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Hollywood might have found a way to undermine Rotten Tomatoes’ rotten scores

We did it!
We did it!
Image: Sony Pictures Animation
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The box office finally caught up with Hollywood this summer. After years of boring sequels and bad reboots, moviegoers simply stopped paying to seem its films.

Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers installments, and The Mummy all tanked at the US box office—forcing their respective studios to rethink some of their franchise potential. The summer box office is down 8% from last year, as of last weekend.

Studios seemed to be getting the memo that bad movies weren’t going to fly with US audiences any more.

Only they weren’t. They blamed Rotten Tomatoes for making it painfully obvious how disappointing their movies were. Sure, Rotten Tomatoes’ method of distilling movie reviews into a percentage illustrated by decomposing fruit isn’t perfect. The studios could have released better movies. Instead, they found a way around the movie-review aggregator.

Sony staved off the curse of the rotten Rotten Tomatoes score with its The Emoji Movie last weekend. The animated film, which featured the Shakespearean-trained actor Sir Patrick Stewart as 💩, received a shameful 6%—the same as universally abhorred movies like Gigli (remember that?) on the movie-review aggregator site. Yet the rating appeared to have no effect on its box-office performance when the film premiered in the US, where it brought in more than $25 million and came in second.

That’s, in part, because Sony wouldn’t let critics post their reviews until midday on July 27, just the day before the movie opened, the Hollywood Reporter reported. (Reviews are often released a week in advance.) Theatergoers who had already planned to catch it weren’t then going to change their minds. And what would parents tell their little ones?

The Emoji Movie was review-proof because what parent would tell their kids that they can’t go to a movie because of a low aggregate score,” Paul Dergarabedian, ComScore’s senior box-office analyst, told Quartz in an email. Other studios like Paramount, which recently saw its Baywatch film crushed under a pitiful 19% Rotten Tomatoes score, may look to emulate that strategy by pushing critics screenings or holding them until the premiere.

If The Emoji Movie continues to succeed, there are more movies like it waiting in the wings.

“We really want to see The Emoji Movie succeed, because it’s like proof of concept with these [intellectual properties],’’ Tripp Vinson, a Hollywood producer who’s trying to make a movie about mindless mobile game Fruit Ninja, told The New York Times (paywall). ‘‘But the success of that movie can result in two very different things. Both are a form of enthusiasm. One is: ‘OMG this is happening! We like this script. Let’s get moving.’ Or it can result in: ‘Wow, they did a really great job. Let’s slow down and take a real good look at what we’re doing with Fruit Ninja.'”

The real test will be whether audiences continue to show up for The Emoji Movie beyond opening weekend. It’s expected to bring in $60-70 million during its domestic run, which would just recoup its $50 million budget.

ComScore’s Dergarabedian still thinks this could be a turning point for Hollywood, especially when it comes to movies geared toward adults, of which there are fewer studios than ever left to produce them.

“The combination of social-media sentiment (positive or negative) and aggregate scores (low or high) is having a huge effect on adult centric movies and their box office prospects,” he said. “This may have a chilling effect going forward, but perhaps this will encourage the creation of higher quality content to avoid future negative reviews.”

One can dream.