IAm the Editor in Chief at Rotten Tomatoes. AMA
I am Matt Atchity, and I've been the Editor-in-Chief at Rotten Tomatoes for the last five years.
As proof, this is me in our office (aka the Tomatoplex).
I'm also on Twitter @Matchity and you can see some of my media appearances on YouTube.
I didn't start Rotten Tomatoes, by the way, but I've been covering entertainment on the web since 1996.
We see posts about Rotten Tomatoes on Reddit from time to time, so we thought it would be fun to answer any questions from Redditors.
Edit: Thanks for all the great questions - logging off for a few hours, but I'll try and get back on later tonight for some more answers.
2nd Edit: Back on for a little bit, to get to some of the newer questions.
3rd Edit: Signing off for the night (wife's orders). Thanks for all the great questions!
For what it's worth, I don't like that pop-up either.
If this AMA results in the removal of this popup then I will go to sleep tonight knowing we did something good for the world.
The product team is telling me this is going to be addressed. It probably won't go away completely, but it should show up less.
Given how influential your site is, do you ever get pressure from studios to try and fudge the system to move an expensive stinker from rotten to fresh? If so, how do you respond?
We get a lot of calls from studio publicists if a movie is right on the dividing line. We know that film directors are watching the scores because one of two things will happen:
- We'll get a bunch of links to reviews from critics or sites that don't meet our qualifications
- We'll get asked to change a rotten review to a fresh one, because the review is neutral.
In the case of #1, we'll just say that the reviews don't qualify. In the case of #2, we'll ask the critic if we've scored it right. If they tell us to change it, we will, but we have to hear it from the critics.
Going off the end of that, do you feel the critic's recommendation for each film is a good idea, rather than going strictly off the numbers? A 2.5/4 rating isn't necessarily "rotten" or "fresh", yet it goes either way. On top of that, I recently saw on early reviews of The Master, Richard Corliss' rating is a 7/10, and remains the only "rotten" rating (at this time). Do you fee one way is better than the other?
2.5/4 may mean fresh to some reviewers and rotten to others. Our hope is that people are actually clicking through to read reviews, rather than basing their entire decision about the score.
We've thought about the possibility of changing things up, but in all honesty, keeping the system mostly simple is probably going to be our best bet. It allows for a level of transparency that we like, where as averaging out scores adds in a lot more subjectivity and reinterpretation than I think we're comfortable with.
How do you think some of the most terrible movies actually make it to the big screen? I would assume at some point SOMEONE read the scripts and thought, "Wow, that's awful."
Does Rotten Tomatoes feel like being a peer review source to prevent the waste of production costs?
Love the website, thanks for making sure I don't waste my time!
Funny you should say that... we interviewed Jason Statham, and some thing came up about some movies of his that weren't well received, and he said that you don't think you're making a bad movie when you're in the middle of shooting.
Cut to three months later, I'm interviewing Rosario Dawson, and she's joking about some of her Tomatometer scores, and I tell her what Statham said about not thinking a movie is going to be bad, and she says "Oh no, I knew that Pluto Nash would be bad" But she said she couldn't turn down the opportunity to work with Eddie Murphy.
Hey, hit me on Twitter @matchity, and I can help you out.
Why isn't Taken 100%?
Because we didn't get a threatening call from Liam Neeson yet.
I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I do have money.
I also have a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If my movies is 100% by tomorrow, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.
What are your Five Favorite Films? I'm a big fan of Rotten Tomatoes. Thanks for doing this AMA!
We put our own five faves on the back of our business cards
I think this should be compulsory on every business card.
Searched RT for The Imposters. Doesn't find it. ಠ_ಠ
That's a nasty typo on his business card.
Tsk-tsk Mr. Editor in Chief.
Yeah, I know. The new ones are on order.
What rating have you disagreed with the most? What has been your biggest surprise?
I hated The Tree of Life, but most of the critics loved it, so maybe I was missing something.
And I was pleasantly surprised to see Fast Five get a fresh rating, but I love those movies anyway. I was kinda surprised to see Expendables 2 end up as fresh.
The last half-hour of Ex2 is a fucking brilliant, self-aware, hilarious over-the-top action romp. It's refreshing to see something action-based not take itself seriously for once.
The first half of Tree of Life is amazing. It's like 2001. Maybe give the first half a serious re-watch and see if you budge at all on that one.
Yeah, I probably should. I remember sitting through it, and spending most of my time thinking "what the fuck is this!?"
Is there any chance of the search/sort feature becoming more specific. For example it would be neat if I could search for something like "Highest rated comedies in the last 5 years with more than 50 reviews" or something to that effect.
That's a long shot. Our development team is handling a lot of different priorities right now, and although those sorts of improvements are on a "to do" list, it's a really, really long list.
If I may, what are some of the ideas on this "to do" list?
