The Rotten Tomatoes Bribery Scandal Explained

The Curious Case of “Ophelia”

In 2018, a movie-publicity company, Bunker 15, took on a project called “Ophelia,” a feminist retelling of Hamlet starring Daisy Ridley. The film initially received a disappointing 46% score on Rotten Tomatoes. However, Bunker 15 had a unique strategy. Instead of targeting top critics, they focused on lesser-known critics who were still part of Rotten Tomatoes’ pool. Critics claim that Bunker 15 paid them $50 or more for each review, a practice that Rotten Tomatoes explicitly prohibits.

The Art of Manipulating Scores

Bunker 15’s approach was far from subtle. As Vulture reported, they emailed prospective reviewers, suggesting that the film had been treated “a bit harshly” and could benefit from “more input from different critics.” If a critic didn’t like the film, Bunker 15 suggested publishing the negative review on a smaller blog that Rotten Tomatoes wouldn’t see. Between October 2018 and January 2019, eight new reviews were added to “Ophelia,” seven of which were favorable. The film’s score rose to 62%, flipping its status from “rotten” to “fresh.”

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The Power and Pitfalls of Rotten Tomatoes

Rotten Tomatoes has evolved from a simple review aggregator to a powerful force in the entertainment industry. Filmmakers like Paul Schrader and Quentin Tarantino have expressed their disdain for the platform, claiming it has diluted the value of individual critics. Yet, studios have found ways to “game” the system, sometimes even hiring companies to forecast potential scores.

The Flawed Math Behind the Tomatometer

Rotten Tomatoes’ scoring system is far from perfect. It simply classifies each review as positive or negative and calculates the percentage of positive reviews. This method fails to account for the nuances in reviews, such as the difference between extremely positive and slightly positive reviews. Moreover, the initial scores are often based on a small, unrepresentative sample of reviews, allowing studios to manipulate the numbers.

The Changing Landscape of Film Criticism

In 2018, Rotten Tomatoes expanded its pool of critics, ostensibly to increase diversity. However, this move also had the side effect of boosting the average Tomatometer score for all wide releases from the low 50s in 2016 to 60% in 2021. While this change may have been well-intentioned, it has had a significant impact on the types of films that receive high scores, often to the detriment of art-house movies.

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The Ethical Quagmire of Ownership

Rotten Tomatoes is currently owned by Fandango, which shares a parent company with Universal Pictures. This ownership structure raises questions about conflicts of interest, especially since Fandango sells movie tickets and could potentially benefit from inflated scores.

The Ongoing Battle for Integrity

After inquiries about Bunker 15, Rotten Tomatoes delisted several of the company’s movies and issued a warning to writers who reviewed them. The platform insists that it takes the integrity of its scores seriously, but manipulation continues to be a concern.

A Curated Alternative to Aggregators

In the midst of the ongoing debate about the reliability and integrity of review aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes, platforms like offer a refreshing alternative. is a curated collection of movies and TV shows, handpicked by filmmakers themselves. This approach bypasses the pitfalls of algorithm-driven recommendations and the potential biases of review aggregators. By focusing on the artistic and technical merits of a film, as seen through the eyes of industry professionals, provides a more nuanced, authentic, and organic way to discover quality content. It empowers viewers to make informed choices without being swayed by manipulated scores or skewed algorithms, thus reinvigorating the true essence of film appreciation. You can join for free for a limited time.

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The Final Frame

While Rotten Tomatoes has become a significant player in the film industry, its influence is not without controversy. The platform’s scoring system is flawed, and its susceptibility to manipulation raises questions about its role as an arbiter of quality. As viewers, perhaps it’s time to look beyond the Tomatometer and delve deeper into the world of film criticism.