Rotten Tomatoes' scoring system is completely broken, and the Joker movie reviews are the latest proof of that. Unlike other review aggregation platforms, such as Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes' Tomatometer is purely measured on the likes and dislikes of film critics, harkening back to the old days of play reviews according to the site. Any movie that is scored higher than 60% receives a fresh rating and anything over 75% is Certified Fresh. But there's much more to it.
Review scores themselves don't determine whether or not the reviews will account positively or negatively towards the Tomatometer - the critics do (so a 3/5 movie could still be "rotten" if the critic chooses) - but that actual number is hidden away from the actual aggregated score. From that typical Rotten Tomatoes number, the review scores the critics have assigned aren't easily found, which negatively impacts the films, at least in some regards. Going based on Joker's early reviews and the fact that it won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival, it stands to reason that it will be a contender for Best Picture at the Oscars. But you wouldn't know that from the Rotten Tomatoes score.
After its Venice Film Festival premiere, Joker had an 86% score on Rotten Tomatoes based on 49 reviews, which is great. It also has an average rating of 8.66 out of 10, which is also great. But looking at just the top critics, it was "rotten" with a 45% score out 11 reviews - 5 fresh, 6 rotten. The math checks out on that, but what's surprising is that, out of those 11 reviews, Joker actually has an average rating of 7.2 out of 10. That means a film rated over 7/10 is being aggregated to under 50%.
Things haven't changed now that Joker has played at the Toronto International Film Festival: out of 81 total reviews, it has a 78% rating and 7.87 out of 10 score; from 17 top critics reviews, it has a 47% rating and 7.48 out of 10 score. In fact, the disparity from Top Critics has actually grown.
For some reason, because of the way the system works with critics, Rotten Tomatoes heavily skews controversial or generally divisive movies negatively even though the reviews themselves aren't too bad - and it doesn't just apply to top critics. For example, Avengers: Endgame's score from top critics is 92% with an average rating of 7.73/10 and Ant-Man and the Wasp's score is 76% (technically Certified Fresh) with an average rating of 6.73/10. Looking at the reviews themselves, scores that are 6/10 or 2.5/4 may either be assigned a fresh or rotten rating, which happens to a lot of divisive movies since it's common for critics to be right on the line.
What's interesting is that Rotten Tomatoes attempted to fix their system, especially all the issues with the Audience Score, but it seems whatever they did wasn't enough. There are still kinks to be worked out, which is evident in the above examples. When and whether or not those fixes happen remains to be seen, but for now, a divisive movie receiving a fresh or rotten rating (despite good reviews) may be a roll of the dice.
- Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019