So Now Rotten Tomatoes Has No Impact On the Box Office? Not So Fast.

There has been a conventional wisdom evolving that Rotten Tomatoes movie ratings are negatively impacting ticket sales at the movies. Over the last couple of weeks, there has been a counter argument made based on a study posted in a September 10th blog. The Wrap, Variety, and other websites reporting on the movie industry have run with the story that Rotten Tomatoes has little, if any, impact on movie ticket sales. I believe that is an oversimplification of the study and the intersection of movie ratings and movie consumption.

There has been a conventional wisdom evolving that Rotten Tomatoes movie ratings are negatively impacting ticket sales at the movies. Over the last couple of weeks, there has been a counter argument made based on a study posted in a September 10th blog. The Wrap, Variety, and other websites reporting on the movie industry have run with the story that Rotten Tomatoes has little, if any, impact on movie ticket sales. I believe that is an oversimplification of the study and the intersection of movie ratings and movie consumption.

The points made in the study that are getting the most attention are:

  1. There is very little statistical correlation between Rotten Tomatoes ratings and box office performance.
  2. The median Rotten Tomatoes rating for 2017 is 77.5% Fresh, whereas the ratings for each of the prior four years was either 72% or 73% Fresh.
  3. There is a correlation between Rotten Tomatoes ratings and Audience ratings.

So, the argument goes, you can’t blame Rotten Tomatoes for bad box office when it is statistically proven that it has no impact on box office and, by the way, critics have actually rated this year’s movies higher than last year’s, and audiences stay away from bad movies because they are more savvy today than they’ve been in the past.

I believe the third point should be the headline. When I’ve looked at this before  I’ve found a very strong correlation to the Certified Fresh, Fresh, and Rotten ratings and my “really like” ratings.  On the other hand, I’ve found that the percentage fresh rating has a weaker correlation to whether I’ll “really like” a movie. I wonder what the statistical correlation to box office performance is for the just the three broad ratings?

As to the second point, the overlooked item in the study is that not only have critics in the aggregate liked 2017 movies better that prior years, the worldwide box office has responded with higher ticket sales in 2017 than 2016. Is it possible that better movies in 2017 have translated into more people worldwide going to the movies?

The first point, and the one that became the headline in so many articles, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. If there is a correlation between Rotten Tomatoes ratings and Audience ratings, doesn’t that suggest that Rotten Tomatoes has contributed to a more informed movie public And, because they are more informed, they are staying away from bad movies. Therefore, Rotten Tomatoes has impacted the box office. The fact that it is an indirect impact rather than a direct impact is a little misleading. Isn’t it?

Near the end of his study presentation Yves Berqquist, the author of the study, concludes that  “Audiences are becoming extremely adept at predicting and judging the quality of a film”. Rotten Tomatoes is just one of the tools audiences are using to pre-screen the movies they watch. IMDB ratings are taken into account as are Cinemascore grades. For example, Box Office Mojo, which is the go to site for movie box office information, specifically cited the “F” grade that Cinemascore gave to Mother! last weekend as a factor in the “supremely disappointing $7.5 million from 2,368 locations” opening weekend box office. Cinemascore has only given out nineteen F’s in almost forty years of movie surveys.

The movie industry may be looking for someone to blame for movie consumers behaving differently than they have in the past. But, the sooner the industry comes to grips with the new reality that movie audiences are more savvy today than they were in the past, the sooner they will improve their own fortunes. It is arrogant to blame Rotten Tomatoes for contributing to a more informed movie audience.

***

It has been seven weeks since a new movie, Detroit, joined The Objective Top Fifteen after its opening weekend. There is a chance that streak might be broken this weekend. Assuming Cinemascore surveys the movie, I think it’s likely that the Boston Marathon bombing bio-pic Stronger will join the list. I have hopes that Battle of the Sexes will sneak in as well. Check out my update on Monday to see how good my instincts were.

 

Author: Mad Movie Man

I love good movies. In my prior life I worked with predictive models. I've combined my love of movies with my prior experience to create a simple Bayesian probability model to help select movies that you will probably "really like".

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