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Surprise: Rotten Tomatoes scores don't hurt box office, study claims

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Hollywood’s summer of complaining about the supposedly devastating effect of Rotten Tomatoes scores just received a big counterpunch: Yves Bergquist, the director of the Data & Analytics Project at USC’s Entertainment Technology Center, has crunched the numbers for all 150 movies released in 2017 and guess what he found?

The data is “pretty overwhelming in saying there was no (positive or negative) correlation in 2017 between Rotten Tomatoes Scores and box office returns,” according to his report, published on Medium. In fact, even if you go all the way back to 2000, the results are basically the same, Bergquist wrote.

This comes after an EW interview with director Brett Ratner at the Sun Valley Film Festival last spring kicked off a conversation in the media that had been brewing behind the scenes in Hollywood for some time — basically, whether Rotten Tomatoes scores have become a destructive force unfairly biasing moviegoers against titles they otherwise might enjoy.

Vikram Gounassegarin

Bergquist went on to point out that critics haven’t been getting more negative either. The median score for movies that grossed more than $2 million worldwide has been pretty stable and even shot up during 2017. For movies grossing more than $300 million this year, critics were actually more generous this year than average (the films averaged 77.5 percent). So critics haven’t been piling onto movies this summer, so they’re hardly to blame for Hollywood’s box office slump (last weekend’s It notwithstanding).

Yet another interesting point: Critic scores and audience scores have been getting increasingly similar over the years.

Now, one should point out that Rotten Tomatoes has increasingly added more diverse voices over time, so expanding beyond the media’s most elite voices might explain some of this convergence. But still, critics are critics. And the idea that critics and audiences have totally different tastes may be increasingly out of date as viewers have become more cinema-literate and grown up in an environment saturated in content and online criticism.

“There’s virtually no difference between critics’ scores and audiences’ scores, and the more successful the film is at the box office, the smaller the difference,” Bergquist wrote. “Audiences are becoming extremely adept at predicting and judging the quality of a film.”

Imagine that: Perhaps movies did poorly simply because they looked like poor movies?

Rotten Tomatoes had no immediate comment.