Every day, in every way, the movies are getting better and better. Or so you might think, based on a steady increase in RottenTomatoes.com critical scores for wide film releases during the past nine years.
In a simple but intriguing exercise, movie marketing consultant David A. Gross recently calculated Rotten Tomatoes scores since 1997 for films released on 1,000 or more screens. The results were fairly steady for the first 14 years, with the average critical score for movies rising or falling annually between a low of 40.8 in 2004 and a high of 47.1 in 1999. The number of wide releases earning a positive score of 60 or better was more ragged, ranging from a low of 33 in 2001 to 60 in 2007.
But then something happened. The average score began climbing, from 46.6 in 2010, to 57.2 last year. At the same time, the number of films scoring above 60 began to rise, from 41 in 2010, to 74 in 2018.
Last year’s uptick can be at least partly explained by a much-discussed revamp of the Rotten Tomatoes critical pool, which emphasized diversity and added about 200 new voices to those whose reviews are compiled in the scores. Hence, perhaps, the sudden one-year jump in higher-scoring films, from 61 to 74.
But the rise in critical scores pre-dates that revision. Since 2010, the annual average score never has dropped below 49.5 (in 2014), higher than in any year up to and including 2010.
“I’d really like to know what’s going on,” said Gross, who compiles box office statistics on his FranchiseRe.biz site. Gross declined to speculate whether changes in corporate ownership had resulted in a friendlier scoring — in 2010, Rotten Tomatoes was sold to Flixster, which then was sold to Warner, which in turn sold a majority to Fandango and its Comcast parent in 2016.
A spokesperson for Fandango said there has been no change in scoring methodology.
Gross said he actually finds the current, higher scores more valid than the older, lower ones. “There’s no reason their averages should be negative,” he said, noting that Rotten Tomatoes in its early years struck a “snarky” pose that matched its outsider status.
But Gross, an industry insider with long studio experience, doesn’t think the movies are really getting better. “Are they broadly different over the last two decades? I don’t think so,” he said.
“I think they’re about the same.”