Will I "Really Like" this Movie?

Navigating Movie Website Ratings to Select More Enjoyable Movies

Archive for the category “Rotten Tomatoes”

In the Objective Top Twenty, a Certified Fresh Is a Must…But Is It Enough?

When you review the Objective Top Twenty you’ll notice that every movie has earned a Certified Fresh designation from Rotten Tomatoes. It is a dominant factor in my rating system. It may even be too dominant.

All of the analysis that I’ve done so far suggests that a Certified Fresh designation by Rotten Tomatoes is a strong indicator of a “really like” movie. The new Objective Database that I’m working with also shows that a Certified Fresh rating results in a high likelihood that IMDB voters will rate the movie a 7 or higher.

 # of IMDB Votes IMDB Votes 7+ %
Certified Fresh               19,654,608 88.2%
Fresh                  6,144,742 75.4%
Rotten                  9,735,096 48.5%

And, as you might expect, the likelihood of a 7 or higher rating stair steps down as you move into the Fresh and Rotten groups of movies.

This exposes a flaw in my previous thinking about Rotten Tomatoes. In the past I’ve indicated that I haven’t seen a statistical relationship between the % Fresh and the likelihood of a “really like” movie. And, actually, that’s a true statement. The flaw in my thinking was that because I didn’t see it I assumed it didn’t exist.

The Certified Fresh, Fresh, and Rotten designations are primarily defined by % Fresh:

  • Certified Fresh for most movies is > 75% Fresh
  • Fresh for most movies is > 60% and < 75% Fresh
  • Rotten is < 60% Fresh

If differentiation exists for these three groups then it should exist between other % Fresh groups. For example, movies that are 95% Certified Fresh should have a greater “really like” probability than movies that are 80% Certified Fresh. I now believe that I haven’t seen the difference because there hasn’t been enough data to produce stable differences.

When I begin to marry Rotten Tomatoes data with IMDB, I also get more data. Below I’ve grouped the Certified Fresh movies into four groups based on % Fresh.

Certified Fresh:  # of IMDB Votes IMDB Rating 7+ %
100%                     966,496 90.7%
90-99%               10,170,946 89.9%
80-89%                  5,391,437 87.3%
70-79%                  3,125,729 83.5%

We might be seeing the differences you’d expect to see when the units of data get larger.

So, why is this important? If we treat all Certified Fresh movies as strong “really like” prospects, we are in effect saying that we are as likely to “really like” The Shawshank Redemption (Certified Fresh 91%, IMDB Avg. Rating 9.3) as The Mask ( Certified Fresh 77%, IMDB Avg. Rating 6.9). The “really like” model becomes a more dynamic movie pre-screening tool if it can make a Rotten Tomatoes distinction between those two movies.

I believe that the database has to get much larger before we can statistically differentiate between Certified Fresh 87% movies and Certified Fresh 85% movies. But, I think I can begin to integrate the Certified Fresh groupings I developed above to create some additional means of defining quality movies within the Certified Fresh grade.

You might just see this change in next Monday’s Objective Top Twenty.


In looking at this weekend’s new releases, there are no sure things but three of the movies are worth keeping an eye on. The Foreigner, the Jackie Chan action thriller, is getting good early feedback from critics and IMDB voters. I expect it to do well at the box office. Marshall, the Thurgood Marshall bio-pic starring Chadwick Boseman, has received some early Oscar buzz. It appears to be headed towards a Certified Fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes. The movie that may sneak up on audiences is Professor Marston & the Wonder Woman. Professor Marston created the character of Wonder Woman in the 1940’s. This movie tells that story. Already 34 of 38 critics have given it a Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I would expect it to receive its Certified Fresh designation by tomorrow morning.








So Now Rotten Tomatoes Has No Impact On the Box Office? Not So Fast.

There has been a conventional wisdom evolving that Rotten Tomatoes movie ratings are negatively impacting ticket sales at the movies. Over the last couple of weeks, there has been a counter argument made based on a study posted in a September 10th blog. The Wrap, Variety, and other websites reporting on the movie industry have run with the story that Rotten Tomatoes has little, if any, impact on movie ticket sales. I believe that is an oversimplification of the study and the intersection of movie ratings and movie consumption.

