Why Does Hollywood...?

Which movie review site is the best? - Kara H.

Roger Ebert--the gold standard of movie critics. He also gave "Speed 2: Cruise Control" a glowing review.

I believe that well-written, informed points of view are worth hearing, though one may not always agree with them. When it comes to art or entertainment, though, a collection of opinions can bring about a revealing consensus. Consequently, critic aggregate sites now exist for viewers’ benefit so that a consumer can make an informed decision before diving into a new movie or TV show.

The problem, however, is that different sites have different rating systems and, ultimately, different scores. Which one is right? Which one is the most reliable? Depending on the information a viewer is seeking, the answer may vary.


For movies and television, three sites dominate the field: Rotten Tomatoes, MetaCritic, and the Internet Movie Database (IMDb)–though I personally love Flickchart.

Rotten Tomatoes takes each affiliated critic’s opinion and labels it as good or bad. It then posts the percentage of good reviews–59% or below is a rotten movie, 60% to 74% is edible, and 75% to 100% is certified fresh. The website also includes a short blurb pointing out the main highlights or flaws of the media in question. Naturally, this process leads viewers to assume that a movie is at least worth checking out if it has a fresh score. If it’s rotten, throw it in the trash.

The flaw in this process is that not every critic’s review is simply good or bad; some grade with letters or stars. This nuance gets flattened for the sake of the score, leading to certain types of movies getting improperly inflated or deflated scores. One example would be the current film Beast. It has a 68% on Rotten Tomatoes, which suggests it’s pretty good, but the majority of reviews are middling, saying it’s “disposable.” On the other hand, Cars 2 got a score of 35% on Rotten Tomatoes, which suggests that it’s quite awful. In reality, most critics found it slightly disappointing.


A similar set of pros and cons are found on Metacritic, a site that takes each critic’s review and gives it a score between zero and 100. It then averages the scores of all reviews and posts that sum on the movie’s page. This process excellently captures graded or starred reviews. In a mirror-image move to Rotten Tomatoes, though, Metacritic ADDS a score when there sometimes isn’t one. Top media publications like The Hollywood ReporterDeadline, and Variety don’t provide a score as they let their writing leave the impression on the reader.

One example of Metacritic’s vulnerability is the movie Boyhood, a three-hour epic about a kid’s life that was filmed over the course of twelve years. It is the only movie to score 100% on Metacritic, and, while the experiment is interesting, the movie ultimately proves bland. Some critics DID point out Boyhood’s lack of flavor yet ultimately gave the movie good, not great, reviews. Because those publications didn’t give scores, however, Metacritic saw “positive review” and gave the movie 100.


And who cares what critics think anyway? They’re all hoity-toity and overexposed to movie plots. That’s where IMDb, the ultimate audience score, comes in. Using a one-to-ten star-rating system, anyone can rate a movie there if they have an account. That’s both the site’s greatest weakness and greatest strength. A TV show that strikes a nerve with the wrong crowd can get “review bombed.” Likewise, a currently popular movie can become over validated by eager fans. This was much the case in 2008 when The Dark Knight became the top movie of all time on the site. Film snobs, aghast that The Dark Knight had the audacity to unseat The Godfather, began giving The Dark Knight one-star reviews. Batman fans, in retaliation, did the same to The Godfather. Eventually, neither won, and The Shawshank Redemption has held the number one spot since.


Obviously, each site has its flaws, so what can a person do to get the best impression of a movie or TV show? Multisource! Rotten Tomatoes is a safe bet if both its critic AND audience scores are high. Metacritic has, in my experience, a more accurate score but grades on a harsher curve; a movie that scores in the 50’s or even high 40’s might still be enjoyable for you. That said, be wary of their user score, which tends to be populated by bizarre opinions and edgy trolls. Finally, IMDb is an excellent resource… once the dust has settled; a movie or show’s score tends to be more reliable a year after release. Their “Top 250 Movies of all Time” list is also a safe bet if you want excellent movies that skew towards the mainstream.

At the end of the day, you can watch whatever you want. Just don’t expect the consensus to agree with you.


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