January 10, 2019
Movies are Getting Better, According to Rotten Tomatoes
As we all know, Rotten Tomatoes is the only way to determine whether or not a movie is good (this is a joke, please don’t @ me). And according to the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, movies are getting better. At least, that’s what movie marketing consultant David A. Gross discovered when he ran an experiment calculating Rotten Tomatoes scores since 1997 for movies released on 1,000 or more screens. Can this be accurate? Are movies really getting better, resulting in higher Rotten Tomatoes scores? Or is this a case of an influx of critics tipping the numbers?
There’s a general consensus amongst older film buffs that movie quality has been on a steady decline for the past few decades. Looking back at the New Hollywood age, where a large amount of studio films took risks, and comparing it today, when most studio movies seem designed to sell toys, and you might understand that mentality. But if you’re judging things by Rotten Tomatoes scores, the opposite seems to be true – movies are, in fact, only getting better.
According to Deadline, movie marketing consultant David A. Gross ran a study tabulating the average scores of films reviewed on Rotten Tomatoes since 1997. The results surprised him. First, let’s look at a chart, because who doesn’t like charts, right?
The results for the first 14 years remained steady, but then, “the average score began climbing, from 46.6 in 2010, to 57.2 last year. At the same time, the number of films scoring above 60 began to rise, from 41 in 2010, to 74 in 2018.” Last year, Rotten Tomatoes attempted to reboot itself, adding close to 200 new critical voices in an effort to increase diversity. But the average-bump starts before that, which makes this extra curious. Even Gross himself is stumped, saying: “I’d really like to know what’s going on,” and adding that he himself doesn’t think movies are getting better. “Are they broadly different over the last two decades? I don’t think so,” he said. “I think they’re about the same.”
I myself have no explanation for this. If I had to guess, I’d say that the style of film criticism has changed over the last few years. In the late 1990s, so-called “fanboy film criticism” began to rise. The internet enabled almost anyone who had the power to publish a blog become a film critic, and eventually, film studios began to take notice. To be clear: I’m not saying this is a bad thing! But I do think that style of criticism differs immensely from criticism from what you’d see in, say, the 1970s. And eventually, a whole new generation of film critics began to pop up, shifting the playing field. Again, this is all a guess, and I have no proof that this is what’s happening. But if you were to ask me if I think movies are only getting better, my answer would be: “Probably not.”
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