Are Review Sites Like Rotten Tomatoes Reliable?

When you compare movie reviews, you can see a pattern of specific things that moviegoers on average agreed were great or horrible. Individual reviews and star ratings though are usually highly unreliable. The reasons for this unreliability vary, but companies, individuals, and groups often do things that skew reviewer statements. There are also reviewers who post inaccurate reviews designed to manipulate site visitors.

Here are the most common influences:

Bribery with free goodies

Companies, especially in the entertainment industry, often sway critical and audience reviews by making a film-going experience as positive as possible outside of a movie’s actual content. That way, if movie-goers experience dissatisfaction with any aspects of a film, they’re still likely to speak positively about their overall experience in their reviews. Companies typically offer professional critics and movie buffs free screening tickets and swag bags, posters and other collectibles.

Since Fandango, a movie ticket sales company, acquired Rotten Tomatoes, it also influences the review process. Fandango benefits when visitors to Rotten Tomatoes are directed to focus primarily on high ranking films since those reviews increase the online and theater engagement and ticket sales. Rotten Tomatoes often features on its main page the films that have higher “Tomatometer” scores and emphasizes links to “Top” and “Popular” films. The page even has a “Featured Movie” that is actually a sponsored link to a film that someone paid to have placed on the home page to attract more people to theaters and associated merchandise.

Professional review issues

The personal preferences of a professional critic toward certain entertainment companies, directors, actors, writers and other factors can make critical reviews inaccurate. Incentives and preferences aren’t the worst problem with critical reviews. Since sites like Rotten Tomatoes use the number of positive and negative reviews in their calculations to determine an average rating for a film, the Tomatometer can be incredibly inaccurate depending on how many critics of a specific film rely on Rotten Tomatoes staff to choose a rating based on the overall primary opinions in their uploaded reviews. A single mixed review of a film that points out a lot of negatives can result in a bad “rotten” rating from staff even if the critic generally liked the film and considered it a worthwhile movie-going experience.

Audience review issues

It’s not uncommon for audience reviews and ratings on Rotten Tomatoes to express opinions that are opposite to critical reviews. Critical reviewers sometimes clash with the general public when they express loathing for films that seem “lowbrow” or stereotypical. This type of issue often happens with action, comedy, and romance films where certain audience members don’t care about a film’s plot, similarity to past films or its position in the grand history of film-making as long as it helps them to relax and have a little fun.

A bigger problem is that some audience reviewers who claim to be representing their true opinions are actually paid to post positive and negative reviews and ratings by companies and people backing or trying to undermine a film. Independent filmmakers who need to get more exposure often ask friends and family or pay neighbors and co-workers to post positive reviews.

Then there are the individuals and groups, such as online trolls and extreme fans, who post negative reviews in an attempt to destroy a film’s success at the box office. The targeted movie either portrays one or more things that don’t match their beliefs or they hate a company, director, actor, or other individual or group who worked on the creation, marketing, or distribution of the film. Fortunately, brands can hire certain services to remove false reviews or increase a movie’s exposure on more influential review outlets.


Many review sites across the industries are sadly unreliable. Entertainment review sites like Rotten Tomatoes are a mixed bag. The best thing that visitors of these sites can do is read as many reviews as possible. This allows them to gain a solid grasp of whether a movie or other form of entertainment is something that the visitor might enjoy based on the consensus across critical and audience reviews and their personal likes and dislikes.



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