Rotten Tomatoes has addressed accusations that audience scores for the John Travolta film Gotti were artificially manipulated, saying they have found no problems with the suspiciously high score. Intended as a comeback film for Travolta, who reportedly had dreams of an Oscar nomination for his role, Gotti was released last week to almost universal critical derision. So bad was the film in the eyes of critics, it earned a rare 0% fresh score on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes.
Though critics hated Gotti, audience reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes were quite kind to the film, giving it (to date) a 64% positive score on an unusually high 7,000-plus reviews. This glaring discrepancy between critic and audience score, not to mention a seemingly inflated number of reviews, set off alarm bells with some, leading to accusations of deliberate manipulation. Speculation was further fueled after marketers for Gotti picked up on the critics vs. audiences narrative and used it to promote the movie.
Could someone involved with Gotti have launched a campaign to artificially boost the film's Rotten Tomatoes audience score? For their part, Rotten Tomatoes says they have found no evidence that anyone gamed their system to give Gotti a push. As they told Gizmodo:
“We closely monitor our platforms and haven’t determined there to be any problems. All of the reviews were left by active accounts.”
As claims of Gotti audience score manipulation picked up steam during the week, many eyes fixed on MoviePass, the subscription ticketing service that recently branched out by getting involved in film financing and owns a stake in Gotti. When questioned by Gizmodo, MoviePass denied knowing anything about possible Rotten Tomatoes shenanigans:
“The MoviePass marketing team is only engaged in sending promotional emails and push notifications to our users. We have no further involvement from a marketing perspective and have no insight or information about who is providing the audience reviews to Rotten Tomatoes.”
As Rotten Tomatoes has gained popularity and influence, more and more controversy has erupted over how the site arrives at its audience score, and the issue of whether that score is sometimes manipulated to help either boost or torpedo a film. Last year, users of the message board 4chan freely admitted to creating burner accounts just to down-vote Star Wars: The Last Jedi in hopes of lowering its score. Earlier this year, the Facebook group "Down With Disney’s Treatment of Franchises and its Fanboys" launched a campaign to drive down the audience score for Black Panther.
Given these known instances of internet trolls armed with keyboards deliberately hurting audience scores for movies, it's arguably not a stretch to think a clever marketing team armed with their own keyboards might engage in the same activity for the sake of boosting a movie's score and encouraging a few more people to buy a ticket. Either way, Rotten Tomatoes has something of a credibility issue on its hands. It will be interesting to see if Gotti experiences a boost at the box office thanks to all those possibly suspicious positive audience reviews. The movie is currently considered a flop after grossing just $1.6 million its first weekend.