Baby Driver was a refreshing bit of summer fun. The Edgar Wright-directed heist film about a music-blaring getaway driver with tinnitus stood out, in part, because it was one of the few original movies that excelled at the North American box office this season.
It was well-received by critics and fans a like. But was it really better than Christopher Nolan’s war epic Dunkirk, which is considered the first Oscar shoo-in of the year? According to Rotten Tomatoes, it was.
Baby Driver scored a tick higher on the movie-review aggregation site than Dunkirk—enough to make it the best of this summer’s top-20 grossing films.
But that was based on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer, the score featured most prominently on the site and by partners like the online-ticketing service Fandango. It shows the share of critics who gave the movie a positive review. Films reviewed positively by more than 60% of critics are illustrated with a fresh tomato. The rest are hit with a rotten splat of fruit.
There’s another metric on Rotten Tomatoes that paints a slightly different picture of the summer’s movies. It’s the often-overlooked “average rating” that appears just below the Tomatometer on each film’s page, which averages what each critic rated a film on a scale of 1-10.
The average rating puts Dunkirk at the top of the summer film slate, with 8.7 out of 10 compared to Baby Driver’s 8/10. It also put the summer’s superhero films—Spider-Man: Homecoming, Wonder Woman, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2—a little lower on the totem pole, and all within arms reach.
It leveled the playing field among some of the summer’s worst movies, too. On the Tomatometer, there’s a steep drop off between the “fresh” and “rotten” films. For instance, Despicable Me 3, which did pretty well at the box office, earned a 61% on the Tomatometer, just enough to grant it a fresh tomato. Snatched earned a sad 36%. The average rating, however, puts both movies within a point of one another. The same is true for films like Pirates of the Caribbean, The Mummy, The Dark Tower, and Baywatch. They were all comparably bad—just like the summer’s superhero films were all comparably good.
The trouble with the Tomatometer, as movies studios, producers, and others in the industry have lamented, is that it forces critics to label their nuanced film reviews as either positive or negative when they’re submitted to the site. By this system, a rave review for a film is worth exactly the same as a mixed one. It can over-inflate good films, and make bad movies look worse than they are, as ScreenJunkies News pointed out.
The average rating smooths out the effects those mixed-to-positive and mixed-to-negative reviews can have on a film’s Rotten Tomatoes score.
It’s valuable given that movie studios have started to push back on the Rotten Tomatoes numbers they once featured proudly in their advertising after seeing how a bad score can kill movie. Hollywood is coming off its worst-attended summer movie season (paywall) in 25 years in the US and Canada. Theatergoers in the world’s biggest movie market flocked to high-scoring blockbusters like Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Homecoming, and turned their backs on those with exceedingly poor marks, like The Mummy, Baywatch, and The Dark Tower.
It may not be the sexier score, but Rotten Tomatoes’s average rating is a much better measure of critical consensus. It could give some films a fighting chance in cinemas. Though making good movies also helps.