Is Rotten Tomatoes Rigging Rise of Skywalker’s Audience Score?



Star Wars: Episode IX ‘The Rise of Skywalker‘ debuted last week and its domestic take was down nearly 30% under the first entry of the Disney sequel trilogy, The Force Awakens. Still, the latest installment ranked as one of the best December openings in North America and is expected to end a strong year for Disney, with their string of hits grossing more than $1 billion in 2019. This final movie in the “Skywalker Saga” begun by George Lucas in 1977, was directed again by J.J. Abrams, and has drawn mixed reviews from critics with some describing the plot as “unimaginative”.


Rotten Tomatoes, the online movie and television review aggregate website, came under fire two years ago for claiming that their Audience Score for the previous Star Wars sequel, The Last Jedi, was negatively “review bombed”, but later reported that this was not the case after all. Still, they eventually changed the way they measure audience engagement and excitement when fans used the feature on their website to express their desire NOT to see the upcoming Captain Marvel movie, before the film had even been released. In fact, there was even some question about the veracity of their Audience Scores and reviews for the Disney/Lucasfilm animated series, Star Wars: Resistance, where it appeared that over a thousand fake 5-star reviews for the series had been posted there, for an unpopular show which was very quickly cancelled.  


Now that the final episode in the Skywalker Saga has been released, many have been watching the Rotten Tomatoes scores closely to see what’s been happening with its Audience Score. While the critical reviews have been abysmal, scoring the film as “Rotten,” the Audience Score has mysteriously maintained a solid 86% “Fresh” rating, in spite of thousands upon thousands of additional viewer scores being added every day. While the disparity between the two scores is not impossible, nor even uncommon, it is curious that the Audience Score is not changing. Sure, there’s the obvious data integrity issue involved since most people who are motivated to see the film on opening weekend and who then immediately post their review on Rotten Tomatoes are very likely going to give it glowing reviews. They’re what you might call “invested.”


But the curious part is that in spite of tens of thousands of new audience members logging in to add their scores, the number has still remained at a solid 86%.


Behold these screen grabs. Note how many audience members have logged a score for each screen grab below, but you can see that the percentage who rate it positively has not shifted at all.



23,000+ more audience reviews, not a single digit change in the score
4,000 more scores – no change
6,000+ more scores, and still no change.


I’m not trying to say the movie is terrible and shouldn’t have an Audience Score that high. While I haven’t seen it yet, and plan to wait until it’s available to stream, two of our reviewers somewhat enjoyed the film. But it is very curious that the score would not change a single percentage after another thirty-three thousand audience members weighed-in. This seems very peculiar. It’s probably only coincidental that the 86% favorable Audience Score also happens to match the current A.S. for the first of the Sequel Trilogy films, The Force Awakens.



And there are the questions as to why would there be ANY conspiracy to hold that score up? Knowing that they’ve lost some of their paid shills disguised as film critics who merely enjoy access to movie premieres, Disney may want to keep the Audience Score as high as they can. A higher Audience Score has recently begun to be considered a badge of honor for filmmakers, driving up attendance and ticket sales in spite of poor reviews, see Rambo: Last Blood and Alita: Battle Angel as two recent examples.


While the decision last February to make it to where verified ticket buyers could log Audience Reviews was probably a good idea to lend more credibility to their website, they vehemently denied changing the website to protect Disney’s other movie brand Captain Marvel, but questions remained. It’s also curious that Paul Yanover, the president of Fandango (which owns Rotten Tomatoes) also spent 16 years working for the Walt Disney Company before being appointed as the president of Fandango.


Sheila Allen of SheilaAliens animated several screenshots showing that despite tens of thousands of new audience ratings coming in, the Audience Score didn’t change at all:


The Tomatometer is BROKEN! :O #RiseOfSkywalker STUCK at 86%! #StarWars


Then Sheila goes through many of the individual audience reviews and notices some interesting data points.


Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Fake Reviews? Bot Accounts, More Rotten Tomatoes Chicanery


Is it possible that Rotten Tomatoes has been holding the Rise of Skywalker’s Audience Score? If not, how do you explain the mathematical phenomena of the score not changing after tens of thousands of new reviews came in? Is Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes in business to make a profit? Does it seem like a stretch to think that adjusting scores is something that no amount of money could buy?


It doesn’t hurt to ask these questions.  What do you think? 


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Chris Braly

I'm one opinionated, based geek. I try to steer this tiny ship and can often be heard monthly on the Comic Book Page Previews Spotlight podcast with several fellow "comic book nerds." Follow me on Twitter @ChrisBraly. My preferred adjectives are brilliant/beautiful.