Rotten Tomatoes is Male Critic Dominated. Does it Really Matter?

There are approximately four times as many male critics as there are female critics reviewing movies on Rotten Tomatoes. The rating generated from these Rotten Tomatoes reviews for a particular movie impacts its box office performance, and ultimately impacts what movies get made. Does it really matter that Rotten Tomatoes is male dominated? Of course it does. Most ticket buyers are women and they should at least have a consensus of the critics that reflects somewhat the diversity of the buying public. But, if we rephrase the question to “Is a male dominated Rotten Tomatoes leading buyers to make movie choices that are male biased?”, it isn’t entirely clear. Might the professionalism of critics mitigate gender bias to some degree?

There are approximately four times as many male critics as there are female critics reviewing movies on Rotten Tomatoes. The rating generated from these Rotten Tomatoes reviews for a particular movie impacts its box office performance, and ultimately impacts what movies get made. Does it really matter that Rotten Tomatoes is male dominated? Of course it does. Most ticket buyers are women and they should at least have a consensus of the critics that reflects somewhat the diversity of the buying public. But, if we rephrase the question to “Is a male dominated Rotten Tomatoes leading buyers to make movie choices that are male biased?”, it isn’t entirely clear. Might the professionalism of critics mitigate gender bias to some degree?

I’ve begun a study of male and female critics’ Rotten Tomatoes ratings. I began with Rotten Tomatoes’ Top 100 Romance Movies. It is a genre that is generally considered female-oriented. For this post I was only able to analyze the first 50 movies. These top 50 movies have 4,893 reviews attached to them and only 727, a mere 15.6%, are by female critics. Male critics rated these 50 movies 95.4% Fresh and female critics rated them 95.7% Fresh, a slightly higher rating by women but virtually identical.

When you review Rotten Tomatoes’ list, you’ll probably note that there are a number of movies that, while there is romance in the plot,  wouldn’t be considered Romance movies, On the Waterfront and The Town for instance. I took a shot below at separating out Romance Comedy and Romance Drama as separate genres.

Rotten Tomatoes
Male Female
# of Movies # Fresh # Rotten % Fresh # Fresh # Rotten % Fresh
Comedy Romance 10 466 17 96.5% 85 0 100.0%
Drama Romance 21 1896 106 94.7% 352 21 94.4%
All Other 19 1407 60 95.9% 259 10 96.3%

At first glance, Comedy Romance seems to break the possible conclusion that gender doesn’t matter, and that may be the case. If there were a male female split within the genre, the common perception might be that romantic comedies would be where you’re most apt to see it. We need to be careful with the conclusion that the Comedy Romance data proves the hypothesis that male and female critics review these movies differently. If just 3 female critics changed their ratings to Rotten, the result would be 96.5% Fresh, identical to the male critics.

For my next post I plan on adding movies 51 to 100 to the study. I’m not comfortable that there is enough data, so far, for the female critic results in the study to be credible enough to reach conclusions. I also think it would be interesting to take a look at a male-oriented genre, like Westerns, to see if the results hold the other way.

There is one conclusion that can’t be denied. If there is any difference between male and female critics, making up only 15% of the reviews stifles any real impact on the final Rotten Tomatoes rating.

In Romance and in Movies, Guys Sometimes Get it Right

Typically, movies about the relationship between a man and a woman are targeted at women. Linklater has been able to craft a series of romantic dramas that appeal to men as well

Yesterday was Mother’s Day and I suspect that many mothers spent some enjoyable time with their family this weekend taking in a movie. I know that’s what we did. How can you miss with the perfect chick flick opening this past weekend, Captain America: Civil War. The movie was great by the way. Now that Mother’s Day is in the rear view mirror, you might be looking ahead to Father’s Day and wondering what would be the perfect movie experience for the Dads out there. As you might expect, I have the perfect recommendation, the Before Sunrise trilogy starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Whaaat??? WHAAAT???

The three movies, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight are romantic dramas and were directed by Richard Linklater. You might recall Linklater directed the innovative 2014 Oscar nominee, Boyhood, which he filmed over a twelve year period using the same actors. This idea of real time filming though was no doubt borrowed from the trilogy, which was filmed over 18 years at 9 year intervals. Each movie is a peek at the state of the relationship and the lives of the two protagonists at the 9 year intervals, beginning with the meet in the 1995 Before Sunrise through the messiness of marriage in the 2013 Before Midnight.

Typically, movies about the relationship between a man and a woman are targeted at women. Linklater has been able to craft a series of romantic dramas that appeal to men as well. In fact, male IMDB voters have rated each of the movies in the trilogy higher than female voters have.

 

MOVIE MALE FEMALE ROTTEN TOMATOES
Before Sunrise 8.1 8.0 Certified Fresh 100%
Before Sunset 8.1 7.9 Certified Fresh 95%
Before Midnight 8.0 7.8 Certified Fresh 98%
Total IMDB Average 8.1 7.9

Additionally, the male dominated critics of Rotten Tomatoes have scored each of the three movies very high.