The points made in the study that are getting the most attention are:

  1. There is very little statistical correlation between Rotten Tomatoes ratings and box office performance.
  2. The median Rotten Tomatoes rating for 2017 is 77.5% Fresh, whereas the ratings for each of the prior four years was either 72% or 73% Fresh.
  3. There is a correlation between Rotten Tomatoes ratings and Audience ratings.

So, the argument goes, you can’t blame Rotten Tomatoes for bad box office when it is statistically proven that it has no impact on box office and, by the way, critics have actually rated this year’s movies higher than last year’s, and audiences stay away from bad movies because they are more savvy today than they’ve been in the past.

I believe the third point should be the headline. When I’ve looked at this before  I’ve found a very strong correlation to the Certified Fresh, Fresh, and Rotten ratings and my “really like” ratings.  On the other hand, I’ve found that the percentage fresh rating has a weaker correlation to whether I’ll “really like” a movie. I wonder what the statistical correlation to box office performance is for the just the three broad ratings?

As to the second point, the overlooked item in the study is that not only have critics in the aggregate liked 2017 movies better that prior years, the worldwide box office has responded with higher ticket sales in 2017 than 2016. Is it possible that better movies in 2017 have translated into more people worldwide going to the movies?

The first point, and the one that became the headline in so many articles, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. If there is a correlation between Rotten Tomatoes ratings and Audience ratings, doesn’t that suggest that Rotten Tomatoes has contributed to a more informed movie public And, because they are more informed, they are staying away from bad movies. Therefore, Rotten Tomatoes has impacted the box office. The fact that it is an indirect impact rather than a direct impact is a little misleading. Isn’t it?

Near the end of his study presentation Yves Berqquist, the author of the study, concludes that  “Audiences are becoming extremely adept at predicting and judging the quality of a film”. Rotten Tomatoes is just one of the tools audiences are using to pre-screen the movies they watch. IMDB ratings are taken into account as are Cinemascore grades. For example, Box Office Mojo, which is the go to site for movie box office information, specifically cited the “F” grade that Cinemascore gave to Mother! last weekend as a factor in the “supremely disappointing $7.5 million from 2,368 locations” opening weekend box office. Cinemascore has only given out nineteen F’s in almost forty years of movie surveys.

The movie industry may be looking for someone to blame for movie consumers behaving differently than they have in the past. But, the sooner the industry comes to grips with the new reality that movie audiences are more savvy today than they were in the past, the sooner they will improve their own fortunes. It is arrogant to blame Rotten Tomatoes for contributing to a more informed movie audience.


It has been seven weeks since a new movie, Detroit, joined The Objective Top Fifteen after its opening weekend. There is a chance that streak might be broken this weekend. Assuming Cinemascore surveys the movie, I think it’s likely that the Boston Marathon bombing bio-pic Stronger will join the list. I have hopes that Battle of the Sexes will sneak in as well. Check out my update on Monday to see how good my instincts were.


Leave Mummy Out of Your Father’s Day Plans

One of the goals of this blog is to make sure that you are aware of the internet tools that are out there to protect you from wasting your time on blockbusters like The Mummy. While it had a disappointing opening in the U.S., moviegoers still shelled out an estimated $32.2 million at the box office last weekend for this bad movie. Overseas it met its blockbuster expectations with a box office of $141.8 million. However, if you were really in the mood for a horror genre movie a better choice, but not a sure thing, might have been It Comes At Night which had a more modest U.S. box office of $6 million.

As a general rule, I won’t go to a movie on its opening weekend. I prefer to get at least a weekend’s worth of data. But if you just have to see a movie on its opening weekend here are a couple of hints. First, if you are seeing the movie on its opening Friday, the most reliable indicator is Rotten Tomatoes. Most critics have released their reviews before the day of the movie’s release. The Rotten Tomatoes rating on the movie’s release date is a statistically mature evaluation of the movie. It won’t change much after that day.

