New study shows bad Rotten Tomatoes reviews have no impact on film earnings

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Sep 12, 2017

Brett Ratner, who directed X-Men: The Last Stand and the Rush Hour film series, recently said that movie review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes hurts the film industry. In essence, poor reviews discourages viewers from seeing films, and that’s bad for business. More recently, The New York Times ran with the idea in an article about the power of Rotten Tomatoes’ scoring system, the Tomatometer.

Yves Bergquist, director of the Data & Analytics Project at USC’s Entertainment Technology Center, is here to tell Ratner, and the rest of us, that movie reviews actually have no impact on box office take. 

Bergquist scraped Box Office Mojo data for all titles that grossed more than $1 million. Then he took Rotten Tomatoes scores and mathed it out.

In his post on Medium, Bergquist writes,

“[I] 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.”

Whaddya know? There is no correlation between earnings and reviews.

To be thorough, Bergquist ran the numbers for only summer movies and for a film’s opening weekend performance. No correlation there, either.

In fact, Rotten Tomato averages have actually increased in the last few years: The median score of films that grossed over $2 million in the 2000s was 51; in the 2010s, the score is now 53. The increase over time is more impressive with films that grossed more than $300 million. While the median Rotten Tomatoes score was 73 in 2013, here in 2017, the current median is 77.5.

So if you (or Ratner) are looking to point a finger at surface-level statistics, dig deeper. In this age of Big Data, the answers are there if you look for them.

And now that evidence has proven there is no correlation between reviews and earnings, perhaps directors like Ratner can focus on more relevant matters...like improving the appeal of their movies. 

Note: Bergquist’s article is not just data. He includes some fascinating analysis of the industry in general. For example, he notes that FX-heavy films are beginning to lose money and that executives really don’t understand movie making. “Nobody ever got promoted in Hollywood because they had a better inside knowledge on what audiences wanted to see,” Bergquist writes.

You should read it. So should Hollywood executives.

(Via Variety)