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Vulture Report Questions Integrity of Reviews by Rotten Tomatoes

Rotten Tomatoes, one of the most popular and recognizable movie-review sites, is under fire for deceptive practices. A report published today by Vulture claims that Bunker 15, a public-relations firm, was paying reviewers to write positive articles about Covert Media’s 2018 film, Ophelia, which starred Daisy Ridley.

Early reviews of the film had been disappointing, resulting in an initial 46% rating, which deemed the movie “rotten” since it had fallen short of the 60% threshold. At that point, says Vulture, Bunker 15 started paying $50 to so-called “lower-level critics” to write more glowing reviews. The firm also reportedly pressured one critic to change a negative review to a positive one.

Vulture’s report was headlined: “The Decomposition of Rotten Tomatoes: The most overrated metric in movies is erratic, reductive, and easily hacked — and yet has Hollywood in its grip.”

According to the report, an employee of Bunker 15 had reportedly sent this message to a reviewer: “It’s a Sundance film and the feeling is that it’s been treated a bit harshly by some critics (I’m sure sky-high expectations were the culprit) so the teams involved feel like it would benefit from more input from different critics.”

As a result of the campaign, Ophelia’s rating increased to 62%, which changed the film from “rotten” to “fresh.” A month later, IFC Films said it was acquiring the film for distribution.

The scheme was denied by Bunker 15. Daniel Harlow, who’d founded the agency, was quoted as saying: “We have thousands of writers in our distribution list,” while admitting that “a small handful have set up a specific system where filmmakers can sponsor or pay to have them review a film.” And a spokesperson for Rotten Tomatoes told Vulture that it was taking “the integrity of our scores seriously” and did “not tolerate any attempts to manipulate them.”

The Vulture report served to call attention to the clout that aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes have garnered. Also quoted in the report was filmmaker Paul Schrader, who said: “The studios didn’t invent Rotten Tomatoes, and most of them don’t like it. But the system is broken. Audiences are dumber. Normal people don’t go through reviews like they used to. Rotten Tomatoes is something the studios can game. So they do.”

Covert Media, the production company for Ophelia, has not commented on the allegations.

Check out more of Edward’s articles. 

Edward Moran
Edward Moran
Edward Moran began his journalistic career many decades ago as a theater and cinema reviewer for Show Business and the New York Theater Review. More recently he contributed film reviews to and Movie Sleuth. His writings have appeared in publications as diverse as the Times Literary Supplement, Publishers Weekly, the Paris Review, and the Massachusetts Review. Moran also edited a memoir by Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Christine Choy. He served as literary advisor to her film Hyam Plutzik: American Poet, which was the keynote film in the American Perspectives series at the 2007 Zebra Poetry Film Festival in Berlin.


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