“Paddington 2” is a quaint little movie about an incredibly British bear being very polite in sometimes fraught circumstances. It’s also notable for having the highest freshness rating in Rotten Tomatoes history.
Seriously? “Paddington 2” is, according to Rotten Tomatoes, the greatest achievement in the history of cinema? Something here doesn’t feel quite right.
(Although, in fairness, this movie does have Hugh Grant playing an evil washed up celebrity, so perhaps it is the Greatest Movie Ever Made.)
The problem here lies in the way that Rotten Tomatoes judges movies, and is a clear indicator of why we probably shouldn’t rely on the website for all our movie viewing decisions.
The challenge is that the Rotten Tomatoes freshness meter isn’t based on review scores; it’s based on whether or not a critic is positive in their review.
The site takes all the vaguely positive reviews and weighs them against the negatives. If a movie has a 50% freshness rating, it means that 50% of critics enjoyed the film.
This, though, doesn’t allow for nuance. Say a critic gives a film a 3/5 review score; that counts as a positive review. If a critic gives a film a 3/5 and another movie a 5/5, they have the same score.
If the vast majority of critics find a movie like “Paddington 2” vaguely enjoyable, it will receive a very high freshness rating, even if none of the critics think that the movie is the best thing to come out that year.
If, on the other hand, a movie is generally loved by most critics, but disliked by a small minority, it will score lower than “Paddington 2”, as has every movie in existence.
The Rotten Tomatoes scoring system feeds into a greater problem within the movie industry; a trend for passable, Good Enough films that are pleasant enough but that leave no lasting impression on the viewer.
These films are generally safer than making something more artistic and original. People will support a Good Enough film more than they will a more risky endeavor, so movie studios aim for mediocrity rather than allowing directors to make original, innovative works of art.
Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t help the matter by judging all films based on whether or not they’re vaguely enjoyable. It leads to a cinema industry in which all movies are homogenous and familiar, where everything is mildly amusing without any genuine artistic depth.
“Paddington 2” winning top ranking on Rotten Tomatoes isn’t a good thing for the film. It simply reflects the fact that the movie is the most inoffensive story ever to appear on the big screen.
Movies shouldn’t be inoffensive. Part of the reason why “The Last Jedi” has been so captivating is because its flaws mean that there’s a genuine conversation to be had about its content (even if that conversation is constantly being derailed by fanbabies who are annoyed by petty problems, or chauvinists who can’t conceive of a fantasy world in which they have to listen to the opinions of women).
This isn’t to say that Rotten Tomatoes isn’t a useful tool; just don’t put too much stock in the freshness meter. The Average Rating statistic is more indicative of the overall quality of the film, but only inasmuch as you can trust a number to accurately reflect a movie’s value.
In practice, the only way to find out whether a film is any good, is to actually watch it.
Or to get your drunk friend to tell you the plot while you’re at the bar. Thinking about it, that’s probably the best way to experience pretty much any movie ever made, especially “Paddington 2”.