It’s been awhile since Rotten Tomatoes last updated its critics policy, which essentially includes who is allowed to be a part of the site and counted in the Tomatometer process.
While critics and freelancers from established publications will continue to have no problem being included on Rotten Tomatoes, the site is putting a focus on a critic’s individual qualifications and body of work, and opening the doors to other media that review including via podcasts and videos. Rotten Tomatoes’ strategy here is to cast a wider net so there’s a more diverse pool of critics’ voices to be included in its Tomatometer rankings.
Recently, more than 200 new Tomatometer-approved critics were added, with more on the horizon.
“Over the past few years, our team has added hundreds of new voices to the Tomatometer on top of the thousands we currently have, with the goal of creating a critics pool that closely reflects the global entertainment audience,” said Jenny Jediny, Rotten Tomatoes’ critics relations manager. “We took another key step today by revamping our critics criteria that both shifts our focus to approving critics individually rather than through publications, and introduces updated guidelines for newer media platforms to be a part of the Tomatometer.”
“Rotten Tomatoes plays an important role in connecting fans with trusted information and recommendations on what to watch in theaters and at home,” said Paul Yanover, president of Fandango, Rotten Tomatoes’ parent company. “Advancing inclusion in criticism continues to be a priority for Rotten Tomatoes and we plan to expand our work with media outlets that hire critics, film festivals and other groups, so as an industry we can better serve consumers.”
Even with this new policy, some in distribution will continue to question certain parameters of the Tomatometer. For example, why are those movies playing at a film festival without distribution (or an immediate release) getting a Rotten Tomatoes score when the number of reviews logged is so low? Isn’t that too premature? Compare this to a superhero tentpole, which can log north of 300 reviews. Shouldn’t there be a minimum number of reviews before an RT score is made public? The site’s policy is a minimum of five reviews before an RT score is generated. Rotten Tomatoes is going to hold to that minimum, and its hope here is that a greater number of voices under their new policy will prevent scenarios where a film has a low number of reviews.
This summer, Gotti made headlines for having a 0% Rotten Tomatoes score off of a mere 41 reviews. It was a frustrating PR experience for the creators of the film to have a handful of critics deep-six the title as they witnessed packed theaters in metropolitan areas (many attribute that to MoviePass). At the same time, the film wasn’t screened for critics, so the filmmakers knew they had sour goods on their hands. But the point here is how the power of the Tomatometer rating doesn’t distinguish the number of film reviews logged for an individual title.
What started as a run-of-the-mill aggregator site two decades ago has grown quite powerful in the social media age, to the point where the Tomatometer largely impacts a film’s weekend ticket sales, both specialty and wide release. Distribution heads will groan that we live in a Rotten Tomatoes age, but at the same time the website can be their best friend when a pic’s RT score is high — in fact it can drive business — and high RT scores are used in marketing materials.
RT critics have been keen to recognize how horror films are going through their own renaissance (i.e. Don’t Breathe’s 88% certified fresh), and the Tomatometer can even turn an art house film into a blockbuster (i.e., Paramount’s Arrival 94% certified fresh). On the other side of the spectrum, some genres are dead in the water with the Tomatometer, like R-rated raunchy comedies; if a filmmaker is going to make one nowadays, it either has to be a brilliant, break-the-mold one or speak to some greater social significance (compare The Happytime Murders’ 21% Rotten to Blockers’ 83% Certified Fresh).
Rotten Tomatoes also said today it has established a $100,000 grant program to help critics gain access to key film festivals. Over the next year, Rotten Tomatoes will provide grants to nonprofit organizations that help critics with expenses associated with festival attendance. The first grant of $25K will go to the American Friends of TIFF fund for the Toronto Film Festival, which runs September 6-16.
To foster the next generation of film critics, earlier this month Rotten Tomatoes and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism announced the second recipient of the Rotten Tomatoes Fellowship in Digital Innovation and Entertainment Criticism: Sophie-Marie Prime recently received an undergraduate degree in film and media studies at Cal.