The shocking lengths to which film companies would go to rig reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are revealed in a new investigation by Vulture, seriously compromising the site’s legitimacy. An organization called Bunker 15 is under scrutiny because, according to Vulture, it pays upwards of $50 for each review from small, frequently self-published reviewers to assist in raising “Tomatometer” scores. In one instance, Bunker 15 allegedly employed these strategies to mask the unfavorable reviews of the 2018 film “Ophelia,” which led to a score change from a firmly “rotten” 46 to a “fresh” 62 percent.
An employee of Bunker 15 stated in an email to a critic it was seeking to find that the “teams involved feel like it would benefit from more input from different critics.” The employee went on to suggest that “super nice” reviewers would only post positive reviews on their primary website, which Rotten Tomatoes would then take up. Meanwhile, the negative evaluations would be moved to “a smaller blog that RT never sees.”
These lobbying strategies can be profitable. From rotten to fresh, “Ophelia’s” ascent? It was fueled by seven favorable reviews, the majority of which were from critics who had previously evaluated a Bunker 15 film. It’s improbable that Rotten Tomatoes will play such a major role in the film industry. Initially, it was a postgraduate project. Today, many business leaders view it as a crucial factor in determining box office success, or at the very least, public opinion.
According to Vulture, “The studios didn’t invent Rotten Tomatoes, and most of them don’t like it,” filmmaker Paul Schrader, who wrote or directed classics including “Taxi Driver” and “American Gigolo.” The filmmaker thereby added, “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.”
Beyond using it for games, the film business has outright purchased Rotten Tomatoes. Warner Bros. sold it to the parent company of Universal Pictures, who presently owns it. The over a thousand critics it acquired to its roster in 2019—many of them from small publications—may be one of its major weaknesses.
The response from Bunker 15 didn’t seem to address the main points of the inquiry. The founder of Bunker 15 told Vulture, “We have thousands of writers in our distribution list, A small handful have set up a specific system where filmmakers can sponsor or pay to have them review a film.”
In reaction, Rotten Tomatoes secretly delisted numerous Bunker 15 films, including “Ophelia.” Rotten Tomatoes apparently told Vulture, “We take the integrity of our scores seriously and do not tolerate any attempts to manipulate them. We have a dedicated team who monitors our platforms regularly and thoroughly investigates and resolves any suspicious activity.”