Hollywood might have cracked the code on how to make money for its movies that get a bad Rotten Tomatoes score.
Despite “The Emoji Movie” having a 0% rating on the review aggregator site going into its opening weekend last week (it currently has a 6% rating), the movie battled for the top spot at the domestic box office, eventually coming in second to “Dunkirk.” It still pulled in an astounding $24.5 million for the weekend.
Sony believes it was the strategy of not allowing critics to run their reviews until Thursday last week (the day the preview showings began) that worked. The movie ended up winning the Friday box office with $10 million.
“What other wide release with a score under 8 percent has opened north of $20 million? I don’t think there is one,” Josh Greenstein, Sony Pictures president of worldwide marketing and distribution, told The Hollywood Reporter.
In recent years, the Rotten Tomatoes score for a movie has become a huge marketing tactic for studios. If a movie is in the high 90% (“Wonder Woman,” “Baby Driver”) or hit that 100% mark (“Get Out”), the studio puts it on everything from TV spots to web banners.
And a big reason for that is practically everyone visits Rotten Tomatoes before deciding to see a movie, and the studios know it. According to THR, Nielsen Research Group found seven out of 10 people said they would be less interested in seeing a movie if the Rotten Tomatoes score was zero to 25. And social media research firm Fizziology, which tracks every major Hollywood release, discovered a Rotten Tomatoes score has the most influence on moviegoers 25 and younger.
So if a movie gets a rotten on the “Tomatometer,” the studio has to scramble to figure out how to spin it.
When the Tom Cruise action movie “The Mummy” came out, director Alex Kurtzman tried to fend off its rotten review (16%) by saying he’s doesn’t “make movies for them,” meaning critics. But that didn’t help, as the movie only had a $31.6 million opening weekend (though it has grossed over $300 million internationally).
In March, Brett Ratner lashed out at Rotten Tomatoes as being the “worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture” while speaking at the Sun Valley Film Festival. He was a producer on “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which he believes had lower than expected box office due to its bad Rotten Tomatoes score. But the truth is the site is more powerful than ever, and instead of complaining about it Hollywood has to adapt.
Holding back critics from seeing a movie until right before it opens is nothing new – in fact, Sony is doing it again for this weekend’s anticipated adaptation of the Stephen King book series, “The Dark Tower,” which has received bad press for production problems. And in some cases, studios don’t screen movies at all, a tactic Warner Bros. used with the Will Ferrell/Amy Poehler comedy, “The House” (it had an $8.7 million opening).
What’s changed is the power of the Rotten Tomatoes score. The less time people have to see a movie’s score on the site, the greater chance studios have to squeeze a little more box office coin out of a title they know is rotten.