Is Rotten Tomatoes Rigged?

district-nine-posterWhile I’m happy to see that District 9 is currently at 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, I’m also a little skeptical. Why? Look at these reviews, all of which were rated as “Ripe” as opposed to “Rotten”…

“District 9” does show that Blomkamp is not without talent and could very well one day make a truly great genre film, even if he hasn’t quite done so here.

But, that reviewer (when you click through) gave the movie 4 stars (although I’m not sure what the max is).

…a marginally entertaining endeavor that’s sure to leave most viewers wondering what all the fuss is about.

That reviewer does give it only 2.5 out of 4 stars, which I suppose does technically qualify as Ripe, but only by 2.5%…

I’m still excited about the potential of District 9. The problem is, I’ve already seen it.

Then that review goes ahead and gives it 3 out of 4 stars. I read the rest of the review, and it doesn’t seem like a 3 star review.

Could have been better if it had remained focused on the main character rather than trying to show off a variety of filmmaking styles with a lot of flashy CG FX-driven action.

Again a 7 out of 10 for a fairly tepid review.

Okay, so I’ve disproved my original hypothesis that Rotten Tomatoes is rigged. A better hypothesis appears to be that reviewers are inflating ratings. Now, whether they only do this for movies that they think they’re supposed to give higher ratings to, or if this is just a widespread phenomena that I haven’t really noticed will require further analysis.

But perhaps not much further… Check this quote from a review of The Time Traveler’s Wife:

It wants desperately to engage our hearts, but for long stretches will leave most of us scratching our heads.

This reviewer gave the movie 3 stars despite not really having anything good to say other than Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams do a decent job of portraying their characters. Again, 3 out of either 4 or 5 stars is enough for it to qualify as Ripe on RT. So, I think that while maybe ratings aren’t particularly overly inflated, perhaps RT needs to raise the level to 65% to cut off movies that only get 60% or 62.5% from reviewers who are working with a scale that doesn’t provide enough room for differentiation.

I guess I’ll have to unsubscribe from the Rotten Tomatoes newsletter and see if MetaCritic will deliver the latest movie releases to my inbox, as their ratings seem to be much more accurate: District 9 gets an 81 and The Time Traveler’s Wife gets a 50.



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