When Rotten Tomatoes Is Wrong, And Why The Eternals Score Matters
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When Rotten Tomatoes Is Wrong, And Why We Should(n’t) Care About the Eternals Score

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BY November 9, 2021

Ask any self-respecting cinephile what the best films of the new millennium are, Tarsem Singh’s The Fall will come up within the first five. The film is one of the most beautiful, well-acted, well-written achievements on the silver screen. It’s a heartbreaking, heartwarming embrace of loss and redemption and oranges. However, until 2020 (after some retro reviews) the Tomatometer gave it a rotten score. It now sits at 61%, the only fresh film in Tarsem’s career so far. Granted, though he doesn’t have many films in his resume yet, some of them have rightly earned their rotten rating (looking at you, Self/Less). But when Rotten Tomatoes is wrong, it’s often glaringly wrong. And their newest miscalculation? The Eternals.

Rotten Tomatoes Always Gets it Wrong Because Creativity is Subjective as Hell

Rotten Tomatoes is WrongThe Eternals Marvel Studios Final Trailer Costumes Image: Marvel Studios

Even if the critical and audience consensus is a close match, and everyone seems to feel exactly the same about the movie, no one ever does. There are very few films that are exactly 100% or 0%. For the most part, these films don’t have many reviews. Even the biggest movies with 100%, such as Toy Story 2, have less than 250 reviews, including retro reviews. Achieving 100% today, with far more reviewers out there, is nearly impossible. That means that though Black Panther has one of the best film scores of all time, 96% of over 500 reviews, there were still 19 jagoffs who disliked the movie.

But that’s just the way it goes. Ask any creative person out there, and the negative reviews always feel more important than the positive ones. Hell, for my own novel, Trading Saints for Sinners, one of my best friends gave it a four-star review. Usually, friends just hit five and move on. This friend went out of her way to make sure I knew she didn’t think it was great. Didn’t hurt my feelings at all. Even those stats and scales are weird. It’s not like there’s a rubric for them – and that wouldn’t help regardless. We like what we like; we hate what we hate.

The Critics’ Score Means Nothing Compared to the Audience Score

Some movies have such significant discrepancies between the critics and audience scores that it’s like people were watching a different film altogether. For example, Eternals currently sits at 48% on the Tomatometer. Yet the audience score? Almost 90%. There’s an approximate 40% difference between the two scores. But the Eternals are not alone. Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin, which we loved, had a critics score of 57%, yet an audience score of 94%. But instead of listing all the crazy differences, let’s use a chart:

Rotten Tomatoes is Wrong Image: Reddit

However, this chart doesn’t show that the Rotten Tomatoes method is wrong. We all know that trolls review-bombed Last Jedi and Captain Marvel. Now, those same trolls complained about the diversity represented in Eternals. So, did those trolls stop caring, or is that 86% audience score lower than it should be? Or did RT actually fix their troll problem? It doesn’t matter either way, really. What matters is how much money the movie makes.

Neither Matter Compared to the Box Office Score

Look at that chart again. Despite having the most considerable discrepancy, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen had rotten Tomatometer and Audience scores. It was also just the second movie in the Transformers franchise. Now, did Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks, Michael Bay, and Shia LeBeouf decide not to make more transforming robots movies if people hated it that much? Nope. The movie made over $800 million worldwide. The third film in the series, Dark of the Moon, made over one billion. Same with the fourth, Age of Extinction. It wasn’t until The Last Knight, the fifth film in the franchise, that the return-on-investment plunged to a harrowingly low $600 million. Oh, the failure! Instead of calling it a day, Paramount did a soft reboot with the wonderfully innocent Bumblebee, making $470 million but on a much smaller budget. And there will be plenty of Transformers movies in the future.

It takes a lot more than critic and audience responses to destroy a franchise. The final movie of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Dead Men Tell No Tales, actually made over $700 million worldwide, but only $130 million domestic. On top of that, the Johnny Depp controversies were heating up, and the reviews and audience scores kept dwindling. Disney saw the writing on the studio wall: Pirates was a dying franchise. Meanwhile, they had Star Wars and the MCU. They don’t need Pirates. It’s dead. Gone. Buried.

Or not.

With Eternals, Rotten Tomatoes Isn’t Just Wrong – It Could Be Problematic

rotten tomatoes is wrong,eternals trailer shows lgbtq+ representation Image: Marvel Studios

A little while back, Meryl Streep – a critical darling – noticed something askew in the reviewers that made up the Tomatometer sores. There is nearly five times the number of male reviewers than there are female. But there’s another discrepancy she didn’t mention. 75% of all reviewers on RT are white men. This is going to get awkward real fast. In fact, Saturday Night Live poked fun at the Eternals’ Tomatometer problem in their cold open. With a freakishly accurate Donald Trump impersonation, new cast member James Austin goes on two of Trump’s incoherent rants. In the second one, he says, when bringing up that “awful Eternals movie,” that “it was too diverse and no one wants to see that. Just ask the tomatoes. It’s rotten.”

Now, diversity hasn’t always garnered a negative score, but there’s something different about Eternals that would ruffle some white male feathers. And for that, we must get into spoiler territory.


rotten tomatoes is wrong, who is ikaris Marvel Studios

Richard Madden is slowly being typecast as, well, the Dick. In Rocketman, he was the asshole who abused Elton John. And it’s not the only villain he’s played. In fact, Madden wants to play more villains. His character in Eternals, Ikaris, is basically Superman. Phastos’s son even calls him that, to which Ikaris responds, “I don’t wear a cape.” (Also, DC Comics in the MCU confirmed.) Maybe that should have been foreshadowing because Superman he is not.

