The Rotten Tomatoes Score and Misleading Film Marketing in 2017

2017 has been an interesting year to see how a films marketing campaign can affect ticket sales and a films reception. Film studio’s are ultimately about making money and one of the best ways to get a film seen is to make sure it’s marketing is on point. It’s also now important that it gets good reviews so it gets a good score on Rotten Tomatoes, a factor which has only been considered important in the past few years.

So, why the shift? Why is it only recently that a film being reviewed well has played such a huge part in how it is then marketed? This depends on the movie, whether it’s part of a huge franchise or if it’s more of an independent movie. An independent movie is especially reliant on how well it is reviewed, so that then it can hopefully be pushed as an awards contender which will guarantee that film a higher chance of a wider release, as opposed to being shown in select cinemas for a brief amount of time.

Even franchise films are now more reliant on how good the Rotten Tomatoes score is in influencing people to go to the theatres and pay to see a movie. It seems like no coincidence that Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) has the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score in the whole franchise, 15%, and has then gone on to be the lowest grossing Transformers movie since it’s first outing, Transformers (2008).

The shift ultimately comes from how accessible film reviews are now. Before having instant access to the internet, it would be much more difficult to see how a film was being reviewed as a casual film goer, so if you decided to go on a whim you would often just take a chance and see if the film was good or not for yourself. These days it’s so easy to simply Google a film title to see how it has fared critically, and often there are so many cinematic offerings on at once, especially during Summer Blockbuster season, that this is an easy way to determine which film is worth your money.

There are strange exceptions to this rule though, and more often than not it ties into how a film is marketed. In the past few years, we’ve had horror films The Witch (2015), and this years’ It Comes At Night (2017). Both were highly critically rated, yet both not only didn’t draw huge audiences: but actually drew ire from audiences due to how it had been advertised. Many felt they had been sold a lie.

 

Horror has been a huge draw in 2017, from Get Out (2017), It (2017), and even Split (2017). All these films are actually fantastic showcases for how to market a movie well – whether it’s showing off your actors, or how you’ve rebooted a franchise, and even how to push a social message whilst still making an entertaining movie. Happy Death Day (2017), a horror film which has just come out, showed some real ingenuity in their marketing, releasing their film on Friday 13th of October and having the knowledge to pay for their film to be advertised on YouTube right before Taylor Swift’s new song Look What You Made Me Do, a video that was watched 43 million times in it’s first day of being online and will appeal to a demographic of young women aged roughly 18-25.

The Witch and It Comes At Night did not utilize these things. The trailers sell these films as creepy films not dissimilar to the Insidious or Conjuring franchises, films known for their use of music and editing that contribute to lots of jump scares. Many came away from The Witch and It Comes At Night, which are excellently shot and made but are ultimately slow burners, feeling disappointed. Because the film chose to market itself on it’s prestige as a horror film, and not on it’s merit as an independent film, people were frustrated as it didn’t feel like mainstream horror audiences are used to seeing.

Both of these films are good movies, The Witch especially, with some genuinely horrifying visuals that haunt you afterwards. What you don’t necessarily get from the trailer however is it’s commentary on sexuality in a young woman, or the dangers of religious fervor taken to the extreme, or how hysteria and fear can cloud judgment and make you turn on loved ones.

It seems the real turn in the industry, how to use negative criticism of a movie and twist it into a way to market the movie, was shown for the first time in Darren Aronofsky’s latest offering mother! (2017).

mother! was an extremely divisive film, leaving many critics scratching their heads and audiences even more bewildered. The marketing originally sold mother! as a film not dissimilar from Rosemary’s Baby (1968), but instead turned out to be an abstract commentary on religion and Mother Nature with no clear meaning able to be construed from it.

Critics praised it for being different but put lots of emphasis on the fact that it’s not a movie for mainstream audiences as it’s too confusing. It retained some of its original marketing, seemingly being angled at horror fans, but as disdain for the film grew critically the film actually angled itself on how confused critics were by it, inviting viewers to see for themselves how strange and dark the film was.

A custom advertisement was made for one cinema, one week before the opening of mother!, just before a screening of It. It said, ‘In one week, in this theatre, one movie will mess you up for life… you will never forget where you were the first time you saw mother! After the movie, visit the box office to get your tickets!’.

mother! has still underperformed at the Box Office, earning nowhere near what Aronofsky’s previous two films Black Swan (2010) and Noah (2014) have earned, but people are still talking about it because of how it was marketed and sold. It is curious to think that this is how things could be done in the future, a film perhaps twisting lots of negative coverage into a reason to see the movie as opposed to a reason to avoid it.

One thing is for sure – unless one day someone does successfully campaign to take down the Rotten Tomatoes site, like in 2016 (a response to the negative reception Suicide Squad (2016) got), the importance of receiving a good score on Rotten Tomatoes isn’t going away soon, especially in relation to how important it is to get people into theaters to spend money on a film.