Rotten Tomatoes Scores and Box Office: What the Data Says

Yves Bergquist
Sep 8, 2017 · 2 min read

Yesterday The New York Times joined the chorus of publications covering the horrendous Summer 2017 Box Office performance, echoing the long-standing Hollywood view that poor Rotten Tomatoes scores have a dramatic negative impact on financial performance. But a simple data analysis found no correlation.

The piece was pretty low on actual data, so I decided to head in that direction. I collected box office return data through Box Office Mojo for all the 150 titles released in 2017 that grossed more than $1 million, plugged in Rotten Tomatoes Scores and Audience Scores for all titles, and looked at correlation between scores and financial performance through both a basic Pearson Product-Moment Correlation Coefficient (PMCC) analysis as well as some linear modeling to extract r-squares (which measure the strength of the correlation).

The result? Nope. The math is pretty overwhelming in saying that, for the 150 top box office earners (all titles grossing more than $1 million at the box office) of 2017, there was no (positive or negative) correlation between Rotten Tomatoes Scores and box office returns.

Overall, the PMCC analysis reveals that, at least in 2017, there was a 65% correlation between RT scores and audience scores for all these titles, which means Rotten Tomatoes scores are a fairly good predictor of audience reviews. As you can see in the plot below, the relationship is fairly linear.

However, the data shows pretty clearly that there was little to no relationship between good or bad Rotten Tomatoes Scores and total gross: 12% PMCC correlation, and a .009 R-square (meaning there is no statistical relationship between the two variables).

Even more surprising, the impact of Rotten Tomatoes scores on opening weekend box office seemed even weaker: 0.8 PMCC score (only 8% correlation), and a -0.001 r-square.

That’s for all 2017 titles so far. What about the Summer titles?

Nope. We did not find any meaningful impact of Rotten Tomatoes scores on total gross for summer movies (May through Labor Day): .07 PMCC score (only 7% correlation), with a -.006 r-square.

There was even less correlation between Rotten Tomatoes Scores and opening weekend performance: -.03 PMCC score (3% correlation means no relationship whatsoever), with an r-square of -.01.

Obviously, this quick and dirty analysis doesn’t hold real scientific value, since it has a small sample, and only directionally accurate financial performance data (Box Office Mojo). Still, the myth — at least for 2017– seems debunked: audiences did not, in fact, get turned away by low Rotten Tomatoes Scores. A lot of people in the industry hang on to hopes that sliding theatrical financial performance might be less structural than circumstantial. Alas, the data shows that, at least for this Summer, something more profound — and more sinister- may be at play.

Yves Bergquist

Written by

Machine Intelligence Warlord. Founder & CEO of AI Startup Corto. Director of the AI & Neuroscience Project at USC’s Entertainment Technology Center

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