Rotten Tomatoes Payola and Critical Ethics title image

You may have read last week in Vulture about a PR firm called Bunker 15 that paid smaller, self-published, Tomatometer-approved critics to post positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes for Ophelia. The 2018 film had a poor reception initially, with a 46% rating on RT. However, after the firm began paying critics, it achieved the desired “Fresh” label. The firm would offer these critics $50 or more in payola for a positive review, and they would also lobby critics to change their negative reviews to positive ones.

The Vulture story spends most of its word count questioning the influence of RT on the film industry. Sure, the Tomatometer score can have a significant impact on a film’s box-office performance, and studios and distributors often make decisions about marketing and promotion to appeal to that score. It’s shameful, yet not altogether surprising, that PR firms would attempt to manipulate the RT score. But director Paul Schrader shrewdly summarized the problem: “Rotten Tomatoes is something the studios can game. So they do.”


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