Movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, owned by Fandango and Warner Bros., has always raised conflict-of-interest questions. A new report in New York Magazine paints an even uglier picture, exposing how movie studios and PR firms manipulate Rotten Tomatoes scores through shady tactics such as paying for positive reviews.
According to the report, PR firms like Bunker 15 recruit obscure critics and pay them to write positive reviews, which boosts scores. They also lobby critics not to publish negative reviews on sites tracked by Rotten Tomatoes.
From the report:
Between October 2018 and January 2019, Rotten Tomatoes added eight reviews to Ophelia's score. Seven were favorable, and most came from critics who have reviewed at least one other Bunker 15 movie. The writer of a negative review says that Bunker 15 lobbied them to change it; if the critic wanted to "give it a (barely) overall positive then I do know the editors at Rotten Tomatoes and can get it switched," a Bunker 15 employee wrote. I also discovered another negative review of Ophelia from this period that was not counted by Rotten Tomatoes, by a writer whose positive reviews of other Bunker 15 films have been recorded by the aggregator. Ophelia climbed the Tomatometer to 62 percent, flipping from rotten to "fresh." The next month, the distributor IFC Films announced that it had acquired Ophelia for release in the U.S.
Ophelia's production company, Covert Media, didn't return requests for comment. Bunker 15's founder, Daniel Harlow, says, "Wow, you are really reaching there," and disagrees with the suggestion that his company buys reviews to skew Rotten Tomatoes: "We have thousands of writers in our distribution list. A small handful have set up a specific system where filmmakers can sponsor or pay to have them review a film." Noted.
I stopped looking at Rotten Tomatoes scores ever since I started using Letterboxd. It's like Goodreads for movies, if Goodreads wasn't bad.