The days of movie and television series critiques being conducted only by some sage experts at The New York Times or New Yorker magazine are long gone. As has been the case with most enterprises in the media and entertainment industry, the heavy lifting has been crowdsourced.
Ever since Wikipedia burst onto the scene in 2001, there has been a gradual shift away from top to bottom, trickle-down information. By introducing the world to the first-ever encyclopedia created, updated, and monitored entirely by citizen volunteers, the ways that we have shared and maintained information have forever been changed.
This model of a more peer-reviewed system of sharing information has bled into almost every major industry – from restaurant reviews (thanks to Yelp) to more citizen-based forms of journalism (a la Twitter). Movie and television reviews, too, have been revolutionized thanks to this breakthrough. Whereas authorities on the subject, such as Roger and Ebert used to dominate film critiques, today that duty now falls on regular moviegoers and TV consumers.
There are debates surrounding whether this shift has resulted in a more or less accurate way to judge film and television. Some say that it has created a system of media reviewing that better reflects the opinions of the masses, as opposed to just a couple of experts, that it has resulted in less pretentious and more honest criticism. And then there are others who claim that this system has resulted in the watering down of film criticism, creating a baser and less informed consensus.
Regardless of which side of this debate you fall, there is no denying one fact: sites like Rotten Tomatoes, Meta Critic, and IMDB have completely altered the ways in which we conceive of film and TV critiques. To the point where the authority on movies and series almost entirely depends on a project’s Rotten Tomatoes rating, as opposed to that of a single critic. Expert opinions in this regard have become all but obsolete – more like icing on the cake than the foundation itself.
Rotten Tomatoes is a film and television review aggregator site that was launched in August of 1998 by three undergrad students – Senh Duong, Patrick Y. Lee, and Stephen Wang – at the University of California, Berkley campus. The name of the site, Rotten Tomatoes comes from the historical practice of audience members throwing tomatoes at stage performers to indicate their dissatisfaction.
Rotten Tomatoes began as a passion project that Senh Duong started working on in his spare time as a student at UCLA. In the earliest stages of the site, it included solely films by Duong’s favorite actor and martial artist, Jackie Chan. Duong’s motivation for creating the site was to create an aggregate of all US reviews of Chan’s first Hollywood film, Rush Hour, which was due to release in August of 1998.
Duong coded the site in only two weeks and had it up and running in time for the release (which was delayed to September anyway). This bought Duong some time to begin including non-Jackie Chan films to the Rotten Tomatoes review database as well. And just like that, the site was an immediate success. In the first week upon launch, Rotten Tomatoes was receiving between 600 and 1,000 unique daily visitors.
Rotten Tomatoes was bought by IGN Entertainment in June of 2004. In 2005, Fox acquired IGN, which, in turn, eventually sold the site to Flixster in 2010. One year later, in 2011, Warner Brothers acquired Rotten Tomatoes and held onto it until 2016, when Comcast’s Fandango imprint finally purchased it, leaving Warner Brothers with a minority share.
Rotten Tomatoes announced a total redesign and rebrand in March of 2018 at the South by Southwest festival. This was the first time in the company’s 19 years that they would issue new logos, icons, and web design. The rebrand, overall, took on a much more approachable and mass market-friendly look. It still retained the colorful and somewhat Nickelodeon-Esque tomato splatters and loud font choices; however, it was just toned down a bit, taking on a more professional look and feel.
The site itself is designed rather well. It is very well-organized and easy to use, with all sections of the site clearly laid out and easy to navigate. A multifold banner at the top of the page helps visitors easily browse trending and featured articles and listicles, and a comprehensive collection of announcements and stats underneath helps you to stay abreast of what’s happening in film and television. Quickly check-in on movies that are opening this week, the top box office hits, what’s coming soon to theaters, what’s new on TV tonight, the most popular shows on Rotten Tomatoes at the moment, and the top DVD and streaming movies right now.
Underneath that, you’ll find the site’s “Certified Fresh Picks: new movies and shows with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 75% and above. Then, keep scrolling down to keep up with the latest Hollywood news by browsing the Videos and Trailers section, News and Features, or Top Headlines. Rotten Tomatoes has, in my opinion, one of the most logical and user-friendly site designs of any movie and TV reviews site on the web.
So, unlike some other film and TV review sites, Rotten Tomatoes is not crowdsourced. At least not in the traditional definition. As a critique aggregator, instead of taking user-generated reviews, Rotten Tomatoes simply aggregates all of the movie and TV reviews it can find into one digestible overall score. This is the rating system of Rotten Tomatoes. Each movie and TV shows are given an aggregate average score out of 100%, based on the averages of the individualized ratings that each critic has given a release. The result is, of course, a fairly reliable way to quickly assess whether a particular movie or series is worth your time.
In addition to the site’s scoring and ranking method, Rotten Tomatoes also has a staff of knowledgeable writers that add supplementary commentary in the form of listicles and think pieces, which gives the site a more professional, journalistic feel. The news section of this site, in fact, is one of the largest and most up to date of its kind.
This is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated components of Rotten Tomatoes. So, if you like reading thoughtful and well-researched pieces on current media (as well as retrospectives), Rotten Tomatoes is a site that you might want to add to your regular reading list. Oh, and don’t forget: you can always look up tickets and showtimes on Rotten Tomatoes as well.
Desktop and Mobile Experience
As I just mentioned, the desktop experience of Rotten Tomatoes is nearly perfect. This is one of those sites that has managed to pack a ton of information into an easy to navigate, clean, and highly organized format. Plus, the site menu bar offers large and streamlined dropdown menus that don’t impede too much on the user experience whatsoever.
My only complaint in this area is the fact that, as of yet, Rotten Tomatoes does not have an app. So, unfortunately, I cannot speak much to the mobile experience – only because, well, there is no mobile experience to speak of. That being said, the site itself runs just as well on mobile browsers … it is equally optimized for smartphone web browsers, it would seem, with no notable glitches or intrusive ads, the likes of which you might find on other mobile sites.
Pricing and Plans
I am happy to report that Rotten Tomatoes is 100% free to use. This is not a freemium service – they simply do not charge for members (or guests) to do anything on the site. Rejoice!
Suggestions that I Have
My main suggestion for Rotten Tomatoes would be to develop an app. I think that this would really solidify the user experience, by providing an even more convenient way to personalize content, receive updates, and enjoy all that this movie and TV review service have to offer.
All in all, when it comes to the most convenient way to get an accurate glimpse of movie and television reviews and ratings, Rotten Tomatoes is the way to go. Plus, if you want to stay abreast of all that is happening and up and coming in the world of film and TV, you likely will not need any other site in your bookmarks. Here’s to hoping that they add an app to their repertoire soon!