If you are going to the movies on the Saturday of opening weekend, you can add Cinemascore to the mix. I’ve blogged about this tool before. This grade is based on feedback moviegoers provide about the movie as they are leaving the theater. The grade is posted on the Saturday after the Friday release.

Finally, by Sunday IMDB will produce a pretty good, though slightly inflated, average rating for the movie.

The comparison of these three checkpoints for The Mummy and for It Comes At Night might’ve been helpful to those who thought they were in for a “really like” movie experience.

Rotten Tomatoes IMDB Avg. Rating Cinemascore Grade
The Mummy Rotten (17%) 5.9 B-
It Comes At Night Certified Fresh (86%) 7.2 D

While the Cinemascore grade of D for It Comes At Night would keep me away from opening weekend for both movies, if I had to see one, it wouldn’t be The Mummy.

Here’s the data behind my reasoning. For IMDB, the breakpoint between a movie with a good chance that I will “really like” it and one that I probably won’t like is an average rating of 7.2. Movies with a 7.2 IMDB average rating of 7.2 or higher I “really like” 63.3% of the time. Movies with an IMDB rating less than 7.2 I “really like” 43.3% of the time. Turning to Rotten Tomatoes, Movies that are Certified Fresh I “really like” 68% of the time. These “really like” percentages drop to 49.6% for movies that are Fresh and 37.5% for movies that are Rotten. So absent any information based on my own personal tastes, I won’t go to the movieplex to watch a movie that isn’t graded Certified Fresh by Rotten Tomatoes and has an IMDB Rating 7.2 or higher. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any movies out there that don’t meet that criteria that I wouldn’t “really like”. The movie may be in a genre that appeals to me which might provide some tolerance for a little less quality. That being said, the odds that I’ll “really like” a low rated movie are less than 50/50.

I should probably explore the potential of adding Cinemascore to the objective probability factors I use in developing “really like” probabilities. To date, though, I don’t have any Cinemascore data . I don’t yet have a feel for its “really like” reliability. For now, I just use it as another piece of data that might tip me one way or the other if I’m on the fence about a new movie.

Enjoy Father’s Day but stay away from Mummy.

Does Critic Expertise on Rotten Tomatoes Overcome the Law of Large Numbers?

In the evolution of my “really like” movie algorithm, one of the difficulties I keep encountering is how should I integrate Rotten Tomatoes ratings in a statistically significant way. Every time I try I keep rediscovering that its ratings are not as useful as the other websites that I use. It’s not that it has no use. To determine if a movie is worth seeing within a week after its release, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better indicator. The problem is that most of the data for a particular movie is counted in that first week. Most of the critic reviews are completed close to the release dates to provide moviegoers with guidance on the day a movie is released. After that first week, the critics are on to the next batch of new movies to review. With all of the other websites, the ratings continually get better as more people see the movie and provide input. The data pool gets larger and the law of large numbers kicks in. With Rotten Tomatoes, there is very little data growth. Its value is based on the expertise of the critics and less on the law of large numbers.

The question becomes what is the value of film critics expertise. It is actually pretty valuable. When Rotten Tomatoes slots movies into one of their three main rating buckets (Certified Fresh, Fresh, Rotten), it does create a statistically significant differentiation.

Rating “Really Like” %
Certified Fresh 69.7%
Fresh 50.0%
Rotten 36.6%

Rotten Tomatoes is able to separate pretty well those movies I “really like” from those I don’t.

So what’s the problem? If we stick to Certified Fresh movies we’ll “really like” them 7 out of 10 times. That’s true. And, if I’m deciding on which new release to see in the movie theater, that’s really good. But, if I’m deciding what movie my wife and I should watch on Friday night movie night and our selection is from the movies on cable or our streaming service, we can do better.

Of the 1,998 movies I’ve seen in the last 15 years, 923 are Certified Fresh. Which of those movies am I most likely to “really like”? Based on the following table, I wouldn’t rely on the Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh number.