Why this series of movies has had such strong male appeal isn’t clear. Speaking personally, I remember watching Before Sunrise in 2004. Before Sunset had just been released to rave reviews and I was intrigued enough by it to seek out the prequel. I loved the movie. It was so unique and genuine. For one hour and forty minutes, from the time Jesse and Celine meet as strangers on the train until Celine gets back on the train at sunrise, Jesse and Celine have a conversation as they wander the streets of Vienna. There are no dramatic events invented to put their new love in peril. There is no neat resolution at the end with the lovers living happily ever after. Instead, you experience the spark of attraction and the “getting to know you” conversation. In the end, you get the “I’ll call you” conversation without any resolution as to whether they ever will see each other again. At the end of the movie, I remember feeling that I had just watched a movie that got it right. This is how relationships actually do happen.

According to Wikipedia, Before Sunrise was based on an actual experience Richard Linklater had while traveling by train from New York to Austin, TX. He met a young woman, Amy Lehrhaupt, on the train and they spent a day together in Philadelphia. Apparently, their paths never crossed again. In 2010, 15 years after the release of Before Sunrise, Linklater learned that Amy had died in a motorcycle accident shortly before the release of the movie she had helped inspire.

Richard Linklater understands that romance isn’t always wrapped up in a bow. When it comes to movies and romance, he is a guy who gets it right.

 

 

Chick Flicks Can Be Found in the Most Unusual Places

One of the best kept secrets, outside of Marvel Studios, is the widespread appeal that the Marvel Universe has for women.

Captain America: Civil War opens tomorrow in the United States. It is expected to have a huge box office weekend and beyond. The indicators are all in place. It opened last weekend internationally to an $80,000,000 gross in ticket sales. It is already #86 on the IMDB Top 250 with an 8.5 rating. And, Rotten Tomatoes has it at 93% Certified Fresh. And, women everywhere will be dragging along their significant other to witness the epic battle of superhero vs. superhero. Whaaaat??? Women???

One of the best kept secrets, outside of Marvel Studios, is the widespread appeal that the Marvel Universe has for women. Here are the IMDB ratings for the previous movies with Captain America: Civil War characters in them:

MOVIE MALE FEMALE
Captain America: The Winter Soldier 7.7 7.9
Captain America: The First Avenger 6.8 7.1
Avengers: Age of Ultron 7.4 7.7
The Avengers 8.1 8.3
Iron Man 3 7.2 7.7
Iron Man 2 7.0 7.3
Iron Man 7.9 7.9
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 6.7 7.2
The Amazing Spider-Man 7.0 7.4
Total IMDB Average 7.3 7.6

While technically, the Amazing Spider-Man movies were not part of the Marvel Universe, Spider-Man is a Marvel character whose rights have been restored Marvel with his appearance in this film.

The male to female splits in the IMDB ratings are comparable to Romantic Comedy splits. For some perspective, When Harry Met Sally has 7.6/7.7 split. The Princess Bride has an 81/82 split. The average of theses 9 Captain America: Civil War related movies is a 7.3/7.6 split, with 8 out of 9 being favored by women.

Other Marvel Universe movies reflect similar splits:

MOVIE MALE FEMALE
X-Men: First Class 7.7 7.9
X-Men: Days of Future Past 8.0 8.2
Thor: The Dark World 7.0 7.5
Thor 7.0 7.4
Deadpool 8.2 8.3
Guardians of the Galaxy 8.0 8.1
Fantastic Four 4.3 4.7
Total IMDB Average 7.2 7.4

I don’t know how to explain it but the consistent results don’t lie, women are quite at home in the Marvel Universe. Perhaps it is the humor that permeates the narratives. Perhaps it is focus on character development that pays as much attention to the human character as the super character. Whatever it is, it may be the critical difference between the success of Marvel movies in contrast to DC Comics movies, the splits on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice , for example, are 7.1 for Males and 6.9 for Females.

So, Ladies, enjoy Captain America: Civil War this weekend. Don’t be surprised, however, if your significant other would rather stay home and watch When Harry Met Sally.

***

After completing this post, I discovered that I had forgotten to include Ant-Man as one of the movies whose character appears in Captain America: Civil War. The splits in the IMDB ratings for Ant-Man are 7.3 Male and 7.5 Female. It’s uncanny.

Hollywood Has an even Deeper Diversity Problem than it Thinks

According to a study released within the last few weeks by the website Polygraph Cool, actresses have less dialogue than male actors by a significant amount

Children should be seen and not heard. This is a proverb whose origins date back to medieval times. It is a proverb that is rarely used today because, well, it’s so medieval. When it comes to roles for actresses in major motion pictures, however, we aren’t far removed from those medieval times. Actresses are seen in the movies but are not heard as much as their male counterparts. According to a study released within the last few weeks by the website Polygraph Cool, actresses have less dialogue than male actors by a significant amount in 2,000 of the top grossing box office films of all time. The study measures words of dialogue for each character in the screenplays of these movies. Some of the key findings in the study are:

  • Female characters have the most dialogue in only 22% of the films studied.
  • Female characters have two of the top three roles in only 18% of the movies.
  • In all age groups, actresses have less dialogue than male actors in the same  age group.
  • This dialogue discrepancy gets more pronounced as actresses age. Actresses 22-31 have 3 words of dialogue for every 4 words for Actors in the same age group. In comparison Actresses 42-65 have 1 word of dialogue for every 5 words of male dialogue.
  • Even in Romantic Comedies the dialogue is 58% male.

