The Gotti and the Nought-y – those troublesome rotten tomatoes

Don’t know if you’ve kept up to date with the moviesphere recently, but there’s been a little bit of a stir about Gotti, the John Travolta starring mob flick which has garnered savage reviews. Travolta starring in a stinker is nothing new, but the intrigue comes with the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes score. As some perceptive people pointed out, whilst the critic review score is at 0%, the user review score was at 78% (now dropped to 64%).

Alarm bells started ringing when the below tweet appeared from the movie’s Twitter account:

Considering the disproportionate number of user reviews and the multitude of newly created profiles that had given Gotti a rating, it looked like this was review manipulation as part of a marketing push for the movie. Rotten Tomatoes have refuted this, saying “We closely monitor our platforms and haven’t determined there to be any problems. All of the reviews were left by active accounts.” The whole “active accounts” thing strikes me as conveniently vague phrase. Plus, would they actually admit it if their site had been spammed by bots? Something ain’t adding up.

I fucking hate Rotten Tomatoes. In fact, let me rephrase that. I fucking hate how people use Rotten Tomatoes. Recent numbers have shown that 36% of American moviegoers check the site before seeing a movie, which is a significant portion of the audience. The trouble is that I feel that most of those people misinterpret the data.

It’s tempting to see the site’s patented Tomatometer score as the numeric value of the movie. If something gets a 90%, it must be a pretty damn good movie, right? Sort of. RT takes all the reviews, sorts them by “Fresh” or “Rotten” and comes up with a percentage. The score merely tells us the consensus between critics – how many agree that the movie is Fresh. That impressive looking 90% just means that 90% of critics gave it a passing grade i.e. 60% or over. You’d be surprised at the number of people who don’t get this.

What the Tomatometer score absolutely isn’t for is to be wielded around like a cudgel, used to back up petty arguments online. If your point involves referring to the RT page as proof of a movie’s “objective quality”, then sorry mate, I’m going to go ahead and dismiss your opinion like the bullshit it is.

The RT system means that a solid three star movie can be treated similarly to a five star masterpiece or a two star can be lumped in with the one star no-hopers. The truth of movie reviewing is that there’s an awful lot of three star average/quite good movies out there. Well, Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t really account for that. If a critic gives an average review, they can either choose to put it in the Fresh or Rotten categories themselves or RT will choose for them. Due to this, there are many, many shades of grey being glossed over. The trouble with all this goes beyond misinterpretation. In my opinion, critical thinking and reviews shouldn’t be boiled down to a binary good/bad dichotomy.

So what’s this got to do with Gotti? Well, in a world where some people refuse to believe reviewers thanks to perceived “bias”,  have conspiracy theories about critics being paid off (grow up) and tend to think of them as elitist snobs, they’ll look to the user review score. User reviews are at the mercy of rabid fans anyway, often giving a 1 or 10 out of 10 because why wouldn’t they? There were some mumblings a while back about Star Wars: The Last Jedi‘s user score, which had plummeted to lowly depths. Granted, with a film as divisive as The Last Jedi the score was going to be lower than the critic one, but many blamed bots for review bombing the movie. Like with Gotti, Rotten Tomatoes said the reviews weren’t due to bots and were genuine, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the (as of today 2348) pages of user ratings are full of angry people giving the movie the lowest scores possible. Quite why somebody would complain about biased opinions and turn to the user reviews is beyond me, but there we have it.

Rotten Tomatoes has been scoring high on my personal Skeev-O-Meter for a while and I think the Gotti nonsense is the latest in a long line of things wrong with a site that so many people use to dictate their moviegoing habits. RT can be a useful site, but only if you know what to look for. Outside of that, I wouldn’t trust them to hold my pint.

Look at the actual critic reviews and don’t take the front page at face value. If you want a more consumer advice type deal, telling you if a movie is worth seeing, find a critic/several critics whose opinions seem to line up with yours and see what they’re saying about it. I understand not wanting to waste time and money on some dumb film, but I feel that going to see any movie is a learning experience, no matter how bad the reviews. That being said, it’ll probably take me a long time to get around to seeing Gotti.

3 thoughts on “The Gotti and the Nought-y – those troublesome rotten tomatoes”

  1. I 100% agree with your thoughts. Also, I’m a certified critic here in Australia and I can clarify that critics aren’t payed off by film studios. Sometimes they try to sweeten the deal with food, drink and goodies, but that’s as far as it goes.

    1. Thanks for reading! I really appreciate it. A warm hello from the UK to your Australian self!

      I’ve never understood quite why people think critics are paid off. All a critic has to trade on is their integrity and reputation. No critic worth their salt would take a kickback and ruin their credibility. I guess it’s just easier for someone to believe there’s some massive conspiracy than the fact that a critic may disagree with them.

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