In recent years Rotten Tomatoes has become the ultimate judge regarding a film’s quality. This growth reached new heights during the Summer of 2017 when battle lines were officially drawn between studios and the review aggregate site. When the creative forces behind aspiring blockbusters The Mummy and Baywatch publicly stated that Rotten Tomatoes was responsible for killing their films at the box office, the power of the site was solidified. Studies from entertainment research firm National Research Group have validated this claim, as it has been reported that almost all moviegoers are consistently reliant on Rotten Tomatoes scores when forming a movie purchase decision.
Despite this trend seeming to increase over the years, the recent box office results have cast doubt on this notion. The monstrous success of critically maligned Venom coupled with the lacklustre performance from critical darling First Man indicates that the critical consensus isn’t always an accurate predictor of a movie’s popularity with audiences.
After comparing past film’s box office success with their score on Rotten Tomatoes, some genres stood out as being seemingly immune to the Tomatometer. Here are the 6 types of movies that can thrive at the box office in spite of terrible reviews.
1. Animated Family Films
Examples: The Emoji Movie, The Smurfs, Norm of the North
Rationale: Animated films are often a necessity for parents of young children, as options to placate a rambunctious child are often hard to find. When the available offerings are constituted primarily of more adult options, parents of young children will jump at the sole family film, regardless of quality. It also doesn’t hurt that children are less discerning when it comes to the movies they want to watch, as bright colours and silly jokes are generally more than sufficient. This helps to explain why during that Summer of 2017 where so many would-be blockbusters failed The Emoji Movie thrived (despite scoring an atrocious 8% on the Tomatometer).
2. Never Before Done Superhero Adaptations
Examples: Suicide Squad, Batman v. Superman, Venom
Rationale: While a number of Superhero films have flailed financially, event films featuring novel team-ups or ambitious CGI depictions consistently pique the curiosity of prospective moviegoers. This curiosity will often outweigh bad reviews, as moviegoers seem to be interested in seeing the film and judging for themselves in these cases. The poor reviews will often catch up with the movie in the form of large second-week drops at the box office (as seen by Batman v. Superman’s 68% decrease from the first weekend). However, the first weekend is often large enough to still make the film a financial success.
3. Jump-Scare Horror Movies
Examples: The Devil Inside, The Nun, White Noise
Rationale: It’s no secret that the horror genre is particularly popular with younger moviegoers. Although there are a number of potential reasons for this, the most obvious one is that it is fun to experience jump scares as a way of socializing with friends and no other film genre can provide this. The insane success of critical dud The Devil Inside during the least active moviegoing month, January, indicates that the potential of jumping out of your seat outweighs the need for strong acting or a clever screenplay for viewers to buy a ticket.
4. Effects-Driven Popcorn Movies
Examples: Transformers Franchise, 2012
Rationale: Much like the indifference in quality for many horror movies, the same logic applies for escapist action films. The trailer for films like the disaster epic 2012 showcase enough impressive visuals and rapid pacing to reassure viewers that the film will deliver on the aspects they most care about. Many fans of action spectacle films have different criteria for these films as is evident by the fact that every Transformers film has at least a B+ CinemaScore despite every instalment of the franchise being deemed rotten by critics.
5. Holiday Films
Examples: Christmas with the Kranks, Four Christmases, Daddy’s Home 2
Rationale: Something about the dipping temps and inching closer to spending quality time with family causes audiences to turn a blind eye to the critical consensus of holiday films. Perhaps it is the good cheer all around, or the welcome familiarity of a plot centred on the holidays that puts viewers in such a good mood. For whatever reason, many viewers are drawn to the tradition of witnessing a sappy holiday-themed family tale during the months of November and December. This phenomenon is evident by past critically despised films such as Christmas with the Kranks lighting up the box office like a Christmas tree.
6. Adaptations of Best-Selling Novels
Examples: Fifty Shades of Grey Series, Twilight Series
Rationale: Best-selling book series with rabid fans also seem to be an exception to the rule of reviews steering the film’s ultimate financial success. The logic follows that fervent fans are so enamoured with the world depicted in the book that their excitement to spend more time with beloved characters outweighs the influence of bad reviews. It’s interesting to note that the Fifty Shades of Grey book series received negative reviews upon release, but still acquired a loyal fanbase. It should come as no surprise then that this same fanbase was undeterred when the film adaptation received similarly negative assessments, and the franchise was one of the most profitable of that year.
Despite the growing importance of review aggregate sites like Rotten Tomatoes for a movie studio’s bottom line, it is clear that for some films this is not a necessity. One could make the case that all of these films could have potentially performed even more strongly with the full backing from critics, however, the above examples demonstrate that the Tomatometer is not the ultimate judge for a movie’s popularity with audiences.