Rotten Tomatoes is a useful tool for figuring out what movie to watch with the family on a weekend night. It offers two different scores: an audience rating and a rating from critics who are meant to be professional and unbiased. According to a report, however, some movies have circumvented the reviewing process and paid critics to give good reviews to movies before they’ve even seen the film.
“Ophelia” is a 2018 movie that starred Daisy Ridley and retold the classic Shakespeare story “Hamlet” in a new, more modern way. When the studio says more modern, they, of course, mean that the film added in feminist tropes to make the movie appeal to woke audiences
The movie quickly plummeted in its ratings from critics and fell to a “Rotten” score, telling moviegoers that the film is likely not worth the time to watch. The studio then hired a publicity firm called Bunker 15, which is where the report from Vulture begins to get nasty.
Despite rules from Rotten Tomatoes against “review based incentives,” Bunker 15 began allegedly paying $50 per review to lesser-known critics whose opinions were more easily swayed than critics with cushy jobs and a long-term reputation to uphold.
Vulture published an email from the PR firm that was sent to one such reviewer. Speaking about the film and its poor reviews, the email said, “It’s a Sundance film and the feeling is that it’s been treated a bit harshly by some critics (I’m sure sky-high expectations were the culprit) so the teams involved feel like it would benefit from more input from different critics.”
The implication of that message seems clear. If that message did in fact come along with monetary compensation, it seems pretty clear that foul play and tactics were used to sway the Rotten Tomatoes Critic score which has proven crucial to the success of a movie early in its release cycle.
For his part, Daniel Harlow, founder of Bunker 15, defended himself against Vulture’s accusations saying, “Wow, you are really reaching there. … 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.”
Another insider in Hollywood, filmmaker Paul Schrader, had this to say about the industry’s relationship with Rotten Tomatoes. “The studios didn’t invent Rotten Tomatoes, and most of them don’t like it. But the system is broken. Audiences are dumber. Normal people don’t go through reviews like they used to. Rotten Tomatoes is something the studios can game. So they do.”
This bombshell report adds a lot of clarity to situations where the critic score and audience score on Rotten Tomatoes land with scores far apart from each other. This drama is yet another example of Hollywood trying to quietly trick audiences into viewing movies that they otherwise would never spend money to watch.
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