The film review website Rotten Tomatoes is one of the most cited movie websites on the Internet today and its review scores are often featured in advertising to get fans to the theaters, but some are beginning wonder if those scores are legitimate. If the website’s “Tomatometer” review scores are not legitimate, it could be a scandal that will cause a crisis for movie reviews everywhere. A journalist took a look at the website’s reviewing systems and its history and his analysis was published at the entertainment website Vulture.com last week. His discoveries raise real questions about whether the site could be far less accurate and reliable than it has been sold. Writer Lane Brown of New York magazine summed up the importance and the problems of Rotten Tomatoes well, noting, “The site was conceived in the early days of the web as a Hot or Not for movies. Now, it can make or break them — with implications for how films are perceived, released, marketed, and possibly even green-lit. The Tomatometer may be the most important metric in entertainment, yet it’s also erratic, reductive, and easily hacked.” The point about how important the site’s film review scores have become is on target. Even a brief look through recent PR material for films will show references to Tomatometer scores. Those references are used as axiomatic proclamations that a film is worth seeing. Citing a “fresh” score in film advertising is almost de rigueur these days. But if the reviewing system is not to be trusted, as Vulture seems to hint, this will be yet another disaster for a film industry that is already sinking lower every month. The site has a complicated history with Hollywood as it is. “The studios didn’t invent Rotten Tomatoes, and most of them don’t like it,” said filmmaker Paul Schrader, according to Vulture. “But the system is broken. Audiences are dumber. Normal people don’t go through reviews like they used to. Rotten Tomatoes is something the studios can game. So they do.” Directors, stars, and studios may be iffy on Rotten Tomatoes, but their publicists and PR firms love the thing. “Publicists say their jobs revolve around the site,” according to Vulture. There is another group that hates the site, too. People trying to be film reviewers for a living really detest Rotten Tomatoes because, as Vulture noted, the site has “desensitized” the public to the work of individual reviewers. After all, who needs to seek out reviewers, and read their long takes on movies, when you can just go to Rotten Tomatoes and in seconds see that the film is rated 89 percent “fresh” or is “rotten”? No reading or research needed. Just take a quick look at a number and you’re done. Director Quentin Tarantino, for instance, told a French publication that he no longer bothers reading the work of film reviewers, according to Vulture. “Today, I don’t know anyone,” he said. “I’m told, ‘Manohla Dargis, she’s excellent.’ But when I ask what are the three movies she loved and the three she hated in the last few years, no one can answer me. Because they don’t care!” But Vulture also found that these same publicists who rely on the site have also learned to game it. Brown cited a movie that engaged in a campaign to get negative reviews either changed or buried on little-seen sites so that its Tomatometer rating would rise from a “rotten” rating to a “fresh” rating on the Tomatometer. And it worked. Then there is how and when the Tomatometer starts tallying reviews for a score in the first place. And Vulture hastens to point out it is a system in which “Its math stinks.” “Scores are calculated by classifying each review as either positive or negative and then dividing the number of positives by the total,” Brown wrote. “That’s the whole formula. Every review carries the same weight whether it runs in a major newspaper or a Substack with a dozen subscribers.” And that’s not all. “Another problem — and where the trickery often begins — is that Rotten Tomatoes scores are posted after a movie receives only a handful of reviews, sometimes as few as five, even if those reviews may be an unrepresentative sample,” Brown wrote. “This is sort of like a cable-news network declaring an Election Night winner after a single county reports its results. But studios see it as a feature, since, with a little elbow grease, they can sometimes fool people into believing a movie is better than it is.” Brown further explained that the studio will hand-pick the reviewers they think with love their movie and invite them for a preview. And then they sit back as those reviewers write glowing pieces that first show on Rotten Tomatoes. But those few positive reviews may be a long way off from the overall perception of the movie after a wider audience has gotten a chance to see it. Yet, before they get that chance, a misleading “fresh” rating just might fool more people into assuming it is good and spending their hard-earned money to go see the film. Brown suspects this skewed practice even helped the most recent Marvel superhero flick. “For example, in February, the Tomatometer score for ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ debuted at 79 percent based on its first batch of reviews. Days later, after more critics had weighed in, its rating sank into the 40s,” Brown wrote. “But the gambit may have worked. ‘Quantumania’ had the best opening weekend of any movie in the Ant-Man series, at $106 million. In its second weekend, with its rottenness more firmly established, the film’s grosses slid 69 percent, the steepest drop-off in Marvel history.” Then there is the problem with who is doing the reviewing on the platform. Over the last few years, Rotten Tomatoes initiated a new system to bring “diversity” to the ranks of its reviewers. While most of diversity-obsessed Hollywood thought that was wonderful, there is no accounting for accuracy or veracity in a strict numerical goal of adding women or minorities and cutting down its number of evil white men. How can you trust the site’s reviews after it instituted changes based on increasing “diversity” percentages instead of working to add excellent reviewers? Further, adding more “queer” reviewers, or “women” reviewers or “black” reviewers simply to have that statistic pumped up may just be growing the number of friendly reviewers that these PR firms can cajole into posting positive reviews. Just for example, a self-identified “queer” review is far more likely to love a film that has queer characters of story segments — whether it is good or not — just because it adds to “queer representation.” And the studios know this. The upshot is that Rotten Tomatoes seems to have far too many holes and is too easy to game for its review numbers to be trusted. And if the system can so easily be hacked and gamed by the very studios that it is supposed to be rating, then what good is the site in point of fact? Sadly, it may just be one more American “institution” that becomes viewed as corrupt and untrustworthy. This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.