Here's why Citizen Kane fell below Paddington 2 on Rotten Tomatoes

One vintage movie review from 1941 struck down the Orson Welles classic's perfect score.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
3 min read
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Stand back, all you film buffs touting Citizen Kane as the best film ever. At least one 1940s critic thinks you're full of it, Rosebud, and that opinion has shoved the classic movie's Rotten Tomatoes score below that of a certain talking bear.

Let's explain. Citizen Kane was one of the vaunted films earning a 100% Fresh rating on the Tomatometer, the site's way of handing each film a score. But in March, the site added one negative review from 1941, and that single diss changed the rating to a (still impressive) 99% Fresh rating. 

Citizen Kane is still listed as No. 3 on Rotten Tomatoes' list of the best movies of all time, behind 1934's It Happened One Night and a much more modern choice, 2018's Black Panther. But if you're looking for only movies that have a 100% critics' score, it's now off the list.

Movie fans poked fun at the fact that another, less critically acclaimed film has the 100% rating Citizen Kane lacks -- 2017's Paddington 2. That film's director and writer, Paul King, told The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday he'll try not to get too cocky about it, referencing Kane's movie mansion, Xanadu, in the process.

"It's extremely lovely to be on on any list which includes Citizen Kane, but it is obviously quite an eccentric list that goes from Citizen Kane to Paddington 2, so I'll try not to take it too seriously," King said. "I won't let it go too much to my head and immediately build my Xanadu. But I have been cooking up a model just in case."

Here's the history: Rotten Tomatoes started the Rotten Tomatoes Archives project two years ago, focusing on resurrecting critics and publications of the past and adding archived reviews of classic films to the site. 

As part of the archival project, Rotten Tomatoes has added 21 archive reviews to Citizen Kane, all from 1941-42. In March, Rotten Tomatoes added a Chicago Tribune review from May 7, 1941. The critic's byline is Mae Tinée, a joke phrase indicating "matinee," which Boing Boing notes was a "collective pseudonym then used by the paper's film critics."

The snarky critic behind the pen had fun with the review, writing, "I see by the ads that some experts think it the 'greatest movie ever made.' I don't." The review goes on to criticize the film for "sacrificing simplicity to eccentricity," though it praised the acting of Welles and most of his Mercury players, with the exception of Joseph Cotten.

Citizen Kane is not alone in seeing vintage reviews added -- over 5,500 reviews have been added to various films from what the site is calling "legacy critics." But yes, one 1941 diss did knock CK out of the perfect score club.

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According to a New Yorker article about the archival project, the site's review curation manager, Tim Ryan, working with the review curator Sara Ataiiyan, have dug into the history of film criticism and worked to include additional older reviews of classic films. 

The New Yorker points out that the project has even delved into the 19th century, adding a review from 1898 for a filmed version of Christ's death based on the Oberammergau passion play. And the project has also highlighted an important range of critics who've formerly been excluded, including women and people of color.

"In the process, Ryan and Ataiiyan are meaningfully contributing to, even significantly shifting, the history of cinema overall," the New Yorker writes.

But sorry, Charles Foster Kane -- at least for now, that means your perfect rating had to slip. And if you were covering this news yourself, you'd have your editors prepare that alternate front page: "Fraud at polls!"

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