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The Most Surprising Rotten Tomatoes Scores Of 2018

It feels like a large portion of the computing power of the internet is taken up by speculating about whether or not a movie will be any good. Usually, it's not too tough to guess how a film is going to turn out, especially in the days of multiple trailers, trailers for different regions, teasers for those trailers, and even sometimes teasers for the teasers. Other times, it's not quite as easy. Sometimes viewers get to be pleasantly surprised when a movie turns out better than they hoped. Other times, it's a crushing disappointment when the shiny new blockbuster they've been waiting on turns out to be a clunker.

Rotten Tomatoes famously aggregates review scores from all around the web and cobbles them into one almighty rating. Whether it's marked Fresh or Rotten can often shape the conversation around a movie for good or ill — every year, the critical response to numerous movies can feel like it overshadows discussion of the actual film. Hollywood's slate of major releases in 2018 was no exception, and with that in mind, here's a look at some of the most surprising Rotten Tomatoes scores of the year.

Mortal Misfire

Mortal Engines should have been a surefire hit. It's got Peter Jackson as a co-producer and co-writer. It's based on a successful YA franchise. It's got a solid cast anchored by a murderer's row of character actors including Hugo Weaving and Stephen Lang. Heck, it's about giant, mobile cities that eat each other to survive. Seems like a license to print money, but unfortunately that still wasn't enough to succeed with fans and critics. Earning a 26% on Rotten Tomatoes is rough by almost any standard, but there's something odd about watching a film that seemed tailor made to launch a massive franchise sputter out before it even left the starting line.

The Mortal Engines didn't just bomb with critics. According to IMDb, the film has an estimated budget of $100 million and as of late January 2019, it had just barely cleared the $80 million mark in worldwide gross. It's doubtful we'll see a followup to Jackson's latest project, no matter how ready-made for success Mortal Engines seems on paper.

A girl and her robot wow critics

The Transformers franchise isn't exactly known as a critical darling, even if it does seem to have the uncanny ability to print money. While the original live-action entry for the Robots in Disguise earned a surprisingly respectable 57% on Rotten Tomatoes, subsequent entries haven't fared as well. The 2009 follow-up Revenge of the Fallen scraped by at a 19% while 2011's Dark of the Moon nabbed a 35%. Age of Extinction reps an 18% on the site, while The Last Knight was saddled with a measly 15%. Just from a quick glance at those numbers, few would reasonably expect the first Transformers spinoff to roar into theaters with a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes to round out 2018.

Luckily, Bumblebee has got some star power in its tank and a can't-miss formula as its chassis. Director Travis Knight injects the flick with late '80s flavor thanks to its period setting and a Guardians of the Galaxy-like approach to the soundtrack, picking appropriate, timely hits to keep the energy up. Meanwhile, Hailee Steinfeld's turn as the young Charlie gives the movie more than enough heart to let audiences get invested in her friendship with the eponymous, anthropomorphic VW Bug, and John Cena makes a fun foil as the Sector 7 agent John Burns.

Once more with feeling

The first Mamma Mia! movie was a hit with fans of the original Broadway musical and anyone who knows the truth that ABBA rules. That didn't necessarily translate to making it a hit with critics since it was only able to attain a 55% on Rotten Tomatoes. A truly baffling decision to stage a sequel to a Broadway show in film form — that actually functions as a prequel, focusing on deeper cut, lesser-known ABBA songs — ended up paying off both critically and financially. The fantastically titled Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again is certifiably fresh at 81% and raked in $394 million at the box office.

While much of the enjoyment of the sequel comes from the ridiculous setups for its musical set pieces, the true shining beacon of Here We Go Again is Cher, who steals every scene she's in as Meryl Streep's character's mother in the myriad flashbacks that take place throughout the movie. "There's also a secret weapon," wrote the New Yorker's Anthony Lane. "The appearance — one might call it the annunciation — of Cher, who steps from a helicopter and takes control of the film." The raucous Mediterranean musical celebration is dripping with schmaltz, but according to Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal, "There's a wellspring of genuine feeling in this time-hopping sequel." Walking the very thin line between earnest and cheesy makes for some magical moments in what could have been a money-grabbing, soulless sequel.

Mandy: good to the last drop

Nicolas Cage doesn't seem like he can say no to a movie, which often leads to him getting stuck in some absolute clunkers. However, his chaotic, messy turn in Mandy arrives in service of the first film in years to take full advantage of Cage at his peak gonzo sensibilities. Written and directed by Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow), Mandy became an instant cult hit and had critics raving after its release, resulting in a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Mandy follows Cage on a mind-bending, gory journey of revenge aimed at a cult and a group of drug-addled demon bikers. Said journey of revenge features crossbow nicknamed "The Reaper," a full-on chainsaw duel, insane hallucinations, and one of the most intense scenes of Cage's career as he chokes down a bottle of vodka while covered in gore. It doesn't necessarily sound like a movie that might be sitting at the top of critics' lists in 2018, but fans and critics alike responded to the gonzo violence and shocking imagery of Mandy. RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico wrestled with the film, saying, "It's a really difficult film to capture tonally and even narratively in a review, largely because it is such a stylish, visceral experience that it demands you give yourself over to it actively instead of passively analyzing it."