Rating % Fresh Range “Really Like” %
Certified Fresh 96 to 100% 69.9%
Certified Fresh 93 to 95% 73.4%
Certified Fresh 89 to 92% 68.3%
Certified Fresh 85 to 88% 71.2%
Certified Fresh 80 to 84% 73.0%
Certified Fresh 74 to 79% 65.3%

This grouping of six equal size buckets suggests that there isn’t much difference between a movie in my database that is 75% Fresh and one that is 100% Fresh. Now, it is entirely possible that there is an actual difference between 75% Fresh and 100% Fresh. It is possible that, if my database were larger, my data might produce a less random pattern which might be statistically significant. For now, though, the data is what it is. Certified Fresh is predictive and the % Fresh part of the rating less so.

Expertise can reduce the numbers needed for meaningful differentiation between what is Certified Fresh and what is Rotten. The law of large numbers, though, may be too daunting for credible guidance much beyond that.



For 1987 to 1996, the Actress of the Decade Comes Down to a Coin Toss?

Three months ago I began a series of articles on the best actors and actresses of each of the nine decades of Oscar. I was satisfied with the approach I was taking until…this month. My scoring system works great when the results come out like the 1987 to 1996 Actor of the Decade.

Top Actors of the Decade
1987 to 1996
Actor Lead Actor Nominations Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Nominations Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Tom Hanks 3 2 0 0 15
Anthony Hopkins 3 1 0 0 12
Robin Williams 3 0 0 0 9
Daniel Day Lewis 2 1 0 0 9
Al Pacino 1 1 2 0 8

Clearly, Tom Hanks deserves that honor since he won Best Actor twice and Anthony Hopkins won only once. Both were nominated three times.

Now, let’s look at the Actresses of the decade.

Top Actresses of the Decade
1987 to 1996
Actress Lead Actress Nominations Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Nominations Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Susan Sarandon 4 1 0 0 15
Jodie Foster 3 2 0 0 15
Emma Thompson 3 1 1 0 13
Meryl Streep 4 0 0 0 12
Holly Hunter 2 1 1 0 10

It’s a tie…and it’s kind of a mess. Including Supporting Actress nominations, Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, and Emma Thompson all have one more nomination than Jodie Foster. Because Jodie Foster won twice, she passes everyone except Susan Sarandon. The two actresses tie because my scoring system values a Lead Actress win twice as much as a nomination. Previously I’ve handled ties by letting IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes results for nominated movies act as a tie breaker. In this case, it’s inconclusive.

Tie Breakers for Top Actresses of the Decade
Avg IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for Nominated Movies
Released from 1987 to 1996
Actor IMDB Avg Rating # of Votes Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh How Fresh? # of Critics Reviews
Susan Sarandon 7.3    242,422 88% Certified Fresh 191
Jodie Foster 8.5    971,401 84% Certified Fresh 125

The critics like Susan Sarandon’s movies more, but Jodie Foster rides Silence of the Lambs to a decisive IMDB nod.

In trying to decipher an advantage in these tie-breaker results, I reached a very different conclusion. They’re probably not that relevant. Critics and viewers may like a movie because of an actors performance, or they may like it for an entirely different reason. It isn’t like Oscar voting which is focused solely on the performance of a single actor. It would be better to use Golden Globe or Screen Actors Guild results as tie breakers or supplements to the scoring system.

And, is an Oscar win twice as valuable an indicator of greatness as an Oscar nomination? No, it’s even more valuable.

For Best Actress in a Leading Role
Number of Actresses Who Have:
% of Total Nominated
Been Nominated 219
Been Nominated More than Once 85 38.8%
Won 72 32.9%
Won More Than Once 13 5.9%

It is easier to be nominated twice than it is to win once. And, it has been more than five times as hard to win twice as it is to be nominated twice.

I’ve got to rework my scoring system. For now, with only two decades left to consider, we’ll keep it as it is. For Actress of this decade, it is a coin toss with a coin weighted towards Jodie Foster and her two wins.

In a Decade When Many New Stars Broke Through, Elizabeth Taylor Was the Brightest Star of Them All.


