Your Opinion Sucks: Matt Atchity Dishes on Rotten Tomatoes


There was a time before Rotten Tomatoes, when everyone had to find their own film critics. Now, audiences can go to one place, look up the movie they are curious about, and see at a single glance what critics from across the globe are saying about it. It’s called “The Tomatometer,” and it has changed the face of film criticism as we know it.

But what do we really know about the Tomatometer? I sat down with Rotten Tomatoes’ editor-in-chief Matt Atchity in Seattle, WA, the night before his popular panel “Your Opinion Sucks: Rotten Tomatoes Critics vs. Fans.” The panel consists of professional critics who debate the fans in attendance about whatever movie the fans want to argue about. It is a panel that I am to be a part of this year at Emerald City Comicon, for the very first time, although I was in attendance at the very first “Your Opinion Sucks” at San Diego Comic-Con two years ago. (Matt Atchity and I have also reviewed films and TV series together on the YouTube channel What the Flick.) 

The goal here was to give film lovers a clearer picture of how the Tomatometer works, and to reveal the history and unexpected stories behind “Your Opinion Sucks.” If you are attending Emerald City Comicon this year, stop on by the panel at 12:50pm PST in Hall E, this Saturday, March 28th. If not, you can learn more about what you’re missing – and what you may not know about how Rotten Tomatoes really works – in this interview.


Related: Emerald City Comicon 2015 Cosplay Gallery


CraveOnline: “Your Opinion Sucks.” Where did this approach to a comic convention panel come from?

Matt Atchity: The lovely and amazing Grae Drake. We were thinking it would be cool to do a panel. We wanted to do something and we thought it would be interesting to get critics there, and Grae comes into the office one day and says, “I’ve got it.” The idea that we would have fans talking to critics, lining them up and setting them up to argue, it’s so much fun and it’s super interactive. 

I will admit, when Grae first pitched it I didn’t really see it. I pooh-poohed the idea. I was not on board from the get go. I have to admit. She came in and she talked about this, and our publicist talked about it, and she wanted to get the fans… you know, we hand out the little paddles that have the tomato on one side and the splat on the other. We hand them out to the whole crowd and everybody gets to use them to measure their reaction, to show their reaction to everything. As Grae’s describing this I’m thinking, “This is ridiculous. I don’t even know what she’s talking about.” 

As she explained it she was so passionate about it and I realized, “Okay, you know what? Even if I don’t see it we’re going to try this.” And as we developed it more I finally came around and realized that this felt like it was going to be fun. 

Now, we were nervous going into the first time. We went [to] San Diego Comic-Con two years ago, it was the first time we did it, and we were really nervous. We didn’t think anyone would get it, we weren’t sure. But it’s super fun. It gets super rowdy. People really love debating with critics, and people come up and ask for the critics’ autographs, which is something we didn’t expect! They come up with their paddles and sharpies, and they want us to sign them, and it’s crazy. And awesome!

The interaction between critics and fans can often be very volatile on the internet. Were you worried about that following through in person?

Not really. I hadn’t really thought about that. The tone of it comes off like… it’s kind of like this party atmosphere. Where the tone of the panel goes is, we all have friends where we disagree on a movie. Outside of what you and I do, outside of being professional critical speakers, everybody’s got that friend that has a different taste. “Oh, I love that movie!” “Oh, I hated that. You’re an idiot!” Right? People argue really, really passionately about movies and TV shows and they’re still friends, and that’s the way the panel goes. People get up and they’re really happy to have those moments where they’re having critics listen to them. 

It’s 180 degrees from what happens on the web, because so few people on the web can actually write with a tone of voice. Somebody may write something on the web that [they think] sounds jokey, and comes off really mean, really nasty, and their attitude is, “Oh, I meant this to be funny.” It’s a rare skill that I think a lot of writers, even professionals [don’t necessarily] have on the web. [But] you can read somebody’s body language, and people will be joking in the panel. It’s really fun.

There’s also a sense of propriety that kicks in once you’re right next to someone.

Oh yeah. People say stuff… I mean, I don’t want to derail this discussion…

No, no, I think it’s relevant. 

People say stuff on the web that they would never, ever, ever, ever say to somebody’s face. Or at least one in a hundred might, right? And a lot of times, the one in a hundred has learned that there are consequences to the cockamamy shit that they say. But on the web there aren’t. 

Here on the panel, we’ll have people get up and they’ll talk about some movie that… [we] had a kid in New York get up and say that he didn’t like WALL-E, and the whole room turned on this kid. The whole room, and all of the critics on the panel liked WALL-E. But this kid presented good arguments. So one of the critics, Owen Gleiberman, said to this kid, “I don’t agree with you, but you make good points, and kudos to you for standing up.” 

It gets fun because you’ll get somebody who gets up and takes a contrary opinion, knowing that it’s going to be contrary, because you want to see how the critics react and how the room reacts, but it’s all in good fun. It’s all this really jovial, collegiate… Are there people trolling there? Yeah, absolutely there are, but it’s kind of okay in a public space like that because people are doing it kind of for the laughs.

