Movie Studios Need to Stop Blaming Rotten Tomatoes For Bad Movie Ticket Sales

Matthew Loffhagen
Sony Pictures
(Photo: Sony Pictures)

This year has been pretty awful for box office receipts.

Somewhere along the road, a summer full of such unimpressive movies as Pirates of the Caribbean 5, Transformers 5, The Mummy, and of course, The Emoji Movie, movie fans all collectively decided that we’d be better off spending time outside, or at least as far away from movie theaters as possible.

The response from movie studios, by and large, is to blame all their troubles on Rotten Tomatoes.

Apparently, the review aggregate site that collects and categorizes critics’ comments about films, has led to a significant downturn in the number of ticket sales that movies are enjoying – at least, according to the studio executives that need a reason to justify their poor performance.

It’s not fair, they argue, that this site exists – Rotten Tomatoes makes movies look bad, so nobody goes to see them. It’s hurting the industry, and it has to stop.

Except, of course, that all of this is utter garbage.

A recent review looked at of all the movies released in 2017, their scores on Rotten Tomatoes, and their box office takings.

Do the findings show that a bad Rotten Tomatoes score nerfs a movie’s box office totals?

According to data scientist Yves Berquist, this assumption is absolutely false:

“I collected box office return data through Box Office Mojo for all the 150 titles released in 2017 that grossed more than $1 million, plugged in Rotten Tomatoes Scores and Audience Scores for all titles, and looked at correlation between scores and financial performance through both a basic Pearson Product-Moment Correlation Coefficient (PMCC) analysis and some linear modeling to extract r-squares (which measure the strength of the correlation). PMCC measures the linear correlation between two variables x and y. It has a value between + 1 (100% positive correlation) and -1 (100% negative correlation, often called “inverse correlation”). The closer to 0 a PMCC score, the less correlation there is between x and y.

“The result? Nope. The math is pretty overwhelming in saying there was no (positive or negative) correlation in 2017 between Rotten Tomatoes Scores and box office returns.”

So, turns out having a high or low Rotten Tomatoes score won’t actually affect how much money a movie makes.

Don’t expect movie studios to start taking this as gospel truth, though. It’s far easier to blame cruel reviewers or an unfeeling score aggregate algorithm than it is to accept the truth.

Movie studio executives need to accept that sometimes a movie bombs because nobody actually wants to see it.

Dead Men Tell No Tales
Source: Walt Disney

Nobody was crying out for a movie in which Tom Cruise gains the power to kiss people to death (or whatever happened in that film).

Bad word of mouth was always going to kill the progress of Alien: Covenant once people heard from their friends how tedious the whole ordeal is to sit through.

There wasn’t a big, grand social media campaign involved in getting Dead Men Tell No Tales greenlit.

Nobody ever thought that a Baywatch movie or a Guy Ritchie-directed King Arthur film would be worth paying money for.

Rather than blaming this year’s bad box office experience on Rotten Tomatoes, movie studios should own up and face the facts that sometimes, a big budget blockbuster tanks because it’s actually, genuinely not what people want to watch.

But good luck convincing anyone of that important nugget of truth. That would involve movie executives accepting that they’ve made a mistake, and that’s downright impossible.

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