rotten Tomatoes, perhaps because they were misled by the marketing to expect a fast-paced movie full of action and zombies. Instead, they got a slow-moving character study, which critics praised for “unbearable tension” and an “atmosphere of uncertainty,” but the audience booed for being “completely pointless” and “leading to nothing.” Another example is The Venom; audiences thought that it had wonderful action sequences, and appreciated the film’s sense of humor. Critics didn’t. Instead, they criticized The Venom‘s lack of tone, particularly how the movie jumped about multiple genres such as comedy to horror to romance without ever settling on one.

Another factor that makes critic reviews less trustworthy than audience reviews is that critics sometimes have ulterior motives in giving a film a good rating. As a top movie critic, some professional movie reviewers get early access to view a film or exclusive cuts of a movie. Some movie studios feel wary about inviting critics to see their film who might give them bad reviews and affect their popularity upon release. As such, movie studios want to have critics who will give them glowing reviews to increase their profits, and critics want to give movies glowing reviews so they keep getting early access and exclusive content.

It’s true that audience reviews aren’t always completely accurate. Some audience reviewers may misinterpret an aspect of a film, or be biased according to their own opinions or personal experiences. There are also times when casual movie reviewers will “review bomb” a movie, purposefully giving it low ratings because it goes against their ideology or because they’re trolling. But in the vast majority of all cases, the audience reviews will reflect the majority opinion of viewers, including yours.