Did Paramount try to mess with the *gasp* integrity of Rottentomatoes.com?

A sign of the times, I guess. Critics are accusing Paramount of trying to rig (at least temporarily) the Rottentomatoes.com rating for last week’s GI Joe movie. The contention is that while Paramount refused to screen the film for critics before it hit screens–seldom a good sign–they did invite favored fanboys like AICN to attend private showings earlier in the week.

If this was the idea, it worked, at least briefly. Days before the film came out, it had an improbable 90% approval rating at RT. It should be noted that a handful of movies sustain a 90% rating in a given year. Mysteriously, this rating plummeted by Friday, when the vast majority of newspaper and magazine critics had their say. It now stands at an entirely scathing 25%. Which, for the math challenged, is quite a bit lower than 90%.

It’s arguable what effect Paramount’s strategy (assuming that’s what it was) had on box office tallies. Presumably some people somewhere saw the early high score and it made them more likely to change their ten bucks that weekend. However, while the film was the number one release that frame, it pulled in a tepid $54.7m, and an equally tepid $97m worldwide. That’s maybe $50m back to Paramount.

On a $175m budget (!!!!), that’s not even close to putting it in the break even category. The film will probably make back its nut, or at least come close to it, by the time DVD sales and such are accounted. However, Paramount’s going to have to hope for very strong toy sales to generate any profits.

In any case, while the ultimate effects of Paramount’s (supposed) strategy are open to debate, the fact is they did seem to get the result they wanted for at least a brief amount of time. Surely the other studios were keeping an eye out, and look to see more refined versions of such tactics employed in the future.

  • Ericb

    I’d imagine that this technique would be short lived though. Eventually no one will pay attention to an unprescreened film’s rating in RT in its first week of release.

  • Mr. Rational

    It’s really a shame that they tried to pull that stunt, too…I went to see the movie last night, and found it genially stupid. I mean, don’t get me wrong; stupid is a big part of the equation. But it hits the nostalgia button hard (even non-fans like me remember such catch-phrases as “real American hero,” “kung-fu grip,” and “knowing is half the battle”), and things keep moving along at a good clip, never getting bogged down in “character development” that we know would suck if they tried it anyway.

    Ironically, I think it benefits from the formulaic nature and wild implausibility of most of its brethren. It seems to know exactly how far to push the suspension of disbelief (at this point, we’ll pretty much accept a woman going on missions in improbably high heels), while using the formula’s shorthand to its advantage (i.e., keeping its characters as cyphers — I found the cliche backstories, “gotcha” lines, and “big moments” we got perfectly acceptable for characters who were cliches to begin with). And the cast seems to be having a great time finding the fun in the formula. In short, what I think we’re dealing with here is a movie that knows exactly how back-of-the-short-bus it is, and says in rebuttal: “Yeah, yeah…but doesn’t this look COOL?!” And for the most part, what comes next does, in fact, look cool.

    Hmm. More words than I expected this comment to be. I feel as though I’m shilling for a movie that objectively doesn’t deserve it. Oh, well. To get back to my point, I think there probably would have been a big enough audience for this movie without the reviewer deck-stacking, so it’s a shame that it’s now become a part of the narrative. I mean, I went to see it, and I had a good time. (Of course, then again, I did see it with a few beers on my stomach. Venture there without them, and your mileage may vary.)

  • Joe11

    I think the Rottentomatoes.com “plan” had little to no effect on GI Joe’s box office. Like the Transformers or horror films, the hardcore fans were going to see it no matter how horrible the reviews were. I think the mainstream movie audience is smart enough to click a few more times to find out how many people actually reviewed the film.

    I agree with Ericb that this technique will be short lived (especially for big budget blockbusters). At least horror films have much smaller budgets so they can make a profit with only the hardcore base.

  • Blackadder

    I think you need to take all kinds of reviews with a grain of salt. It’s easy for studios to influence them in a variety of ways – as this example demonstrates – and some (maybe most) reviewers have an axe to grind.

    Read a variety of reviews of any movie and then decide for yourself.

  • Plissken79

    I thought GI Joe was a lot of fun, as long as one does not take it seriously. It was much better than the awful Transformers and Terminator sequels this summer.

    Let’s hope the film makes enough to merit a sequel, I hardly see while it had to cost $175 million, although $100 on the opening weekend million is not bad at all given the film’s buzz. Deadline Hollywood Daily saw it as a fairly successful opneing, and Nikki Finke is usually reliable when it comes to this analysis. Besides Ken, you are forgetting the merchandise sales from a film like this.

    As for Paramount’s strategy, I doubt it had much of an impact either way, most fans of action, sci-fi, or horror films do not rely on Rotten Tomatoes anyway

  • fish eye no miko

    Meh… I don’t pay too much attention to a movie’s initial rating on RT anyway… if it has less than, say, 50 reviews, I figure that’s not a good guess as to its final rating. I’ve seen plenty of films with high rating but few reviews do just what G.I. Joe did.
    Of course, there are plenty of movies with bad ratings I like anyway, and some with high ratings I don’t like, so… ^_^

  • Grumpy

    Paramount’s going to have to hope for very strong toy sales to generate any profits.

    Hasbro’s giving P’mount a cut of the toy sales???

  • Paramount will get a cut of the toys because they are designed to tie into the movie (the accelerator suits, etc.)

  • Petoht

    RT is sacrosanct? It’s just an aggregater (and I prefer MetaCritic anyway).

    Honestly, I don’t think Paramount did this to try and game RT. Plenty of films (especially genre) don’t pre-screen for any critics, they just pre-screened for critics they knew would be favorable, so they can crow that Joe Junket loved the film, just like he loves every other film that gives him a free trip to Hollywood with a free hotel and free food.

    Personally, I think it’s less Paramount trying to fool us poor stupid bastards who (apparently) can’t tell that GI Joe will be big and dumb so much as it is critics realizing that more and more of us dumb bastards ignore them anyway. Having a studio ignore them just pisses them off more, so they accuse Paramount of trying to game the system. Please. They’re enraged that Transformers 2 made bank, and GI Joe ignoring them for genre critics is just twisting the knife.

    And hey, at least they didn’t make up critics like Sony did.

  • Danny

    “I’d imagine that this technique would be short lived though. Eventually no one will pay attention to an unprescreened film’s rating in RT in its first week of release.”

    I already do. Movies that haven’t come out yet or are in opening weekend have really weird scores most of the time anyway.

  • Blackadder

    What a ridiculous budget for this film. They deserve to lose money for spending that much.

  • MarshallDog

    Why don’t they just buy a review site like rottentomatoes.com and write their own reviews for their movies? That would at least take the middle man out of the equation. I mean, even Harry Knowles didn’t like Transformers 2, so there’s no guarantee their plan would work every time.