What do the movies with the highest domestic box office totals for each year since 2010 have in common? None of them have Rotten Tomatometer scores – and they all made over $300 million. In fact, when averaged together, these 10 Fresh blockbusters – Toy Story 3, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic World, Finding Dory, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, Black Panther, and Avengers: Endgame – have a super-Fresh Tomatometer average of 90.3%.
Currently, the highest domestic (and worldwide) grossing film of 2019 is the 94% Tomatometer-rated Avengers: Endgame, which has earned a mind-snapping total of $858 million domestically and over $2 billion worldwide. By crossing the $2 billion milestone, Avengers: Endgame has joined Titanic, Avatar, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, and Avengers: Infinity War in the exclusive “$2 Billion Club.” What do these movies have in common? Yep, you guessed it again: They’re all Fresh.
The success of these Fresh films got us thinking: Are these blockbuster movies Fresh anomalies, or do Fresh movies make more money at the box office generally? Is there a relationship between Tomatometer score and box office performance? (And we stress: a “relationship,” and not necessarily a causal one; so many factors contribute to box office performance.) To aid us in our data deep dive, we pulled the Tomatometer and domestic box office data for the 1,404 movies that received wide theatrical domestic releases (600-plus screens) since 2010. Here’s what we found…
*The box office results have been adjusted for inflation. All calculations accurate as of November 28, 2019.
When it comes to Tomatometer and domestic box office results, Fresh movies, on average, make more money than Rotten movies. It may sound obvious – good films draw more people to the theater! – and you are probably thinking, “I could’ve told you that,” but the difference is quite startling. The $101 million average for the 636 Fresh movies in the sample is nearly double the $54 million average of the 799 Rotten films. Even if you removed Disney brands Marvel and Pixar, which produce some of the most critically beloved blockbusters, such as Black Panther, Toy Story 4, and Avengers: Endgame, the average for Fresh films since 2010 is still a respectable $91 million.
It’s also worth noting that the more Fresh a movie is, the better it is likely to do at the box office, and the more Rotten it is, the worse it is likely to perform. Movies with a 0-20% Tomatometer score had an average domestic box office of $40 million; movies with 80-100% Tomatometer scores averaged $113 million.
However, not every Fresh movie makes money: 58 of the 187 (or 42%) wide-release movies that made under $10 million at the box office since 2010 are Fresh. A Fresh rating doesn’t guarantee massive success, and Fresh movies like Green Room and The Raid 2 don’t automatically collect $100 million dollars domestically.
Some 323 movies have made over $100 million at the domestic box office since 2010. Of those, 219 (68%) have Fresh Tomatometer scores, which means the odds of a movie making more than $100 million increase when it receives a Fresh Tomatometer score. Only 5% of movies with a 0-10% Tomatometer score (or 3 of the 62 movies) – namely Grown Ups 2, The Last Airbender, and Little Fockers – made over $100 million. On the other hand, 41% of the movies with a score above 90% (or 68 of the 164 movies) – such as Spy, Girl’s Trip, and Crazy Rich Asians – cleared the $100 million milestone. That 41% may not seem like a lot, but it’s a big jump over the movies in the 70-80% range, where 33% of the movies broke $100 million.
Below is a breakdown of Tomatometer ranges and the average amount of money the movies in them make.
Only 25 movies have made over $400 million domestically since 2010; 23 of those movies are Fresh, and 13 have scores above 90%. The only Rotten films are Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and The Lion King. Rotten movies can make killer money; it’s just rare, and they seem to need the word “king” somewhere in their name. (Also, in 2009, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen made over $400 million domestic. Trend?)
The Fresh Jurassic World was a Mosasaurus-sized blockbuster, whereas its Rotten sequel Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom made $260 million less ($678 million down to $418 million) – though that dropoff is not unusual for a sequel to a mega hit. The lowest-rated Avengers film, Avengers: Age of Ultron (75% on the Tomatometer) is the only Avengers film that didn’t clear the $500 million mark. The same can be said for the $214 million-grossing Solo: A Star Wars Story. At 70%, it has the lowest Tomatometer score of any of the latest Star Wars films — and they all made over $500 million.
The Hunger Games (84% on the Tomatometer) and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (89%) cleared $400 million, whereas The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and Part 2 had lower Tomatometer scores (69%, 70%) and couldn’t pass the $400 million mark.
There are definitely other factors at play, such as franchise fatigue, time of release, competition, and more, but it’s interesting to note that the less critically appreciated films in a franchise tend to underperform those that score better on the Tomatometer.
Movies don’t need Fresh scores to make a lot of money. Just ask any Adam Sandler comedy – You Don’t Mess With the Zohan should have at least a 67% Tomatometer score according to some Rotten Tomatoes staffers – or inquire with the Twilight and Transformers franchises. Twelve Rotten movies have cleared $300 million domestically since 2010 and 10 have made over $1 billion worldwide since 2010. In 2018 alone, Venom, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, The Meg, The Nun, Rampage, The Equalizer 2, Fifty Shades Freed, and The Grinch pulled in at least $100 million domestically.
So, while there seems to be a correlation between Freshness and box office domination, it’s an imperfect one – and working out causation is an entirely different matter. Our data dive is not about finding out whether Tomatometer scores drive or dampen box office, merely whether there is any trend between the two sets of data. For now, we can simply say that better-reviewed movies tend to do better at the box office, with a few exceptions. And if Adam Sandler suddenly kicked off a Zack Snyder-directed Transformers franchise – and, please do – then this data could look very different in 10 years.
Assuming those films are Rotten, of course.
Thumbnail image courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Marvel Studios