1 and #2 are "Don't talk about the 'to do' list"
I had a feeling you'd make movie references.
We can't have any conversations in the office without some quote from something.
Any thoughts on Metacritic?
I think they're good at what they do, but I think our site is more fun. But obviously I'm biased.
I think a weighted average like theirs potentially opens the door to a lot of subjectivity on behalf of the aggregators, but we get similar criticism about how we handle neutral reviews.
Ultimately, we're both assigning numerical values to subjective analyses, so users have to pick which version of that they like more.
I like your site a lot more than metacritic, and link to it all the time in my own blog posts and such, which is why I hope you'll see this comment:
You guys should expand to television as well!
Some of the best "films" out there are being broadcast once a week on TV. It's not really that hard to argue for watching the latest episode of Breaking Bad or Mad Men instead of the most recent drivel being shown on my local theater screen. As such, It'd be awesome to get Tomatometer scores for TV shows (or individual seasons of TV shows).
Stay tuned on that one...
Tomato a fruit or a vegetable?
Botanists say fruit, government says vegetable, I think.
How does someone become a "Top Critic"? Do you feel the ratings system is weighed fairly?
The criteria for being a Top Critic are here. In a nutshell, we're looking for the people or sources that have the largest reach of the best writing.
We do try and make the system fair, in that it basically boils down to one critic - one vote.
"Print publications must achieve and maintain status as one of the following: - A top 100 daily US newspaper - A top 100 weekly US newspaper"
What will you do when there are no more newspapers?
Not sure yet. Honestly, that's something I really worry about.
I'm a long-time metacritic user. How would you convince me that Rotten Tomatoes is better? I prefer metacritic because they use numerical scores (which allows greater accuracy than a simple rotten or fresh), among other reasons.
I think we have a broader pool, and a more democratic system, but I think Metacritic does a fine job doing what they do.
But if you like them better, then hey, that's like, your opinion man.
The Godfather Part II shows 2 rotten reviews, but when I try to read them, only one critic is shown. What did you do to the other guy?
Ask Luca Brasi.
Probably The Fifth Element. It's kind of a mess, but I love it.
Nothing guilty about it for me.
An interesting aspect of Rotten Tomatoes (and I guess all websites where comments are allowed) is that, with the scoring system the way it is, people are always rooting for an 100% rating or a 0% rating. To the users of your site, this is exciting, and honestly it is. Very rarely do movies score these numbers and it's really a joy whenever they do.
However, I've seen this as more of a problem on RT than other forums is that this desire, especially with highly anticipated (good or bad) films, seems to get a bit ugly when the streak is broken, most recently notable with the death threats that came after the first few "rotten" reviews of The Dark Knight Rises, or whenever a critic writes positively about a Friedberg & Seltzer film.
My question is how can you hope to control this, if at all on your website? Obviously when it got to death threats it was necessary not to allow commenting on the thread anymore, but there seems to be the amazing split with RT commenters where one person will trash the reviewer and the person directly below will say "hey we're allowed our opinions". Which side do you fall on, and how to you hope to gain traction with your users, if at all when it gets ugly?
I referenced this in another post, but when that dogpile happens, it really bums us out. It seems to happen most often with comic-book movies, and as a comic-book fan myself, it really depresses me.
I posted an article about this that week called "this is why we can't have nice things" and basically told people that we can disagree, but let's keep it civil. Or to quote Wheaton, "don't be a dick."
Ultimately, we're going to change how our comment threads are set up so that there isn't a thread for each review, and I think that will help a bit. But we're a pretty big platform, and once you hit a certain traffic level, the trolls definitely come out.
How do you determine whether a critique is Rotten or Fresh if the general tone of the article seems to be neutral?
I'm sure you remember the ordeal with internet users flooding message boards of movie critics who gave The Dark Knight Rises a negative review, but there was one article in particular that I read who admitted that he hadn't seen the film yet. How can you add to/take away from a movie's tomato score based on someone who hasn't seen the film's opinion?
How many miles do you recommend between tire rotations?
In many cases, the critic submits the review with their own rating. But when we pick up the review, sometimes everyone in the office will read it, and if we really can't agree on a rating, we'll ask the critic. But if something's truly neutral, we'll usually mark it fresh; the phrase we use in the office in that case is "tie goes to the runner"
In that case, we took the link down to that review as soon as we saw it.
About 5,000 miles, depending on how you drive.
I feel that the neutral comments really get me. For example, one of the reviews will be bad and i read it, and sometimes I feel like its a good review and shouldn't be a rotten tomato. Is there a system to determine if some of the neutral comments are rotten or not? It throws me off sometimes.
The neutral ones can be really hard to interpret sometimes. Sometimes three or four of us will read the same review to try and find a line that really defines where the critic stands. If we really can't figure it out, we'll ask the critic directly. That comes up a lot with Hollywood Reporter and Variety, where some of the reviews are as much about the box office potential as they are about the quality.