As bad as Life Itself

Dan Fogelman is riding high off of the success of NBC's This is Us, but not even the star-studded cast of his 2018 flop feature Life Itself could overcome the never-ending torrent of negativity and depressing circumstances that make up almost the entirety of the film. The story is a multi-generational tale of woe and misery as characters are either dispatched or emotionally broken, seemingly at the whim of an uncaring universe. Life Itself scored a measly 13% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The film took an absolute drubbing by critics. Adam Graham of The Detroit News wrote, "Life Itself does everything to make you hate it and its characters from the get go," adding, "Fogelman doesn't know how to create moments if he's not jerking at heart strings like he's in a tug of war with viewers' emotions." Fogelman was anything but pleased with the critical reception of his film; in an interview with TooFab.com, he retorted, "There's a disconnect between something that is happening between our primarily white male critics who don't like anything that has any emotion." Despite Fogelman's argument, critics were fond of all sorts of emotional films in 2018; they just seemed to have a problem with the treacly, saccharine but still somehow brutal approach of this soggy multi-generational epic.

A wrinkle in quality

The perfect storm of Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominee Ava DuVernay directing an adaptation of the children's classic A Wrinkle in Time still couldn't wow critics. Even a cast led by Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine and Oprah Winfrey wasn't enough to receive anything but a split consensus in the critical community and on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is currently saddled with a 42% on the service, with an even lower fan rating of 28%.

A Wrinkle in Time introduces audiences to the precocious Meg Murray (played by newcomer Storm Reid) as she's led on a time and space-bending journey in search of her father. While some critics were wowed by the film's CGI wonders, others like NPR's Bob Mondello felt that it "gets seriously bogged down in special effects as the film goes on."

The film wears its heart and ambitions on it sleeves and it will be interesting to see if it persists as a cult favorite. As Christopher Orr of The Atlantic put it, "See it with a child or — as DuVernay recommends — with a child's wonder. Otherwise, probably don't bother seeing it at all."

Spider-Man swings to new heights

2018 ended up being a banner year for Spider-Man related media. While Venom took a bit of a beating from critics — it earned a 29% on Rotten Tomatoes — the film has amassed a fervent fanbase and more than made back its estimated $100 million budget. Insomniac's Spider-Man for the Playstation 4 was a resounding success that dropped players into a slightly more experienced Peter Parker's life and offered some interesting twists on a number of classic Spidey villains.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse could have been the animated also-ran to cap off the year, but it ended up blowing the Spider-Man franchise wide open and impressing critics at the same time. It's currently sitting at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, thanks in no small part to its earnest and endearing lead, Miles Morales (voiced by The Get Down's Shameik Moore). Spider-Verse's stellar animation alone would set it up to be a game-changer, but the immense heart at the core of the story propels it into something truly special. Even critics exhausted by the superhero movie bubble had to admit that Into the Spider-Verse was a step above.

A night to remember

Game Night could have come and gone without much fanfare due to its incredibly generic and bland marketing campaign, which hid a raucous, critic-pleasing comedy. The movie stars Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman as a competitive couple who have bonded over their shared love of all kinds of games. Kyle Chandler, playing Bateman's brother, hosts a game night framed as an immersive experience in which one of the guests is kidnapped. The twist? The kidnapping is real — and the players initially see it as the next opportunity to outdo their friends. This leads to an escalation in absurdity aided along by Jesse Plemmons' Gary — a cop who is incredibly disappointed to not have been invited to his neighbors' game night.

The Chicago Sun-Times' Richard Roeper wrote that "There are more than enough laughs and clever surprises in this broad and sometimes violent farce to warrant a recommendation," going on to praise the "neat" camera choices and well-choreographed action scenes. Adam Graham of the Detroit News gave Game Night credit for being an adult movie that never stooped to lowbrow humor, calling it "a crowd-pleaser to which you'll want to be invited." All that positive buzz added up to Game Night scoring an 84% overall rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Things best not said

Duncan Jones is an interesting director with a Tomatometer record that was only recently derailed by his odd stint as the director of the critically ill-fated Warcraft movie. Before that, he was riding high with the low-key sci-fi masterpiece Moon, which scored a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. His 2011 follow-up, the Jake Gyllenhaal thriller Source Code, topped that with 92%. Warcraft was still a financial success, especially outside the United States, but fans were eager for Jones to return to his own stories, characters and worlds. His next piece of work, 2018's Netflix-distributed Mute, was described as a Blade Runner-esque excursion, suggesting a strong rebound.

While Mute looked like a return to form, it ended up being a generic, lifeless mess with not much to say and not much to show for it except a 20% on Rotten Tomatoes. Netflix seems like a good platform for the smaller sci-fi stories that Jones is interested in telling, but as Uproxx's Amy Nicholson put it, "Mute isn't a good movie. It manages to be both bizarre and boring." As tough as Nicholson was on the film, she admitted that "Mute is more interesting as a bullet-point list of absurdities than as a two-hour film. Yet Jones continues to have my attention." There may still be hope for fans of Jones' work in the future.

Not so Teflon don

What happens when a troubled biopic about an infamous gangster that's been in production for years ends up being a dull, boring slog anchored by a bizarre performance from John Travolta? It nets a resounding 0% overall on Rotten tomatoes.

Biopics starring famous actors — especially those eager for a comeback — are usually critical hits. This one? Not so much. Rolling Stone's Peter Travers spoke for many of his peers when he wrote that Gotti dramatizes real-life mobster John Gotti's exploits with a "chaotic biopic that jumps all over the place but still fails to manifest a pulse," while also comparing it to a lifeless version of The Sopranos.

A troubled movie getting panned wouldn't normally be so surprising, but the across-the-board lambasting of Gotti is difficult to ignore. Multiple critics, including the Jeffrey M. Anderson of Common Sense Media and Glenn Kenny of the New York Times, compared the movie to a knockoff of a more superior Martin Scorsese gangster flick, while others mentioned how far the film goes out of its way to make the Teflon Don seem like a sympathetic — or even admirable — figure.