Elizabeth Taylor was beautiful. Because the picture above is in black and white, it doesn’t do justice to the allure of her distinctive , violet eyes. The world fell in love with her in 1944, at the age of 12, with her star turn in the Oscar nominated movie, National Velvet. Over the next dozen years, moviegoers watched her grow into a stunning beauty and a bona fide international star. The Oscar decade from 1957 to 1966 perfectly fits the peak of her acting career. In 1957, at age 25, she appeared in her first Oscar nominated role in Raintree County. Nine years later, in 1966, she appeared in her fifth nominated film of the decade, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, for which she won her second Best Leading Actress award. It also marked the last nomination she would ever receive from the Academy of Motion Pictures.

For the lead in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Elizabeth Taylor intentionally gained 30 pounds to play the past her prime Martha. The picture below is from the film. She sacrificed much of her beauty for the role.


Compare this to her picture from her first Oscar win in the 1960 film Butterfield 8.


It’s hard to believe that only six years separate the women in the two pictures.

Elizabeth Taylor was an excellent actress. But, she became a star because she was beautiful. Was this a case of the Hollywood double standard when it comes to women? Do many actresses have a shelf life that doesn’t outlast their beauty? A shelf life that doesn’t seem to apply, as much, to their male counterparts. This is a topic I’ll explore in greater depth in the future. But, for now, consider in the list below how dominant Elizabeth Taylor was in a decade filled with very strong competition. And after that she wasn’t dominant. She wasn’t even close.

Top Actresses of the Decade
1957 to 1966
Actress Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actress Nominations Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Nominations Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Elizabeth Taylor 1957 5 2 0 0 21
Deborah Kerr 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Shirley MacLaine 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Simone Signoret 1957 2 1 0 0 9
Sophia Loren 1957 2 1 0 0 9
Anne Bancroft 1957 2 1 0 0 9
Julie Andrews 1964 2 1 0 0 9

It was a decade when many actresses who were already active in the business broke through to become stars. With the exception of Deborah Kerr, all of the actresses on this list earned their first Oscar nomination within the decade. Only Julie Andrews had her movie debut within the decade. But even in her case, she had begun her career on Broadway before the decade began. It was a decade for actresses who weren’t household names, in most cases, to finally become stars.

On the Best Actor side, there was a similar story but not as pronounced.

Top Actors of the Decade
1957 to 1966
Actor Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actor Nominations Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Nominations Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Spencer Tracy 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Richard Burton 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Paul Newman 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Jack Lemmon 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Burt Lancaster 1957 2 1 0 0 9
Sidney Poitier 1957 2 1 0 0 9
Rex Harrison 1957 2 1 0 0 9

The decade produced a seven way tie for most Academy Award points. All of the actors made their film debuts prior to the decade, but only Spencer Tracy was an established star. Three of the actors (Newman, Poitier, and Harrison) were nominated for the first time during the decade. From this list of excellent actors, who is the Actor of the Decade?  You may be surprised, but the winner of the tie breakers is Jack Lemmon.

Tie Breakers for Top Actor of the Decade
Avg IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for Nominated Movies
Released from 1957 to 1966
Actor IMDB Avg Rating # of Votes Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh How Fresh? # of Critics Reviews
Jack Lemmon 8.3    299,677 95% Certified Fresh 116
Paul Newman 8.0    113,496 94% Certified Fresh 100
Spencer Tracy 8.2      72,424 90% Fresh 50
Richard Burton 8.0      79,113 87% Fresh 78
Burt Lancaster 7.8      20,515 91% Fresh 45
Rex Harrison 7.7      90,039 77% Certified Fresh 81
Sidney Poitier 7.7      16,476 90% Fresh 30

In a relatively close contest with Paul Newman and Spencer Tracy, Jack Lemmon wins on the strength of his leading roles in two movies just outside the IMDB Top 100 Movies of all time, The Apartment (105) and Some Like It Hot (116). His third nominated movie, Days of Wine and Roses is no slouch either. These movies generated more interest from today’s viewers and critics, as well.While just outside this decade, it should be noted that Lemmon also won Best Supporting Actor for his 1955 performance in Mr. Roberts. Of Newman and Tracy’s six nominated roles in the decade, only Tracy’s Judgment at Nuremberg (149) cracks the IMDB Top 250.

Next month I’ll look at the two decades between 1967 and 1986. I suspect we’ll be talking some more about some of the names on this decade’s list. Can you guess who the new stars will be?