Are there movies out there with greater gender parity? If so, how do you find them? The answer is yes. They do exist but not in great numbers. At the bottom of the Polygraph study linked above, the authors provide a tool that you can use to access the movies used in the study. As I’ve mentioned in a prior article, there is a male bias to both IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. You might check out ChickFlix.net, which provides movie reviews from a female perspective as a substitute for Rotten Tomatoes.

There is also the Bechdel Test, which is cited in the Polygraph study. This tests movies based on a simple criteria. There must be two main female characters who have a conversation with each other about something other than a man. Based on studies, only about 50% of movies pass the test.

You can also use the personalized movie recommenders that I’ve recommended on my posts. By rating movies on Netflix-DVD, MovieLens, or Criticker, you will generate movie recommendations based on your taste in movies.

The lack of diversity in today’s movies reflect the box office. The first step is being able to identify which movies reflect the diversity that we’d like to see in film. I would like to think that we can push film evolution out of medieval times.

Why Don’t More Women Rate Movies on IMDB?

According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Females represented 52% of all moviegoers in 2014. In my study of IMDB’s Top 250, only 16% of the votes cast for Top 250 movies were by women, interestingly close to the 18% participation of female critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

Last October Meryl Streep was at the London Film Festival promoting her new movie Suffragette, a film about the struggle to secure the vote for women in Britain. She used the opportunity to criticize Rotten Tomatoes for its underrepresentation of female critics in its Tomatometer, the tool Rotten Tomatoes uses to grade movies. She pointed out that there were 168 women to 760 men among the critics used by Rotten Tomatoes. She felt that this one sided bias was negatively impacting women-driven movies at the box office. In an interview with the Daily Beast she said “I submit to you that men and women are not the same, they like different things. Sometimes they like the same thing but sometimes their tastes diverge. If the Tomatometer is slighted so completely to one set of tastes that drives box office in the United States.”

Meryl Streep is spot on when she says that sometimes men and women like the same movies but often their tastes differ. For example, in a recent demographic study I put together of the IMDB Top 250 Movies, here were the top 5 movies for men and women:

Men Women
The Shawshank Redemption The Shawshank Redemption
The Godfather Schindler’s List
The Godfather: Part II The Godfather
The Dark Knight 12 Angry Men
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Men and women agree on two of the top 5 but disagree on the other 3.

Is Rotten Tomatoes restricting, or not encouraging, women to participate as critics for their website, or are women simply less interested in film criticism? According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Females represented 52% of all moviegoers in 2014. In my study of IMDB’s Top 250, only 16% of the votes cast for Top 250 movies were by women, interestingly close to the 18% participation of female critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Here are the female participation rates by age groups for the Top 250 study:

Age Group Female % of IMDB Votes
Under 18 21%
18 to 29 18%
30 to 45 14%
Over 45 16%

Some hypotheses for these results might include:

  1. Women are not as comfortable with technology as men, particularly in the older age groups.
  2. There is an unequal sharing of household responsibilities, particularly during the 30 to 45 child rearing years.
  3. Women go to the movies more than men because they don’t have time to watch movies when they are home. Men, on the other hand, find time to watch movies at home.
  4. There is a male bias to the Top 250 movies list.
  5. There are other things women would rather do than rate movies.

The data above is consistent with the first two hypotheses. The third hypothesis may also be a factor. My Top 250 data demonstrates that women have higher IMDB participation rates for newer movies, which supports greater viewership at movie theaters than at home.  When ranked by release date from the oldest to the newest and divided into two groups of 125, there is clearly greater participation across all age groups for newer movies.

Age Group Oldest 125 Movies (Median Release Date 1963) Newest 125 Movies (Median Release Date 2003)
Under 18 16% 23%
18 to 29 15% 20%
30 to 45 12% 15%
Over 45 16% 17%
All Ages 14% 18%

I think you see a convergence in the participation rates as the age groups get older because the old movies become more contemporary as the groups get older. But even for the oldest group, who may have watched many of the old movies when they were new, the participation is greater for the newer movies.

The fourth hypothesis is certainly true. In the Top 250 there are 142 movies that men rate higher than women and only 66 that women rate higher than men. But, in those 66 movies that women rate higher than men, women still are only 16% of the total vote.

In the final analysis, though, when you control for the first four hypotheses, I can’t get female participation in IMDB voting to a level greater than 23%. In fact, the single movie in the Top 250 with the highest female participation, the Audrey Hepburn classic Roman Holiday, has a participation rate of only 37%. By the way, the more contemporary version of the same movie, Notting Hill, has only 38% female participation.

All of which leaves me with hypothesis 5, rating movies is one of the things that you do on Mars rather than on Venus. Whatever the reason, Meryl Streep’s concern is real and change is hard. It happens one IMDB vote at a time.

Have I struck a nerve? Do you have any other hypotheses? Please leave comments.