Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Baywatch were never going to be critical darlings. The former is the fifth film in a franchise that should have been retired years ago, if Hollywood had any mercy at all. And the other is an action-comedy about lifeguards. Enough said. Both movies led the domestic box office to its worst Memorial Day weekend showing in nearly 20 years.
In the fallout, are Hollywood producers blaming the writers? The actors? Themselves? (Of course not.) No, they are reportedly blaming Rotten Tomatoes.
They say the movie-review site, which forces critics to assign either a rotten or fresh tomato to each title when submitting reviews, regardless of the nuances of their critiques, poisoned viewers against the films before they were released. Deadline reported that:
Insiders close to both films blame Rotten Tomatoes, with Pirates 5 and Baywatch respectively earning 32% and 19% Rotten. The critic aggregation site increasingly is slowing down the potential business of popcorn movies. Pirates 5 and Baywatch aren’t built for critics but rather general audiences, and once upon a time these types of films — a family adventure and a raunchy R-rated comedy — were critic-proof. Many of those in the industry severely question how Rotten Tomatoes computes the its ratings, and the fact that these scores run on [the movie-ticket buying site] Fandango (which owns RT) is an even bigger problem.
As of four weeks ago, Pirates was reportedly expected to rake in $90-$100 million over the four-day holiday, and Baywatch was projected to gross $50 million over five days. Those estimates were slashed after the Rotten Tomatoes scores posted. (In the end, Pirates made $77 million and Baywatch grossed $23 million in the US and Canada.) But Dwayne Johnson, who stars in Baywatch, publicly called out critics and then schooled them on movie economics.
The site has a separate score that measures audience reception, which it displays next to the critic rating. And quite a few smell what The Rock is cooking—70% of Baywatch viewers on Rotten Tomatoes said they liked it. But the critic score is what many people look to when deciding whether to spend their hard-earned money at the cinema. Filmmaker Brett Ratner, who directed such classics as Rush Hour and X-Men: The Last Stand, has called Rotten Tomatoes “the worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture.” He told Entertainment Weekly:
In Middle America it’s, ‘Oh, it’s a low Rotten Tomatoes score so I’m not going to go see it because it must suck.’ But that number is an aggregate and one that nobody can figure out exactly what it means, and it’s not always correct. I’ve seen some great movies with really abysmal Rotten Tomatoes scores.
Over the weekend, some studio insiders talked about withholding critic screenings until the premiere or scrapping them entirely to prevent damage to future releases, Deadline reported. “There’s just not a great date on the calendar to open a poorly reviewed movie,” a studio marketing veteran told the publication.
Never mind that these movies may have had very little appeal to begin with. Risk-averse Hollywood has been relying too heavily on existing intellectual properties from TV, film, comic books, and literature—and viewers are growing weary of it. Marketing a sequel to a lingering franchise, like Pirates, is also challenging. And Baywatch—although huge in its heyday—is an old property with diminishing appeal among today’s US moviegoers.
Both movies will likely still do pretty well abroad, in places like China, which are becoming the prime market for these popcorn flicks.