Two Actresses Dominated the Second Decade of Oscar Like None Have Before or Since

As you journey with me through nine decades of Academy Awards, you’ll discover, like I have, that many actors and actresses experience peak periods when it comes to recognition from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for acting nominations. For example, one of my top actresses from the second decade is Jennifer Jones. At the age of 24 she landed her first role playing the lead in The Song of Bernadette, winning Best Actress at the 1944 Academy Awards. In 1945, she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. She followed that up with Best Actress nominations in 1946 and 1947. After being nominated each year in the first four years of her career, she received only one nomination over the remaining 27 years of her acting career. This is not unusual, particularly for actresses. It seems that Academy voters are not immune to the allure of the shiny penny.

Jennifer Jones had a strong four year run for movies released between 1937 and 1946, but no one before or since has had the run that Bette Davis and Greer Garson had over this ten year period.

Top Actresses of the Decade
Movies Released from 1937 to 1946
Actress Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actress Nominations Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Nominations Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Bette Davis 1937 6 1 0 0 21
Greer Garson 1939 6 1 0 0 21
Jennifer Jones 1943 3 1 1 0 13
Joan Fontaine 1937 3 1 0 0 12
Ingrid Bergman 1938 3 1 0 0 12

Six nominations in a ten year period is unique for any actor or actress. But, to have two actresses be so recognized in the same ten year period is incredible.

Greer Garson’s first nominated movie, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, was released in 1939. It was her first movie, even though she was already 35. It began a run of 6 nominations in 7 years. including a win for Mrs. Miniver in 1943. Like Jennifer Jones, Greer Garson would only receive one more nomination (1961)  in the 21 years after her peak run at the beginning of her career.

Bette Davis, on the other hand, doesn’t fit the Greer Garson/Jennifer Jones mold. She definitely had a peak period. In fact, if you include her 2 nominated performances in 1934 and 1935, Bette Davis was nominated for Best Actress 8 times in 11 years, winning twice. Unlike Garson and Jones, though, Bette Davis was in 21 movies before her first nomination and she earned 3 more nominations after her peak period. She had a knack for creating layers of complexity  in the strong women she often portrayed. The conversation for who is the best actress of all time usually comes down to Katharine Hepburn and Meryl Streep. I think you need to include Bette Davis in the conversation.

There were also Academy Award nominations for actors during this period. But unlike the actresses, there was no one or two dominant actors. Here are the results:

Top Actors of the Decade
1937 to 1946
Actor Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actor Nominations Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Nominations Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Jimmy Stewart 1937 3 1 0 0 12
Gary Cooper 1937 3 1 0 0 12
Spencer Tracy 1937 2 2 0 0 12
Charles Boyer 1937 3 0 0 0 9
Laurence Olivier 1937 3 0 0 0 9
Frederic March 1937 2 1 0 0 9
James Cagney 1937 2 1 0 0 9
Robert Donat 1937 2 1 0 0 9
Bing Crosby 1937 2 1 0 0 9

Three actors tied at the top and six actors tied for fourth. You’ll note that in my scoring system the practical effect is that I equate one win with two nominations. So, even though Spencer Tracy had one less nomination than Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper, he won both of his nominations, resulting in a three way tie.

Since nobody likes ties, I’ve devised a tie breaker so that we can have one best actor and actress of the decade. By using IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, I can come up with an average assessment of the nominated movies, for the actors who are tied, from the perspective of the audience (IMDB) and critics (Rotten Tomatoes).

Tie Breakers for Top Actors of the Decade
Avg IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for Nominated Movies
Released from 1937 to 1946
Actor IMDB Avg Rating # of Votes Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh How Fresh? # of Critics Reviews
Jimmy Stewart 8.5     408,719 96% Certified Fresh 158
Spencer Tracy 7.7       10,726 91% Fresh 33
Gary Cooper 7.6       26,527 86% Fresh 57

Jimmy Stewart is the clear cut winner for the actors. His three nominated movies (It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Philadelphia Story) are iconic and enduring classics.

