Rotten Tomatoes will delay the release of its Justice League score, raising eyebrows

It’s an indicator of where the site is headed.

Justice League reviews will start coming out early Wednesday morning — the studio-imposed embargo lifts at 2:50 am Eastern on November 15. But anyone who’s wondering whether the film will be deemed “fresh” or “rotten” by Rotten Tomatoes will have to wait another day for the site to reveal its rating. And that’s raising some eyebrows.

A couple weeks ago, on October 31, Rotten Tomatoes announced the launch of a weekly show called Rotten Tomatoes See It / Skip It, broadcast on Facebook via the social media site’s Watch platform. One of the show’s regular features is a “Tomatometer Score Reveal” — and this week’s reveal is Justice League, the hotly anticipated DC Extended Universe movie that unites Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Aquaman, and The Flash. The episode containing the reveal is scheduled to air at 12:01 am on Thursday, November 16.

The choice to hold the film’s Tomatometer score is a savvy one, from Rotten Tomatoes’ perspective — especially as advertising for See It / Skip It. The site has long billed itself as merely a review aggregator, a kind of landing spot that gathers the critical opinions of thousands of “Tomatometer-approved critics” around the world, then assigns a score that correlates to the percentage of positive reviews.

But the site also publishes news, interviews, and columns, and by moving into original programming with See It / Skip It, hosted by entertainment journalists Jacqueline Coley and Segun Oduolowu, Rotten Tomatoes seems to be edging toward not just pointing towards others’ opinions but serving up some of its own. Since the show’s launch, it’s hosted the score reveal for A Bad Moms Christmas and announced a score for Star Trek: The Original Series. Coley and Oduolowu also hosted special guests and offered opinions on other movies, including the new remake of Murder on the Orient Express.

The choice to hold back Justice League’s score has some interesting ramifications. The link between Tomatometer scores and box office returns varies by film — a high score may boost a smaller film’s chances of success, for instance. That’s been especially true since February 2016, when Rotten Tomatoes was acquired by Fandango, the website that sells advance movie tickets for many large theater chains. A film’s Tomatometer score is visible when customers are making their ticket-purchasing decisions, and at least theoretically a low Tomatometer score could affect opening weekend sales.

For a movie like Justice League, with its sizable built-in fan base as well as heightened interest after the smashing success of Wonder Woman earlier this summer, a Tomatometer score probably won’t have much sway over its opening weekend ticket sales. But interest in the film is still high, especially since its predecessor, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, pulled in abysmal reviews from critics that earned it a “rotten” 27 percent rating.

Early reviews of Justice League will still appear on Rotten Tomatoes, 24 hours before the Tomatoscore reveal on See It / Skip It. But anyone purchasing advance tickets before the score comes out on Thursday won’t see a Rotten Tomatoes score, either on the Rotten Tomatoes website or on Fandango. And that’s sparked some speculation that the studio is trying to stave off a potentially bad score as long as possible; the film will have its first public screenings only hours after the score is revealed.

It’s also worth noting that Warner Bros. — the studio behind Justice Leaguealso holds a minority stake in Fandango, which in turn owns Rotten Tomatoes. Given the complicated setup of media conglomerates, it’s not possible to draw a straight line between that fact and the delay of the Tomatometer score for Justice League. But it’s certainly hard to ignore.

That points to two interesting wrinkles that hold a lot of potential, for better or worse. First, Rotten Tomatoes is under no obligation to release a movie’s Tomatometer score as soon as it has enough reviews to calculate one, and that ability — and the position of influence the site is betting it wields in the marketplace — has the potential to be monetized by studios who either want extra buzz for their film or who would like to rack up as many advanced ticket sales as possible before a “rotten” score is released.

And second, it looks like Rotten Tomatoes is trying to evolve beyond its role as a review aggregator and toward a role as an active influencer of opinion, becoming not just a landing page but a clearinghouse for opinions about the movies. That changes the site’s scope — and if consumers play along, the effect on movie criticism itself could be far reaching.

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