PR firm Bunker 15 allegedly paid critics on Rotten Tomatoes to write positive reviews for a number of films on the platform in the past five years.
Rotten Tomatoes, founded 25 years ago, has long served as the origin of internet film criticism, with the entertainment industry heavily relying on how countless indie and blockbuster films performed in their scoring system. Lane Brown of Vulture reported that reviews for the 2018 film “Ophelia” started the trend. Covert Media, the production company behind “Ophelia” did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.
Former critics paid by Bunker 15 confirmed that they would be paid $50 or more for positive reviews that would help boost the overall score of a number of films. Any film that scores below 60% is deemed “rotten” while anything above is deemed “fresh.” According to Brown’s reporting, the platform prevents “reviewing based on a financial incentive.”
Now, filmmakers are criticizing the allegedly easy-to-hack review service, claiming that an alternative is needed. Acclaimed filmmaker Quentin Tarantino claimed ahead of the release of his upcoming film “The Movie Critic” that he no longer reads the work of film critics amid the overflow of public opinions in the digital age.
New York Magazine quoted Tarantino as saying “Today, I don’t know anyone. I’m told, ‘Manohla Dargis, she’s excellent.’ But when I ask what are the three movies she loved and the three she hated in the last few years, no one can answer me. Because they don’t care!”
Film Fans React To Rotten Tomatoesgate
Some film buffs were not surprised at the allegations that the site’s system is easy to hack. Many young reviewers have vacated the platform in favor of platforms like IMBDb, Metacritic, and Letterboxd, which offer a more organized community for ordinary viewers and critics to converse over media.
Almost anything can be paid for. Especially in entertainment. I’d be surprised if that ~wasn’t~ the case.
Merit means virtually nothing in Hollywood. This we knew.
— ladidai 📣 go to @heyhearusout (@ladidaix) September 6, 2023
Others argued that even before reports broke of bought reviews, there was already a flawed scoring system in place. Yelp, a review aggregator for restaurants, does not serve as a replacement for the Michelin Star system or food criticism, and many feel that Rotten Tomatoes should simply be regarded the same way.
People who always considered audiences score over RT.. pic.twitter.com/uKpFfr9u8P
— ZDragon (@IBZDRAGON) September 6, 2023
Film critics continue to come forth and share their negative stories about their experiences writing reviews for the platform.
How about the time I was asked by PR to change a Rotten review to a Fresh one… just because… they wanted me to? The movie was already Fresh and got nominated for an Oscar! I said no of course. https://t.co/QHa2AScWw9
— Katie Walsh (@katiewalshstx) September 6, 2023
Elsewhere, some continue to draw comparisons between Rotten Tomatoes and GoodReads. Similarly, the platform functions with less regulation and allows all readers to post reviews, not only trained book critics.
Rotten Tomatoes is like if every single user on Goodreads called themselves a book critic. https://t.co/JGJMKhg2t9
— Maris Kreizman (@mariskreizman) September 6, 2023
Others hope that this report will serve as a wake up call for those passionate about pop culture to seek full careers in criticism, or simply engage with the art in person instead of relying on an allegedly rigged online system.
I really hope the degradation of the internet leads to people using their sense of curiosity and their communities and faculties in seeking out art, but it’ll prob just be another site.
— priyanka mattoo (@naanking) September 6, 2023
Brown went on to question the company about its interactions with Bunker 15. In response, they de listed 15 movies that the firm allegedly manipulated. The company issued the following statement: “We take the integrity of our scores seriously and do not tolerate any attempts to manipulate them. We have a dedicated team who monitors our platforms regularly and thoroughly investigates and resolves any suspicious activity.”
Rotten Tomatoes has not confirmed or denied whether they were purposefully collaborating with Bunker 15.