Will I "Really Like" this Movie?

Navigating Movie Website Ratings to Select More Enjoyable Movies

Does Rotten Tomatoes Unduly Influence the Movie Box Office?

A firestorm arose last week among DC Comics fans when reviews started to aggregate on Rotten Tomatoes for the latest DC Comics movie installment, Suicide Squad. From those early reviews it was clear that DC Comics was headed to its third straight Rotten rating. As of today the Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for the three DC movies released so far are:

Release Date Rotten Tomatoes Rating
Man of Steel 6/14/2013 Rotten 55%
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice 5/23/2016 Rotten 27%
Suicide Squad 8/5/2016 Rotten 26%

DC Comics fans were so enraged by the emerging Rotten rating for Suicide Squad last week that they initiated a petition to shut down the Rotten Tomatoes website. Do they have a point? Do critics prejudice movie viewers against movies with Rotten ratings?

Last year I created a time series of movies released in the second half of 2015 that made it into the weekly box office top ten. From that data, I’m able to measure box office performance for movies rated Certified Fresh vs. Rotten by Rotten Tomatoes.

Top Ten Box Office Movies
Released  July 17 to October 13, 2015
Opening Weekend Box Office (1,000,000) Total Box Office (1,000,000) % Growth After First Weekend
Certified Fresh  $        26.50  $       92.14 247.7%
Rotten  $        13.37  $       40.19 200.6%

Certified Fresh movies, on average, open with almost twice the box office as Rotten Movies. And, after the first weekend, the additional growth in sales is 23.5% greater for Certified Fresh movies. In addition, Certified Fresh movies have an average theatrical box office run of 96 days as opposed to 72 days for movies rated Rotten.

So obviously Rotten Tomatoes does influence theater goers into seeing Certified Fresh movies over Rotten movies, right? Yes, and justifiably so. Audiences enjoy the Certified Fresh movies more according to IMDB feedback from opening weekend movie goers.

Top Ten Box Office Movies
Released  July 17 to October 13, 2015
Opening Weekend IMDB Rating
Certified Fresh                7.9
Rotten                6.1

The people who go to movies on the opening weekend are the ones who are most predisposed to like the movie. If they rate Rotten movies low on IMDB, the casual viewer is likely to rate it even lower. Rotten Tomatoes is doing the person planning on going to the movies a service by redirecting then away from below average movies. In fairness, though, the IMDB ratings for the three DC Comics movies are better than the average Rotten rating in my study.

IMDB Rating as of 8/11/2016
Man of Steel 7.2
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice 6.9
Suicide Squad 7.0

These IMDB ratings are closer to what you might see for a Fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes. The  incongruity between the IMDB average ratings and Rotten Tomatoes might be worth a second look. The influence of bad reviews on the box office for these movies is also unclear..

Opening Weekend Box Office (1,000,000) Total Box Office (1,000,000) % Growth After First Weekend
Man of Steel  $      116.62  $     291.05 149.6%
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice  $      166.01  $     330.25 98.9%
Suicide Squad  $      135.10

At first blush, these movies appear to underperform in the weeks after successful opening weekends. But, when you compare their box office growth after opening weekend to the very successful Captain America: Civil War the post-opening weekend box office growth lags, but not outrageously so.

Opening Weekend Box Office (1,000,000) Total Box Office (1,000,000) % Growth After First Weekend
Captain America: Civil War  $      179.14  $     407.05 127.2%

We’ll have to wait and see whether Suicide Squad underperforms in subsequent weeks. But it might be that franchise movies have a built in audience that mitigates somewhat the influence of bad reviews for all but the casual movie goer.

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