In the end, we find out that he killed Ajak, Selma Hayek’s character, causing the deviants to gain her powers, set up Gilgamesh to die, and then flat-out betrayed his entire family and the woman he loved. He nearly kills Sersi at the end. For a while, he’s even overpowered by a Chubby, Black, Gay man, with the help of a Black deaf woman, and a neurodivergent woman. He eventually gets away. However, when he’s finally defeated, it’s at the hands of Sersi, the most gentle Eternal, and played by Asian actress Gemma Chan. She overpowers him just by her connection to the Celestial and the Earth. Finally, after feeling ashamed of his actions, he does something drastic. He doesn’t just exile himself. It looks like they were going that way. That he would fly off into space.

No…he seems to try to destroy himself. Living up to his namesake, Ikaris flies too close to the sun. As in, he flies into the sun. So, the powerful white male who acts like the leader (Kingo even calls him “boss,” and Sprite argues that he should be the leader) betrays everyone and kills himself. That is far from the white male superhero we’ve seen in 95% of these movies. And when 75% of reviewers are white men… that’s a correlation we shouldn’t ignore.

Rotten Tomatoes is Wrong In that Zhao “Sold Out” to Marvel

But it gets a little worse than that, as Owen Gleiberman of Vanity Fair indicates. Many critics seem upset that Zhao didn’t make Superheroland. They’re upset that she made a blockbuster. This is even more ridiculous for three main reasons. Firstly, she made Eternals before Nomadland. Secondly, most reviewers barely knew who she was before Nomadland. And thirdly, directors don’t have to keep making the same movie over and over again. As reviewer Peter Rainer points out (in a negative review):

“Unlike some of my colleagues, however, I don’t regard Zhao’s Marvel makeover as a simple case of selling out…No director – least of all a female director, for whom job opportunities are particularly unplentiful – should have to commit to a career of specialization.”

Gleiberman takes it a little further:

“Chloé Zhao is a major film artist and, as a woman of color, a trailblazing force in the newly developing power dynamic of Hollywood. Marvel movies, which critics, by and large, are publicly blasé about and privately sick of, symbolize the opposing force: the monolith of movies as kiddified product… In “Eternals,” is a good soldier who buckles down, plays ball and gives in to the mass conventionality of Marvel storytelling. And I think a lot of critics look at the result and think, “They defeated her.””

Gleiberman notes that critics see films as two separate tracks: blockbusters or indies. But, “Chloé Zhao doing a Marvel movie, and subjugating a lot of her directorial personality to it, threatens that dichotomy. If she’s trying to work — not just literally but aesthetically ­— within the power structure, then she’s not fighting the power. And I think she’s being punished for that.”

Circling Back to Sexism

And this brings us to one last, BIG problem. Sexism. Gleiberman also highlights his colleagues’ podcast “The Take,” where Clayton Davis remarks how “anytime a woman takes on the action genre, which has been made typically for men to helm, people come down harder on that filmmaker.” Gleiberman adds Birds of Prey to this assessment. Another pretty good action movie and one of the best in the DCEU so far, but judged far more harshly than all the others. The fact that a woman of color directed both films highlights the disparity.

Now, are Davis and cohost Elizabeth Wagmeister, Gleiberman, Rainer, or even our own Joshua Patton and myself, going to crack the bias against women of color directing blockbuster movies? Probably not. As Meryl noted earlier, there are a lot more reviewers out there who have this bias than the ones trying to solve it. But guess what? Nothing they (or we) say really matters. Because the only thing that matters at the end of the day is how much these movies take to the bank.

Even Though Rotten Tomatoes is Wrong, The Box Office is Just Right

Eternals Movie Sprite image via Marvel Studios

Eternals opened with the fourth-highest box office weekend in the pandemic age – or, as a Forbes writer put it, “new low for Marvel.” They kind of missed the point. And most articles praise that accomplishment, especially despite the Tomatometer score. In the pandemic age, opening at $71 million, behind three other Marvel movies is the equivalent of opening with $170 million pre-pandemic. I based this number on totally scientific methods and not just what seemed impressive.

The audience loved it, as the Audience meter shows. And it will make a good amount of money for the world we currently live in. When it goes streaming, it will make even more. As the end of the movie says, “the Eternals will return.” Now with the brilliantly-cast Harry Styles as Eros and the even more brilliantly cast Patton Oswalt as Pip the Troll. More than likely, Chloé Zhao will return to direct. We might even see Ajak, Ikaris, and Gilgamesh again, considering how Arishem created dozens of duplicate bodies. Maybe Ikaris will have a redemption arc next time. But regardless, despite how wrong many Rotten Tomatoes reviewers got it, Eternals is a franchise that’s here to stay.

Do you think Rotten Tomatoes gets it wrong too often?

Note: To be fair, even Rotten Tomatoes admits that their system can get it wrong. And the scores listed were the most recent as of this writing. With a new movie, they can change almost hourly.


Roman Colombo finished his MFA in 2010 and now teaches writing and graphic novel literature at various Philadelphia colleges. His first novel, Trading Saints for Sinners, was published in 2014. He's currently working on his next novel and hoping to find an agent soon.

Birds of PreyChloé ZhaoDiversityEternalsMarvel StudiosRotten Tomatoes

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