Tie Breakers for Top Actresses of the Decade
Avg IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for Nominated Movies
Released from 1937 to 1946
Actress IMDB Avg Rating # of Votes Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh How Fresh? # of Critics Reviews
Bette Davis 7.8       48,092 90% Certified Fresh 88
Greer Garson 7.6       24,917 78% Fresh 55

In a closer but definitive decision, Bette Davis is the actress of the decade.

I’m planning on doing two decades a month up until this year’s Oscars. Check in next month when I’ll look at the actors and actresses of the 50’s and 60’s.


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.

The Careers of Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks Through the Eyes of IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes

Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks have been two of the most bankable stars in Hollywood for over a quarter of a century. Both were around 28 when their first movies  were released. It is interesting to view their careers through the average ratings of the movies they were in.

First Career Phase (10  movies each)
Age Avg IMDB Rating Avg Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Academy Award Noms./Wins
Streep 28 to 35 7.2 71%   5 Noms./2 Wins
Hanks 28 to 32 6.1 61% 1 Nom/ 0 Wins

Meryl Streep hit the ground running. She was a Tony nominee on Broadway before landing her first role in the Oscar nominated movie Julia. She won an Emmy Award for the miniseries Holocaust before landing a supporting role in The Deer Hunter for which she received her first Oscar nomination. It is an incredible accomplishment that she was nominated for Academy Awards in five of her first ten movies, winning for Kramer vs. Kramer and Sophie’s Choice. In her personal life, her 3 year relationship with actor John Cazale ended with his death when Streep was 28 years. Six months later she married Don Gummer and had her first child at age 30 and her second four years later at age 34.

Tom Hanks crossed over from TV to film. While he was best known for the cross dressing role of Kip Wilson on Bosom Buddies, his real break came at age 26 when he appeared with Ron Howard on an episode of Happy Days. This appearance led Ron Howard, the Director, to cast Tom Hanks in the lead for the movie Splash, which went on to a fairly successful box office run. For the remainder of this period Hanks endured a number of flops until his critical breakthrough in Big, which earned him his first Academy Award nomination at age 32. In his personal life, Hanks went through the divorce from his first wife, with whom he had two children. The children were 9 and 4 at the time of the divorce. Hanks married his second wife, Rita Wilson, at the age of 32.

Second Career Phase (9 movies for Streep, 10 for Hanks))
Age Avg IMDB Rating Avg Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Academy Award Noms./Wins
Streep 36 to 43 6.5 66%   4 noms/0 wins
Hanks 33 to 39 7.0 67%   2 noms/2 wins

During this second phase of their careers Meryl Streep solidified her position as the premier actress of her time, while Tom Hanks made a successful transition to the “A-List” of Hollywood actors. Remarkably, Streep continued to earn Oscar Nominations for almost half of the movies she was in. Hanks gained serious actor status by transitioning to dramatic roles that resulted in Best Actor nominations and wins in consecutive years for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. In their personal lives, both experienced the births of their 3rd and 4th children.

Third Career Phase (10 movies for Streep, 11 for Hanks)
Age Avg IMDB Rating Avg Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Academy Award Noms./Wins
Streep 44 to 53 6.9 67%   4 noms/0 wins
Hanks 40 to 48 7.4 79%   2 noms/0 wins

This third phase saw an uptick in the quality of the movies each appeared in. In terms of opportunity, Hanks was at the peak of his career. To appear in 11 movies with an average Rotten Tomatoes rating of 79% Fresh suggests that he had the pick of the litter in terms of selecting movies to appear in at this time. As for Meryl Streep, she continued to select roles that earned her an Academy Award nominations for almost every other movie she appeared in.

Fourth Career Phase (12 movies each)
Age Avg IMDB Rating Avg Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Academy Award Noms./Wins
Streep 54 to 59 6.6 56%   2 noms/0 wins
Hanks 49 to 59 6.6 60%   0 noms/0 wins

This fourth phase of each actor’s career is interesting. In terms of the quality of the movies they were in, the numbers are very similar. Meryl Streep  earned two Oscar nominations during this period for The Devil Wears Prada and Doubt, but seems more intent on working rather than cherry-picking Oscar worthy roles. She averaged two movies a year during this period, far and away the most productive period of her career For Hanks, on the other, hand, this is the least productive period for movie acting, about one a year, as he became more involved in producing. He appeared to be more selective in his acting roles, with half being in Oscar nominated movies.

