Rotten Tomatoes seeks proof you saw the movie you're rating

All audience reviews will still appear. But to strengthen confidence in the score, people who can verify their ticket purchase will rise to the top.

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

Rotten Tomato audience reviews of Captain Marvel sparked controversy earlier this year.


More changes are coming to review site Rotten Tomatoes. As of Thursday, the audience score for new movies added to the site will default to show ratings from fans confirmed to have purchased tickets to those films.

"The goal is to strengthen consumer confidence around that audience score," said Greg Ferris, vice president of product for Rotten Tomatoes' parent company, Fandango.

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The Rotten Tomatoes audience score will now show the rating from verified ticket purchasers as its default. Users can click on the tab marked "all audience" to see the combined score from all audience reviews.

Rotten Tomatoes

Here's how it'll work: Any site user will still be able to write a review of a film. But now users can opt to have their rating and review marked as "verified." 

That means they bought their film ticket on Fandango, the movie-ticketing site that owns Rotten Tomatoes. Later this year, AMC Theatres and Regal and Cinemark ticketing sites will also be participating. So if you buy your ticket for Aladdin at the box office, for example, sorry, but you can't get verified for that review. (At least for now: Dana Benson, Fandango vice president for communications, says that the site is "exploring options" for ways to verify box office purchases.)

Reviews associated with a ticket purchase will be marked with a "verified" icon. By default, the verified reviews will be used to make up the audience score shown on Rotten Tomatoes. To see the total audience score, including reviews by those who didn't purchase through Fandango or didn't opt in to the verification, users can select the "all audience" tab.

"Every rating counts, but the score that we're putting out there is verified," Ferris said.

The Rotten Tomatoes site will automatically verify that a ticket was purchased and that the time for that movie showing has already passed. For now, only one verified review will be allowed per transaction, no matter how many tickets were purchased.

The changes will affect only movies opening Thursday and beyond, and won't be retroactively applied to movies already on the site. The fan rating system previously used on Fandango's site will be replaced there with the Rotten Tomatoes score.

The change is similar to an element used on Amazon. Reviews written by those who bought a particular product on that site are marked with the words "Verified Purchase."

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Fandango will also display Rotten Tomatoes reviews, complete with the "Verified" indicator when a ticket purchase has been confirmed.

Rotten Tomatoes

Rotten Tomatoes is perhaps best known for the Tomatometer, which tells readers at a glance whether a film has mostly positive or negative reviews from professional critics. But the audience-score section of each movie page is also prominent.  

"Our research shows movie fans leverage both (critic and audience ratings)," Ferris said. The changes are meant to "protect the integrity of the audience score," he added.

The audience-score section of the Captain Marvel movie page made the news back in February. Even before the film was released March 8, users were leaving negative comments about it, with some reacting angrily to public comments made by star Brie Larson

Larson drew fire in part for telling Marie Claire magazine that the critics covering her films were "overwhelmingly white male" and noting that she was reaching out to a more inclusive group of critics. That resulted in some Rotten Tomatoes users leaving such comments as "Larson has made it clear ... men need not attend this movie." 

Back in February, Rotten Tomatoes disabled the comment function prior to a movie's release date and made some other changes.

There's clearly a trend toward using a movie-review site to express anger about a film for reasons other than its content. That may not be the only reason for adding and elevating the verified review component, but it's surely in the mix.

"It's a component that we don't ignore," said Lori Pantel, chief marketing officer for Fandango.

Said Benson, "Anyone who is in this space, who has an open platform, is looking at this." 

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