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New Study Claims Rotten Tomatoes Scores Don't Impact Box Office Performance

It's no secret that Hollywood faced a massive blow at the box office this summer, with many citing the apparently destructive effect of Rotten Tomatoes scores on audience turnout as the reason for the lower-than-ever cash flow. Now, those complaints have received a sizable rebuttal: a new study claims there's no correlation between Rotten Tomatoes approval ratings and box office returns. 

Yves Bergquist, the director of the Data & Analytics Project at USC's Entertainment Technology Center, conducted a study that accumulated the numbers for all 150 movies released in 2017. He found that the data is "pretty overwhelming in saying there was no (positive or negative) correlation in 2017 between Rotten Tomatoes scores and box office returns" (via Medium). 

Bergquist also stated that the results aren't isolated to this dry summer box office; even if you turn the clock back to 2000 and compare scores with revenue, the correlation is still the same: non-existent. "What is clear, from looking at all film data since 2000, is that Rotten Tomatoes scores have never played a very big role in driving box office performance, either positively or negatively," Bergquist wrote.

He then went on to stress that critics aren't becoming more harsh or more scrutinizing in their reviews, either. The average score for films that pulled more than $2 million worldwide has remained relatively stable, and even increased during 2017. For movies that grossed more than $300 million this year, critics actually took a more lenient approach and were more generous with their ratings than average. Films released in 2017 thus far averaged 77.5 percent in critical reviews. This indicates that critics haven't been attacking films this summer in particular, meaning that they aren't the ones to blame for Hollywood's box office slump. 

What's also interesting is that critic scores and audience scores have become increasingly similar over the years. That said, it's important to note that Rotten Tomatoes has added more diverse voices to its aggregator over time. This kind of expansion outside the media's most elite film critics may explain some of this convergence. As viewers have become more in-touch with cinema and as the younger generations grow up in a content and criticism-saturated society, tastes of audiences and critics are starting to line up. 

"There's virtually no difference between critics' scores and audiences' scores, and the more successful the film is at the box office, the smaller the difference. Audiences are becoming extremely adept at predicting and judging the quality of a film, Bergquist explained. "This makes it very difficult to isolate the true impact of Rotten Tomatoes scores on box office performance: when Hollywood executives complain about Rotten Tomatoes scores, they actually complain about their audiences' tastes, because it's almost the same thing."

All things considered, based on Bergquist's finding, it seems that films that underperformed at the box office simply didn't draw in a ton of viewers, and that Rotten Tomatoes scores don't turn audiences away or motivate them to head out to the theater. 

Perhaps the fall box office can make up for the summer slump with the long list of movies set to impress later this year.