Justifying A Flop: Rotten Tomatoes and Box Office Blues

Something we see time and time again on Twitter is that group of fans who simply cannot take objective criticism. When their show is criticised and/or disliked by fellow Twitter users or critics, they almost always blame the ones that dislike it. After all, it’s easier to point fingers rather than take a step back and recognise the faults themselves. This is mirrored in the action of upset fans of the DCEU who wanted to shut down review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes for the consistently low scores the movie universe received.

But what if the behavior that Stan Twitter shows isn’t limited to Twitter? What if media executives in the movie and TV industries behave the same way? And if so: what does this mean?

In the wake of Ghost in the Shell performing low in US box offices, one studio executive put the blame on the “bad reviews”. And he is not the only person who shot at critics simply doing their job; Brett Ratner, director of Herculesand X-Men: The Last Stand, called Rotten Tomatoes “the destruction of this business”.

The line of thinking here seems clear at first glance: viewers turn to critics’ consensus to see if a movie is good or not. So, if they see a low score (indicating that a movie is bad), they won’t go to theaters to pay money. If there’s no money, the movie will be a flop, thus hitting both directors and studio. In fact, it is speculated that the reason Ben Affleck was booted from DCEU’s Batman reboot was due to his box office flop Live by Night. Following this logic, the reason why these movies flop seems purely due to bad reviews.

Not quite.

In the case of Ghost in the Shell, the reason it flopped was twofold: one, because of the whitewashing controversy surrounding it. Two, the story itself had large plot holes in it and simply couldn’t recreate the original anime’s philosophic ideas. In fact, most critics gave Ghost in the Shell a bad review simply because of the latter, rather than the former, and handled the two issues separately. Also, it is worthy to note that the movie still made its budget thanks to the international box office.

As for the DCEU, the reason critics seem give their movies a low score is because, simply put, the universe has problems with its screenplay. Bad pacing, style over substance, and an overly dark atmosphere are just a few ofthe reasons listed. Did this affect box office? Of course it didn’t: Suicide Squad made $745,600 worldwide, whereas Batman vs Superman went even higher with $873,260.

So what’s the deal here? Why is Rotten Tomatoes blamed for low box office turnout, when it turns out there is no relation between a movie critics perceive as bad and their box office turnout, even domestically?

The problem is simple: pointing fingers and not taking the right lessons.

It doesn’t occur to said studio executives that maybe there is a serious whitewashing issue, or a general issue with the screenplay. Instead of listening to critics (all of whom are also viewers!), they blame them for something that isn’t in their control. So maybe it’s time to stop that. It’s time to take the critical eye (including Rotten Tomatoes) and the general public seriously, and gear towards their preferences. Because surely -as common sense should tell them- that is where the money lies.

Author: Elif Erdem

Editor: Mara Zain

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Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!

You’ve probably seen her on Twitter and TikTok, both @MxKantEven, or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels.

From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.

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