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Rotten Tomatoes Scores Are More Important Than You Think, According To A New Report

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It seems that Rotten Tomatoes scores do more than just help audiences figure out how much fun they will have during a movie by aggregating the reviews of qualifying critics in a single place. According to an article posted by The Hollywood Reporter in April 2024, studio heads and movie producers are also checking out filmmakers’ Rotten Tomatoes scores while considering who ought to get those plum high-profile assignments directing movies.

A bad cumulative critical score can result in something the magazine refers to as “director’s jail.” Before the internet, it was reserved for directors who helmed films that failed to regain their budget and may result in directors being punted out of a studio’s good graces for a long time. That means smaller budgets for subsequent projects, less high-profile work, having to work with an independent or smaller studio, and fewer opportunities to touch larger studio franchises. But what to do when a young director doesn’t have a resume to back up their talent? Rotten Tomatoes may play a hand there, according to The Hollywood Reporter.  

One representative, speaking anonymously to the magazine, notes the website’s importance in the pitching process. “Critical acclaim is now gamified. The Rotten Tomatoes score is the first thing people look at when I go pitch a director. It inevitably affects decision-making around hiring a director,” they said. Another anonymous studio exec explained, “When you hire a director, all you have is their past work and a meeting.” It’s just one more step in the sometimes difficult relationship between Hollywood and Rotten Tomatoes.

Rotten Tomatoes and the studio system have long been at odds

Hollywood and Rotten Tomatoes have had a bit of a fraught relationship over the years. The Ringer published a heavily researched article that pointed out how easy it is to manipulate the website’s score. Vulture noted in 2023 that the website’s metrics result in scores that can fluctuate wildly as reviews pour in over the years, and a number of directors have gone on the record about how much they loathe what it’s done to the moviemaking business. The end result is pre-release screenings dedicated, according to Vulture, to inflating the early score of the film to benefit presales and word of mouth. This may be why there are so many movies with poor Rotten Tomatoes scores that are actually awesome, that the outlet even published a book celebrating some of those rotten-leaning cult classics.

The news coming out of Hollywood isn’t all bleak, naturally. The Hollywood Reporter notes that prestige television can provide shelter for directors coming off a box office failure, and sometimes streamers can afford them extra chances. But pleasing the Tomatometer still seems to make a difference to studios — whether your movie gets a 95% score or higher or it languishes, squashed and green, with a 0% at the bottom of the pile.

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