Most everyone in the U.S. enjoys going to the movies. And when times are bad, box office sales often rise in movie theaters. People need an escape from the relentless bad news about unemployment, wars, and deficits. While there are numerous web sites that offer movie news, one with a memorable name serves as one of the best sources, and that is Rotten Tomatoes.
One might expect that with a name like Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com) the site would highlight duds, meaning movies that critics and fans drub with awful reviews.
But Rotten Tomatoes is a source for everything about films that range from classics like Citizen Kane, latest hits like The Help, and, of course, the very latest “rotten” tomato.
Rotten Tomatoes offers reviews, consumer reactions, feature stories, and even trailers. It’s one-stop shopping for the latest in film news. Its recipe of film-related content has struck a chord--Com Score (www.comscore.com) reports that it attracts nine million visitors a month. Its audience skewers middle age. “More users are over 35 than under 35,” says Matt Atchity, editor of Rotten Tomatoes.
Atchity describes Rotten Tomatoes as “the largest aggregator of movie reviews online. We pool a few hundred critics of outlets and give every review an up or down rating.”
When films come out on a certain theme, the site publishes timely articles triggered by the movie. When Moneyball (starring Brad Pitt), a film about a baseball executive who used statistics to compensate for his team’s small budget, debuted in September, the site published an article titled “Ten Best Baseball Films.”
The key to unlocking the information on Rotten Tomatoes is to identify the film you want to explore. Plug in Taxi Driver or Spider-Man, for example, and you can then choose from these categories in relation to your title: Movies, DVD, Celebrities, News, and Critics.
One of its most useful tools of the site is the reviews. Rotten Tomatoes is chock-full of reviews from such sources as The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Access Hollywood, The Denver Post, and Film.com (www.film.com). The site links to as many as 150 to 200 critiques. A review starts with a synopsis and some selected quotes and then sends you to the publication’s site for the full review. A spokesperson at The New Yorker says Rotten Tomatoes drives traffic to the magazine’s site. If it had copied the review without permission, it would have transgressed copyright rules.
Examples of quotes for the film Drive include: “It’s a brilliant work of art that’s bold, daring and unpredictable”; “Remember Drive Angry? This is not that movie. This is Drive Calm. This is Drive Cool”; and “Drive is a needle-punch of adrenaline to the aorta.” So film-goers pondering whether to spend money on a film or rent a DVD can use Rotten Tomatoes as a consumer buying guide.
But editor Atchity notes that critics and viewers aren’t always in sync. “A lot of critics analyze movies from an artistic perspective,” he said. “If there’s a movie you really want to see, go see it--regardless of what the critics say.”
The site operates like Yelp (www.yelp.com), providing not just critics’ reactions to a film but feedback from other Rotten Tomato readers who are more in sync with the feelings of average moviegoers. For example, 81 of 92 people who saw Drive liked it, a statistic that helps viewers decide whether to see it or not.
Besides information on specific films, the site offers a changing array of feature stories. Its weekly articles have included a question-and-answer with actors such as talented Ryan Gosling, star of Drive, a retrospective on the best of actor James Wood’s films, and a trailer on Kirsten Dunst’s latest film, Melancholia.
Rotten Tomatoes links to film news with a variety of other publications, web sites, and blogs.
Senh Duong, a student at the University of California Berkeley and aficionado of actor Jackie Chan, launched the site in 1999 to share reviews of Chan’s latest films. After USA Today and Yahoo wrote features about the site, it became an instant hit. The site was acquired by Flixster in 2010 and then purchased by Warner Bros. in 2011.
Any movie that falls below the 60% positive rating is assigned--you guessed it--a rotten tomato.
Many users look for Rotten Tomatoes’ standard of approval, like the Good Housekeeping seal. If a movie is good, it is termed Certified Fresh. Films that earn the Certified Fresh seal have garnered 75% positive reviews of 40 top critics.
Gary M. Stern is a freelance writer based in New York City.