A new report has accused a a movie publicity company of manipulating Rotten Tomatoes scores by paying for reviews.
Rotten Tomatoes has a lot of influence over moviegoers, perhaps too much. Without reading a single review of a movie, one only needs to look at the Rotten Tomatoes score, a figure between 0 and 100 that decides if the movie is Fresh or Rotten. Critics and filmmakers have already taken issue with the method, which treats every review in black-and-white terms, with no room for nuance. However, a new report from Vulture revealed another massive problem — namely that a movie-publicity company called Bunker 15 has been paying critics for reviews in a bid to raise the Rotten Tomatoes score of certain movies.
Vulture’s report says that Bunker 15 manipulated the Rotten Tomatoes score for Ophelia, a retelling of Hamlet starring Daisy Ridley. The film had a score of 46% after early screenings, which landed it firmly in the Rotten category, but Bunker 15 went to work and looked for critics who could be convinced to give the movie a more favourable review
“While most film-PR companies aim to get the attention of critics from top publications, Bunker 15 takes a more bottom-up approach, recruiting obscure, often self-published critics who are nevertheless part of the pool tracked by Rotten Tomatoes,” reads Vulture’s report. “In another break from standard practice, several critics say, Bunker 15 pays them $50 or more for each review.”
In an email to a prospective reviewer, a Bunker 15 employee wrote, “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.” When that reviewer asked what would happen if he hated the movie, the employee stated that he was free to write whatever he liked, but that “super nice ones (and there are more critics like this than I expected)” would publish such reviews on “a smaller blog that RT never sees. I think it’s a very cool thing to do.” Over the next few months, seven more favourable reviews were added to Ophelia‘s score, bringing it to 62% and switching the verdict from Rotten to Fresh.
When asked for comment regarding paying for reviews to manipulate the Rotten Tomatoes score, Bunker 15 founder Daniel Harlow said, “Wow, you are really reaching there. We have thousands of writers in our distribution list. A small handful have set up a specific system where filmmakers can sponsor or pay to have them review a film.” Rotten Tomatoes has since delisted a number of the company’s movies. “We take the integrity of our scores seriously and do not tolerate any attempts to manipulate them,” Rotten Tomatoes said in a statement. “We have a dedicated team who monitors our platforms regularly and thoroughly investigates and resolves any suspicious activity.“