Brett Ratner, the Rush Hour and Hercules director who co-financed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, thinks the real problem with Hollywood isn’t that people don’t like bad movies. It’s the damn Rotten Tomatoes score that confirms it.
While speaking at the Sun Valley Film Festival, Ratner called Rotten Tomatoes the worst thing in movie culture, saying it’s “the destruction of our business”. Ratner mainly used this to defend Batman v Superman, which his company RatPac Entertainment co-financed alongside dozens of other Warner Bros. films, including Suicide Squad and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. He said BvS would be more beloved if it didn’t currently sit at 27 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes, and added that a bad score shouldn’t be as important as the work that goes into a movie and how much money it makes.
“I have such respect and admiration for film criticism. When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that. And you would read Pauline’s Kael’s reviews, or some others, and that doesn’t exist any more. Now it’s about a number. A compounded number of how many positives vs. negatives. Now it’s about, ‘What’s your Rotten Tomatoes score?’ And that’s sad, because the Rotten Tomatoes score was so low on Batman v Superman I think it put a cloud over a movie that was incredibly successful,” Ratner said.
Now, Rotten Tomatoes isn’t a flawless system. It can be misinterpreted. Even though Rotten Tomatoes is open about how films are rated, there are those who make the mistake of looking at a Tomatometer score like a letter grade. If a movie’s sitting at 75 per cent, it’s a C-grade movie, when it simply means that 75 per cent of audiences gave it a Pass instead of a Fail. And of course, within that you’re going to get a lot of nuance. A movie might be sitting at a 45 per cent score, but those who liked it really really liked it.
But again, Rotten Tomatoes is open about how its system works, and trusts its viewers to judge things for themselves. As Rotten Tomatoes’ Jeff Voris explained to Entertainment Weekly, a Rotten Tomatoes score is the start of a conversation, rather than its end. It’s a collection of critiques that lets people understand a movie through a variety of perspectives.
The benefit of something like Rotten Tomatoes is that audiences no longer have to rely on one reviewer in their local paper. They can instead seek out multiple opinions that confirm or question their pre-conceived notions. It doesn’t always work, but to say it’s ruining movies puts the blame on the shared opinions themselves, rather than what those opinions collectively didn’t like about your work. It’s also insulting to suggest that non-coastal US audiences are too stupid to understand something like Rotten Tomatoes, which Ratner flat-out suggests.
“In Middle America it’s, ‘Oh, it’s a low Rotten Tomatoes score so I’m not going to go see it because it must suck.’ But that number is an aggregate and one that nobody can figure out exactly what it means, and it’s not always correct,” Ratner said.
By the way, Ratner, when people say that Hollywood is out of touch with Middle America, this is what they’re talking about. And you can’t blame Rotten Tomatoes on that.