Let’s get one thing out of the way: not everyone understands Rotten Tomatoes. It’s easy to lump it in with IMDb and Metacritic when in reality it’s an aggregator that solely exists to say whether a movie deserves a thumbs up or a thumbs down. It doesn’t seek to tell people the degree of excellence or ineptitude.
Rather, it seeks to tell people whether a movie is worth watching or not. That particular misunderstanding drives people crazy. Paddington 2 may have a 100%, but that doesn’t mean it’s a better movie than The Godfather. It simply means that one or two grumpy film critics didn’t think The Godfather was worthy of a thumbs up.
This particular author understands that difference, but that doesn’t mean Rotten Tomatoes gets a free pass. It’s easier to understand why certain scores are the way they are because it’s easy to come to the conclusion that maybe those fresh reviews aren’t all that fresh.
However, there are plenty of times where you’ll see a movie with an overwhelming majority of fans and start to question your own sanity. You’ll say to yourself, “why do so many critics give this movie a pass when my favorite cult classic got slammed?”
Well, that’s the point of this list. It’s tough to see why a majority of critics were so kind to the movies listed below. Not all of these movies are bad, but they feel out-of-place alongside other movies that, at the very least, are universally appreciated.
A lot of movies on this list are polarizing rather than average. Average movies often benefit from the fact that they get barely-positive reviews. The films that occupy this list are either love-it-or-hate-it or flat-out bad. Not everyone will agree. After all, the movies had to achieve their score somehow.
1. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (77%)
Who cares about logic when you have a blockbuster franchise revival with Harrison Ford returning to play the lead? That must have been the thought process of all 77% of people who liked this disaster of a movie. Not every movie on this list is bad.
In fact, most of them are more of a mixed bag. Let’s make one thing perfectly clear though: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a bad movie. It’s a movie that deserves all of the scorn that has since been tossed its way. Critics may have dug it, but everyone else is correct in labeling it a huge missed opportunity.
The whole “nuking the fridge” thing is far from the only issue here. To start, the special effects are borderline disastrous. It’s not just that the special effects haven’t held up. When viewed alongside other movies like Iron Man, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and even Hancock, it’s clear that this just isn’t a good looking movie.
It’s an eyesore that also happens to feature robotic dialogue, messy pacing, and forgettable villains. Considering the fact that the series is well-known for whip-smart dialogue and dastardly villains, these missteps are inexcusable.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone addressed the fan backlash in a not-so-subtle way in an episode of South Park. It’s not exactly high-brow humor, but it does a good job of showing how much this movie affected people following its release. People waited nineteen years to see The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, so it’s no wonder they weren’t exactly satisfied with the final product.
2. Hail, Caesar! (85%)
Film critics adore the Coen brothers. It’s not hard to see why. They continuously shell out quality pieces of cinema. From Fargo to True Grit, there’s no shortage of evidence that proves these two dudes know how to make movies. Every now and then, they take a break from creating Oscar contenders and instead choose to focus on something a little lighter.
Lightweight subject matter doesn’t always equal a bad movie. The Big Lebowski, for example, is far from the most serious movie directed by the Coen brothers and it’s often considered one of their greatest achievements. Sadly, things start looking less appealing when the jokes don’t land and the plot lacks focus. That’s the problem with Hail, Caesar!
Hail, Caesar! relies an awful lot on its A-list cast, and why shouldn’t it? It has George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, and the future Han Solo.
To be fair, they are all charming in some regard. They just aren’t enough to distract from the subpar story. Like all the recent critical darlings, Hail, Caesar! tackles the subject of Hollywood. It just doesn’t do it in a way that’s groundbreaking or intelligent. It’s occasionally funny and charming, but that’s all it has going for it.
The Coen brothers know how to do lightweight comedy, which is probably why Hail Caesar’s quality stings a bit. It’s not as consistently funny as Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, or O Brother, Where Art Thou. It’s also more ambitious and less successful in living up to its ambitions. All of these flaws make for a lesser Coen brothers movie in every regard.
3. Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (79%)
Not to bring up another review website, but isn’t it a little unreal that Beyond Thunderdome is the best reviewed of the original Mad Max movies on Metacritic? Appropriately, it’s the worst reviewed Mad Max movie on Rotten Tomatoes, but that 79% score is still a little wild considering the many haters.
Fans hated the PG-13 rating and overall lack of soul in the third Mad Max movie. Critics didn’t seem to get all that worked up about the fact that the movie is an obvious downgrade.
The difference between critics and fans could be because those passionate about the Mad Max series were seriously disappointed by this watered-down threequel. Critics were kinder because they judged it on its own merits. Fans were right to be disappointed by the movie. It was a definite step down from the high bar previously set by Miller. Luckily, the series redeemed itself with the critically adored Fury Road, but the disappointment still stings.
4. Avatar (83%)
Looking back, isn’t it a little crazy that The Hurt Locker’s biggest threat at the Oscars was Dances with Wolves in space? James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi epic may have been a technical marvel, but it sure as hell would have benefited from better writing.
The past decade has brought us some of the most thought-provoking and gripping sci-fi movies out there. District 9, Ex Machina, Snowpiercer, Predestination, and Looper all come to mind. None of these managed to garner such an enthusiastic reaction. They were critically acclaimed, but they weren’t cultural phenomenons like this generic space opera.
Avatar deserves praise for its technical achievements. The movie is a visual and auditory stunner with a hypnotic art direction to boot. The use of 3D was revolutionary at the time of release considering the fact that 3D was just starting to gain traction. Hell, it remains one of the only movies that’s significantly better with those goofy black glasses.These accomplishments don’t make the story any more engaging.
With flat characters and a copy-paste plot, Avatar isn’t exactly fun to watch once you get over the impressive tech stuff. It’s a poorly paced blockbuster that completely lacks originality from a storytelling perspective. The worldbuilding sure is unique, but that’s where the originality ends.
Plenty of critics are quick to dismiss technically ambitious movies with mediocre plots, so how did Avatar become such a success? This is obviously a list about the Rotten Tomatoes score, but the awards success, box office return, and cinematic influence all come as quite a shock too. Avatar’s popularity isn’t the most mysterious thing to contemplate, but it’s certainly unusual.
5. Noah (76%)
Darren Aronofsky makes polarizing movies. The Fountain has a rotten score, but it also has a surprisingly large fanbase. mother! earned an F Cinemascore and a number of Razzie nominations, but it’s also considered one of the best movies of 2017 by some people.
Requiem for a Dream is an anxiety-inducing trainwreck in the eyes of some, but it’s a brilliant commentary about drug abuse to other people. This dude knows how to get people talking for better or worse, which is why it’s surprising that Noah has such a high Rotten Tomatoes score.
This is another movie where critics dug it more than audiences. The controversial take on the religious story rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Aronofsky’s larger budget also pissed off some fans looking for something a little more thought-provoking.
Basically, the movie has a sizeable amount of detractors, but they aren’t film critics. Film critics were far kinder to the hit-or-miss religious epic. This kind of movie seems like something that would get the same response as mother!, but somehow it’s one of his better-reviewed movies.