Despite the growing belief in certain circles that Rotten Tomatoes is hurting the potential box office of poorly reviewed films, a new study suggests there's no substantial link between a film's box office and whether or not it's deemed "rotten" or "fresh."
Hollywood power players like Brett Ratner have been grumbling about the review aggregation site for awhile, suggesting it's reduced film criticism to a number. Ratner and others have suggested that Rotten Tomatoes scores can hamstring a film that audiences might actually enjoy simply by creating bad buzz on social media, and plans are afoot in some Hollywood circles to blunt the site's supposed influence. The fact that 2017 has proved to be a historically disastrous summer at the box office has only fueled these arguments.
The only problem? These assumptions about Rotten Tomatoes' ability to sink a film are being disproven. Data scientist Yves Bergquist has presented a fairly compelling case study that there's no significant correlation between a film's RT score and its box office prospects.
"I collected box office return data through Box Office Mojo for all the 150 titles released in 2017 that grossed more than $1 million, plugged in Rotten Tomatoes Scores and Audience Scores for all titles, and looked at correlation between scores and financial performance through both a basic Pearson Product-Moment Correlation Coefficient (PMCC) analysis and some linear modeling to extract r-squares (which measure the strength of the correlation). PMCC measures the linear correlation between two variables x and y. It has a value between + 1 (100% positive correlation) and -1 (100% negative correlation, often called “inverse correlation”). The closer to 0 a PMCC score, the less correlation there is between x and y.
The result? Nope. The math is pretty overwhelming in saying there was no (positive or negative) correlation in 2017 between Rotten Tomatoes Scores and box office returns."
Bergquist posits that the real reason for the current box office drought has more to do with audiences in the age of streaming entertainment have become more demanding and desire more sophisticated, creatively original films.
Rotten Tomatoes has long been an easy target for not only disgruntled film producers, but for fans of films met with critical scorn. There was even an infamous movement of DCEU fans who believed there was a vast, Disney-led conspiracy to undercut the RT scores of DC films.
Hollywood likely needs to re-evaluate who's to blame for the current box office woes. Aging franchises like Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers proved studios can't simply lean on brand recognition to make money, and potential franchise failures with A-list talent like The Mummy and The Dark Tower have shown audiences aren't going to show up for star power alone. The summer's big winners, like Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and IT, have proved audiences are more than willing to show up if the film looks appealing, regardless of Rotten Tomatoes score.
Source: Yves Bergquist