Rotten Tomatoes finally made some adjustments to its rating system to respond to fan abuse, but it's made the system even worse than before. Rotten Tomatoes has long been a source of controversy in some circles due to the way its scoring system favors certain types of movies and misrepresents the actual review scores of most films, but more recently fans have started to weaponize the audience rating systems and Rotten Tomatoes' new change only hurts things.
While some rating systems like Metacritic actually seek to parse critical reviews and give a result that is close to representative of the average critic's perspective, or Cinemascore, which polls people on their way out of a theater to get a proper consensus from audiences who actually saw the movie, Rotten Tomatoes takes an entirely different approach. Split into 2 scores, audience and critical, Rotten Tomatoes doesn't seek to represent the true average review, but merely a binary positive/negative consensus. Meaning all reviews are first simplified into a thumbs up or a thumbs down, with scores equivalent to a 6 out of 10 being deemed "fresh" and 5 out of 10 and lower being deemed "rotten." The final score is then the percentage mix of those fresh and rotten scores represented as a single number.
The "Tomatometer" often works as a rough indicator, but it has some serious blind spots, namely in the way a 6 and 5 out of 10, which are both only 1 point away from each other, are counted as if they are a 0 or 10 out of 10, respectively, effectively turning a 1 point score difference into a 10 point swing. Not only does it destroy the score of movies that get a lot of 5/10 ratings (obfuscating the difference between average and terrible), but it also falsely equates movies with mostly 6 or 7-star reviews to movies with mostly 8, 9, or 10-star reviews. For example, The Dark Knight has a 94% on the Tomatometer with an average score of 8.58/10, whereas Spy Kids has a 93% with 7.24/10. Most people would agree that Spy Kids is inferior to The Dark Knight, yet both movies are separated by a mere single percentage point and both in the mid-90s on the Tomatometer, but if you extrapolate the average review out, their 86% and 72% scores show a much wider gulf.
And that's just the verified critic Tomatometer. The audience rating system is even more of a mess. Not only does it use the same flawed score calculation, but there's also no verification that the reviewer has even seen the movie, leaving it open to major abuses. This is blatantly obvious in some cases, such as Revenge of the Sith. In 2010 - 5 years after Revenge of the Sith's theatrical release - 32 million additional votes suddenly appeared in its audience ratings (up from a previous total of less than 200,000), dropping the audience score from 85% down to 64%. That's a clear example of nefarious manipulation, and its not the only time it's happened.
This Page: Rotten Tomatoes' Audience Ratings Have Been Abused
Page 2: The "Fix" Only Made Things Worse
Rotten Tomatoes' Audience Ratings Have Been Abused
The more recent controversy has to do with the "want to see" number Rotten Tomatoes used to present before a movie released. Made up of 2 simple options, "want to see" and "don't want to see," the percentage score was a rating of audience enthusiasm for a movie. Since it wasn't an actual movie rating, it was rarely used and typically stood in the high 90s since most people that cared to vote were people already enthusiastic about the movie.
As a means of voicing displeasure with Brie Larson and Captain Marvel, a group of people started voting to drop the "want to see" score down into the 30% range. Shortly after, the same thing started happening to Star Wars: Episode IX, as fans who were still disgruntled about The Last Jedi started to sink the sequel trilogy capper's "want to see score." A similar thing happened to The Promise, which is set during the Armenian Genocide when 40,000 one-star reviews flooded in shortly after the premiere. The director blamed it on genocide deniers.
Rotten Tomatoes Changed In Response To Trolls
In response to this abuse, Rotten Tomatoes has made some changes to the way it displays the "want to see" votes. In a blog post, Rotten Tomatoes announced several changes including disabling comments before a movie's release due to an uptick in negative comments as well as replacing the "want to see" percentage with a pure count of people who responded positively. There is no longer an option for fans to even say they don't want to see a movie.
While the post doesn't explicitly say so, the timing and nature of the changes make it very clear that it's in response to the influx of negativity for Captain Marvel. Another change not specified in their post is related to their layout. While the Tomatometer and the average score used to be presented together, average scores can now only be viewed by clicking a "more info" tab, putting an exclusive focus on the flawed fresh/rotten percentage for every movie.