Fifth Career Phase (11 movies)
Age Avg IMDB Rating Avg Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Academy Award Noms./Wins
Streep 60 to 66 6.7 67%  4 noms/1 wins

Meryl Streep is seven years older than Tom Hanks and so she has completed a career phase that Tom Hanks is just entering. Compare her IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes results during this latest stage in her acting career with her second and third phases and you’ll find that they are very similar. The biggest difference is that she is acting in more movies. From age 28 to 53, Meryl Streep averaged 1.13 movies per year. From 54 to 66, she has averaged 1.77 movie per year.

Let me sum up with a couple of observations. First, if we can use average IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes ratings as indicators of the quality of roles available to Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, then the best opportunities available to Meryl Streep were from age 28 to 35 and for Tom Hanks from age 40 to 48. These results are consistent with the study I posted earlier in the year which noted that the amount of dialogue  for women in scripts peaks before age 31. Secondly, both Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks have four children. During the years that each was involved in caring for their children, Meryl Streep made fewer movies and Tom Hanks made more movies. From age 28 to 43, Meryl Streep made 1.19 movies per year. From age 28 to 39, Tom Hanks made 1.67 movies per year. I won’t draw any conclusions from these observations. I do intend, however, to do more of these side by side career comparisons in the future to see if any patterns do emerge.

Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins) and Tom Hanks (Sully) are once again appearing in movies this year that should include them in the conversation for acting awards. They are truly American treasures.





Stop the Madness! The Male IMDB War Against Ghostbusters.

After devoting my last two posts to Rotten Tomatoes and male bias in their ratings, I was looking forward to writing about something a little lighter. But, to quote Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III, “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.” It seems like the topic of male bias and movie ratings isn’t done with me.

Ghostbusters, with its all female leads, opened this weekend with strong box office sales that met Sony’s expectations. Given the bizarre stories leading up to the release of the movie, that kind of box office performance was by no means a given. Apparently, there was a male backlash to the idea of an all female Ghostbusters team. In an apparent effort to hurt the movie at the box office,  there was an attempt to tank the IMDB ratings of the movie before its release. It was a big enough story to catch the attention of the folks over at Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website. Their article covers the IMDB tanking story as well as sharing the author’s thoughts on the weaknesses of IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. These thoughts are very much in concert with the studies I’ve shared with you on these pages. I thought it was particularly interesting that, according to a prior FiveThityEight study, Ghostbusters isn’t the first instance of males tanking IMDB ratings for entertainment aimed at women.

As of this morning, there is still a significant male-female split on IMDB. Based on 17,940 male votes, the male average rating for Ghostbusters is 4.5. Based on 5,518 female votes, the average female IMDB rating is 8.1. For females the rating is 80% higher than the male rating. Yet, because there are 3.25 males voting for every 1 female, the overall average IMDB rating is 4.8. This effort by males to sabotage Ghostbusters appears to be a worldwide phenomenon. 31.0% of U.S. voters scored the movie a 1 out of 10, the lowest score you can enter on IMDB. 35.8% of non-U.S. voters have scored the movie a 1 out of 10 so far.

Now, there is a legitimate difference in opinion about the movie between men and women who’ve actually seen the movie. The critics on Rotten Tomatoes, whose male critics presumably didn’t participate in the efforts to tank the ratings, generate a significant male-female split. Consistent with findings of my study from the previous post, the 3.35 male reviews for every female review falls into the high range of female critic participation. It’s in this high range where the widest male-female splits occur. For Ghostbusters, male Rotten Tomatoes critics gave it a 69.5% Fresh while female critics gave it an 86.4% Fresh rating, a 21.7% higher rating by female critics.

Bottom line, this is another mark against using IMDB ratings as a major influence in deciding what movies we should watch. And, Guys, stop the madness!! It’s only a movie! Rating movies that you haven’t seen only hurts those of us who actually want to discover movies that we will “really like”.

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