What is your favourite movie that has a 'rotten' rating?
Probably the first thing to come to mind would the The Fast and the Furious franchise.
Texting in theaters - what should we do here?
I could go on a huge rant here (I just did on last week's Rotten Tomatoes Radio show), but I'll just say that I don't think there's any justification for texting in theater full of people. You're either too dumb to realize you're distracting others that paid to see the movie, or you just don't care. Take your pick.
Why are the forums buried/hidden on your website?
Many websites do this. My understanding is that that they want to flush away some of the pleb posters. Those who will go into the depths of the site just to find the forums will mostly do so because they have something important to post.
Plus, regulars know how it all works so the website's already established userbase will add more to the discussion than the new influx of users coming in via google.
Sites that show up very often on Google's page 1 for different keywords do this kind of stuff.
That's been a very controversial issue inside the company, to be honest. RT has been owned by three different parent companies while I've been here (News Corp, Flixster, and now Time-Warner), and along the way, the various parent companies have had different philosophies about how the legacy forums would be dealt with. That's probably the most diplomatic way I can put it.
Would you be willing to become a regular contributor on the Adam Carolla podcast, like David Wild from Rolling Stone has? I would love a weekly segment discussing the crap coming out at the theaters.
We're working on that, but Adam's schedule gets really full really quickly (or so they tell me).
What actor do you dislike the most, out of everyone you can think of?
There are some people I'd like to see do better movies, like Adam Sandler, but Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison still make me laugh. But there's no one I really hate; I save my hate for people I know personally.
Personally, what did you think of The Dark Knight Rises?
I liked it a lot. I don't know that it stands alone very well, but as a trilogy, Nolan's Batman movies are damn good.
Have you ever eaten rotten tomatoes?
Not knowingly. I have been known to drink milk the day after it expires though.
Do you earn a decent salary? Unsure how much someone in your field would be expecting to earn.
Editor in Chief of an influential website like this.. should be at least..150k right?
I'm sending this recommendation to my boss.
How does the Flixster/TWX ownership structure work? Do you get Time Warner stock? How much editorial freedom do you have, and are there any guarantees? Theoretically you could get a call from your boss's boss's boss's boss telling you to find a way to give the latest Warner Bros. film a push over that line from rotten to fresh or else he'll fire you and find someone who will--right?
No stock, but total freedom to write and cover what we want.
If I'd had any doubts about that, they were erased the week Dark Knight Rises opened. No one at WB gave me any direction on how to handle the commenter issues, or what to do when the incident in Aurora happened. After that week, we got some feedback from corporate PR that they thought we handled everything well, but at no point did they ask us to do anything differently.
We never heard anything like that while we were part of News Corp, either.
Will the Rotten Tomatoes Show ever come back? And what's your personal opinion regarding the scores? Would you see any "fresh" movie as a movie one should go watch? I personally like the seperation into fresh and rotten because oftentimes it's just too much about critics ratings.
That incarnation of the show if over, but we're trying to cook up some other things. And I'm trying to get Brett and Ellen to come on the Rotten Tomatoes Radio show; I see Brett every week at Current, when I'm shooting What the Flick.
Regarding scores, I think they can be a good tool in the decision making process if you're on the fence about seeing a movie. But if you're dying to see a particular movie, then go see it; it's ok to see (and like) a movie that the critics don't like.
Except Twilight. Those movies are terrible.
Describe your typical day.
The days vary over the course of the week, because we see most of the reviews come in on Thursdays and Fridays. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays will be a lot of time planning coverage for the coming weeks, and then going to screenings in the evenings. On Thursdays I do a bunch of radio press appearances, my team is amassing reviews, shoot What the Flick, and then we have Rotten Tomatoes Radio. Fridays have more reviews, more press, and then eventually I go home.
Hey Matt, what would you say is your favorite ultra-cheesy movie to watch for laughs (Something along the lines of The Day After Tomorrow or The Core).
What is your favorite genre of movie?
My favorite genre of movie is probably sci-fi or action/adventure. And I love a good martial arts movie.
I just re-watched The Rock on cable the other day - does that count as cheesy? Loved it.
What was it like in the beginning of your business?
Was it hard, did people have doubts?
Rotten Tomatoes began as a side project for a few employees at a company called Design Reactor in Emeryville, CA. This allowed them to fully develop and take risks with the RT concept. Once it became clear this was going to be huge, the site branched off onto its own.
You can see some of the stories about the early days of the site here
What is the highest rated movie on Rotten Tomatoes? Lowest?
Best reviewed movie of all time is Toy Story 2 - 100% with 161 reviews.
Worst ever is Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever - 0% with 108 reviews.
Worst ever is Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever - 0% with 108 reviews.