The whole thing is, people come up and present an opinion on a movie, and a critic who has the opposite opinion debates. What is the weirdest movie that has come up?

Sometimes somebody will bring up some movie that nobody’s ever heard of. At Long Beach somebody brought up one of the Thomas the Tank Engine movies and no one had seen it. That’s where you start to lose the room. There’s no point in this environment to bring up a movie that nobody’s ever heard of because you don’t get a reaction. 

At the most one other critic has seen it, but then they’re only talking to each other and the entire room loses interest.

What you’ll get though is you’ll get somebody taking opposite opinions to the general consensus. Again, this kid who brought up that he hated WALL-E. Somebody at one of the panels, I think in San Diego, tried to defend the Transformers movies, and even the crowd wasn’t really having any of that. 

My favorite interaction with a fan was, there was a young man… I don’t know, 12 or so, 12 maybe 13… who got up and talked about a Transformers movie in the very first panel. And he made some good points, and Scott Mantz debated with him.

The kid in the audience, he liked Transformers, that’s what you’re saying…

He liked Transformers, if I remember correctly. Scott got up and debated him, and Scott Mantz from Access Hollywood gets very passionate. No one is safe. If Scott disagrees with you he will yell at you and it doesn’t matter what age you are. He’ll yell at you. So Scott yells at this kid, all in good fun…

I was there. It wasn’t mean.

“How could you think this! Oh, you’re wrong!” But it was never, “Oh, you’re a dumb kid.” It was “You’re wrong, you need to think about this a different way. I understand your points but you’re wrong,” whatever. A couple of the other critics slightly agreed with him. It was very great, fun, typical of what we get with everybody. 

Nell Minow, who is Movie Mom on, sent me a note sharing feedback that she got from the kid’s parents, saying that their son is very shy, he never talks to anybody, and his dream in life is to be a film critic. And to have gotten up and have his opinions debated as if they were legitimate, and not belittled, by Scott Mantz and Nell Minow and Leonard Maltin, it made his year. It was one of the best moments that he’d had all year. So when we saw him again at San Diego last year, it was like, “Oh hey! You’re back! Hurray!” It was very cool.

You should hire that kid!

That kid was great.

Speaking just generally of Rotten Tomatoes, I think a lot of people go to Rotten Tomatoes and look at the Tomatometer, and make a decision based on what that Tomatometer says. Do you feel that there are things people can be doing with Rotten Tomatoes, and the way Rotten Tomatoes works, that they’re not doing enough?

You know, I always say if you want to go see a particular movie, go see that movie. If you’re bound and determined, don’t let us sway you. Unless it’s Fifty Shades of Grey

For the most part, as much as I joke about how bad the Transformers movies are, I know that there are people who like them and that’s fine. It is okay to like bad movies. I like bad [movies]. There are plenty of bad movies I like. I like every entry in the Fast & Furious franchise, and I will go to the mat saying Tokyo Drift is one of the best. 

I agree.

Four is weak.

Four sucks.

But I still love watching it! So I think a lot of people will look at the Tomatometer and use that to make a decision. Or, I see it on Twitter all the time, people saying, “I don’t care what Rotten Tomatoes says, I’m still going to see this.” 

The thing that kills me is when somebody says, “Rotten Tomatoes is wrong.” I think, okay, there’s somebody who doesn’t understand what we do. They think because [Rotten Tomatoes] said that movie is at 10%, they’re wrong. Or some movie that’s really high. “Rotten Tomatoes is wrong about The Babadook.” No, we’re not wrong. We are accurately reporting that 90-something percent of the critics like that movie. 

Now, “I don’t agree with the Tomatometer,” that’s a different thing. So when somebody says we’re wrong, totally fine to disagree. A lot of what happens, and I’m very aware of this, is that 90% means everybody said, at the very least, “Yeah, check this out.” Right? 90% doesn’t necessarily mean everybody’s raved about it. So it’s a measure of just positive reviews. It can be grudgingly positive, but it’s the Siskel & Ebert model. It’s thumbs up or thumbs down. Everything is a pass/fail. 

I know a lot of people think, “Oh, that doesn’t feel like an 85% movie,” as if the Tomatometer is a grade. The Tomatometer’s not a grade. It’s not an average score. It’s a percentage of positive reviews, which is a slightly different thing. 

Now, ultimately, in the end, it ends up relatively close… relatively, I’m painting in very broad strokes here… it’s not all that far off the average score. And I know that there are people out there like, “Oh, but I can think of this example and this example!” In aggregate it ends up not too far off what the average rating that we show on the site would be. But that’s another good thing to look at: you can look at the average rating and use that as a determinate if you’re on the fence.

Is anything new coming up for Rotten Tomatoes that you’re really excited about?

Yeah, we’re doing episode level reviews for Game of Thrones


Yeah, that’s one of the things we’ve been experimenting with, is we’re still working out the best way to cover television. We’re doing episode level reviews on certain shows. We did it for Gotham, we’re doing it for Game of Thrones, we’re doing it for Better Call Saul. So that’s been fun.


William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline’s Film Channel and the host of The B-Movies Podcast and The Blue Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.