Already added to my downloads list.
There's more where that came from here
Have you ever spoke to an Actor/Actress who have had a joke or discussion with their film's ratings with you?
A lot. One of the coolest things about working at Rotten Tomatoes is that almost everyone in the film industry seems to know who we are and they use the site. I interviewed James Remar a couple of weeks back and he joked about how many bad movies he had on our site.
My favorite was probably interviewing the Broken Lizard guys. I love Super Troopers, and they all said to us "we love you guys, but you HATE us."
Thank you for doing this AMA. Welcome! Do you consider yourself to be movie-savvy? What was your occupation before this? Do you know of some amazing movies that have gotten little to no attention? If so, can you name a few? (Sorry to ask so many.. pick and choose if you wish!) :D
I like to think I'm relatively movie-savvy, but there are plenty of people who know more about the art and the business of movies than I do.
Before I was at RT, I had an online music business that failed (which is why I got back into web-based entertainment journalism) and before that I was at Yahoo Movies. I've been covering entertainment on the web off and on for about 15 years. I started out as a Universal Studios Tour Guide and I think I've taken that training to it's ridiculous extreme.
One movie I really tried to talk up last year was Warrior, and I was really happy to see Nolte get an Oscar nomination. He had a scene in that movie that had me in tears.
is there any movie with a 0% critic and 100% user or the other way around?
I don't think there is that large of a difference, but there are some with a difference of 40-50%. But I think comparing critics scores to user scores is an apples/oranges comparison. Users mostly choose movies they think they'll like, and they're usually right, so most users scores come from a self-selecting pool of people biased towards liking the film. I'm painting in broad strokes here, but the I think the numbers are kind of a false comparison.
do you receive fan mails? what's the weirdest one?
has any of the film promoters ever tried to bribe you to review their movies? what's the weirdest one?
what about hate mails?
I don't get fan mail.
No one's tried to bribe me, but we do get filmmakers challenging our interpretation of a review. When that happens, we'll check with the reviewer to make sure it's right.
I don't get hate mail, but I do get nasty comments on YouTube.
How do you feel about critics who slam overwhelmingly acclaimed movies, such as Toy Story 3 and E.T.?
If someone can legitimately back up their criticism, that's their right. We don't expect everyone to agree.
How did you come up with the idea for the site's rating system?
That was created by the founders of the site (not me), but my understanding is that 60% works as a pretty clear supermajority.
Where do you see Rotten Tomatoes going from here?
What is your opinion on critics writing a negative review to gain traffic to their personal website?
We're trying to syndicate the score into more places, and we may expand what we're covering past just movies.
Regarding writing reviews to get traffic, if someone's flagrantly doing that, we try and address it. But it's slippery slope - we're not trying to enforce some kind of group think, and if someone can legitimately argue against the popular opinion, that's their right.
But when someone's been really obvious about it, we've addressed it, up to and including removal from our system if it looks like they're not being honest with their reviewing.
Did you ever want to be a filmmaker growing up (or still want to)?
I wanted to be in movies, not really direct them or produce them. And then I realized I'd rather watch movies than make them.
Dear Mr. Atchity,
I used to intern at Rotten Tomatoes based out of downtown L.A. I aided the TV show with movie research, teleprompter, and any other errands my producers needed of me. During my time at the show I saw major changes within Current, especially with the RT show. The show shifted from user-submitted reviews to legitimate critics. This tragically changed the entire feel of the show, and in my opinion, killed the show. Even as I left the show, and after they offered me a position, I was never able to get a straight answer why this change occurred? Do you have any knowledge of why this happened.
P.S. - I was the longest intern the Rotten Tomatoes show had. I enjoyed my time thoroughly and look fondly back on the company as a whole. If there are any ever positions open, you can be your bottom dollar I'll be applying!
I replied to this, but I think it disappeared.
Anyway, that was a decision by the producers, and we didn't have much input on it. But my take is that since Rotten Tomatoes is about critics' reviews, I feel like having professionals was closer to the spirit of the site.
Thanks for doing this. I love RT!
What's the process of deciding which reviewers should be listed/counted towards the Tomatometer like? Additionally, what are the qualifications needed for one of them to be a "top critic" on there?
I just posted about this, but we have our criteria here
One of the things that really stand out to me on the website is the user comments on the professional reviews. I think there is a very clear hivemind mentality among the user comments that is really disturbing - there are SO many hostile comments towards negative reviews for those "good" films and then so many patronizing comments towards positive reviews for "bad" films. How would you go about regulating these comments and improving discussion of these professional reviews?
Yeah, we're planning to move away from having individual comment threads linked to specific reviews, because I think that helps focus the dogpile that happens when someone goes against the majority. We'll have one thread for each movie that will be easier to police.
Any chance of getting rid of this popup? Or maybe just stop showing it after we have seen it 100 times?
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