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Thanks to online ratings, it’s easier than ever to know whether or not a movie is worth watching. A quick Google search brings up plenty of websites offering their opinions on the latest films.
The three most popular are IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic. But how do these three sites differ, and which should you trust to get the skinny on movies? Here’s everything you need to know.
The Internet Movie Database is a gigantic compendium of movies, TV shows, and video games. Its primary use is to find detailed information about any actor, producer, or piece of content.
Pull up a movie, and you’ll see a synopsis, trailers, photos, a cast list, trivia, and more. What makes IMDb so useful is its cross-referencing. When you open the page for an actor, you’ll see their most well-known roles. Thus, IMDb is great for those “what else have I seen her in?” moments.
If you sign up for a free IMDb account, you can create a Watchlist of movies you want to see. Doing this also allows you to leave reviews, displayed on a 10-point scale for every movie. We’ve covered more features of IMDb if you’re interested.
The Pros of IMDb
Unlike the other two sites we look at below, IMDb’s reviews come solely from users. It only takes a minute to sign into IMDb and leave a review, so there’s little barrier to entry.
Thus, IMDb’s biggest strength is that the score gives you a good idea of what normal consumers think of it. Professional critics have no influence on IMDb scores.
IMDb has a weighted average system to prevent users from rigging the score, but it’s not known exactly how it does this.
The Cons of IMDb
IMDb’s biggest problem is that like other platforms, most people only leave reviews if they love or hate a film. Thus, this skews the scores in favor of either fanboys or haters. People who want to boost a movie’s perception will likely rate the movie a 10, while those who didn’t like it will give a rating of one.
Rotten Tomatoes is a trusted source for movie reviews sourced from critics. Every movie uses the “Tomatometer” to score the quality of a film. If the critic liked the movie, a red tomato appears by their review. When they don’t like it, you’ll see a green splat instead.
As long as 60 percent or more of critics like the movie, it earns an overall Fresh score with a red tomato. If 59 percent or less of critics rate the movie favorably, it earns a Rotten score with a green splat. A Certified Fresh badge appears for movies that hold at least a 75 precent favorable score after 80 reviews, including at least five from top critics.
Open any movie’s page, and you’ll see the overall score plus its average rating and number of overall reviews. The Critics Consensus, present for most movies, is a great summary of why the movie received its score.
Rotten Tomatoes also providers a user score, shown by the popcorn bucket. If audiences rated it above 3.5 stars (out of 5) on average, it shows a full bucket. A tipped-over bucket represents an average under 3.5. You can essentially treat this the same as the IMDb score.
At the bottom of a movie’s page, you can read excerpts from the critic reviews, filter by fresh or rotten, or only show top critics. Search for your favorite actors, and you can check the scores of films they appeared in.
The Pros of Rotten Tomatoes
Rotten Tomatoes has the advantage of sourcing its reviews from trusted critics. Its criteria page explains that the site only takes reviews from Top 100 newspapers, magazines, and major websites. In theory, this means that only the opinions of the most-trusted movie critics influence the Rotten Tomatoes review.
The Top Critic designation lets you filter by the absolute best critics if you prefer. You can’t get a more professional opinion than the ones from these folks.
Overall, Rotten Tomatoes does a good job of letting you know at a glance whether or not a movie is worth your time. The easily identifiable icons, overall score, and consensus summary only take a second to scan.
The Cons of Rotten Tomatoes
The biggest issue with Rotten Tomatoes is that it breaks down complex opinions into a Yes or No score. It scores a critic who thought the movie was decent but had some flaws (say, a 59 percent rating) the same as one who thought the movie was absolute garbage (a 0 percent score).
You’ll notice this with the Average Rating under the score. Take Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle as an example. Of the 179 reviews, 136 of them were positive. This gives the movie a score of 76 percent. However, the critics rated the movie an average of 6.1/10—quite a bit under the 76 percent displayed on the page.
This doesn’t mean Rotten Tomatoes’ scores are useless, of course. But it’s important to remember that there’s nuance in individual reviews, and the Fresh/Rotten system effectively turns every rating into a 100 or 0 score.
Metacritic aggregates reviews of movies and TV shows, plus video games and music albums. It’s an important metric in the world of video games, but it can give you a good idea as to the quality of movies too.
The site collects reviews from many sources and aggregates them into one metascore from 0 to 100. It displays a color and one-line indication of quality based on the overall score:
- 81-100: Universal Acclaim (Green)
- 61-80: Generally favorable reviews (Green)
- 40-60: Mixed or average reviews (Yellow)
- 20-39: Generally unfavorable reviews (Red)
- 0-19: Overwhelming dislike (Red)
Unlike Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic uses a weighted average system. Nobody knows the exact details, but the service assigns more importance to some sources than others. Like the other two sites, Metacritic also includes a user score.
The Pros of Metacritic
Metacritic avoids the Rotten Tomatoes problem of scoring every review as simply “good” or “bad”. A review of 50% gets mixed in with the rest to create the metascore. Thus, the score you see on Metacritic is closer to the average review, unlike the percentage of critics who liked the movie on Rotten Tomatoes.
Additionally, among these three sites, Metacritic is the only one to feature full user reviews next to critic reviews. This makes it easy to compare what the general public thinks compared to the professionals.
The Cons of Metacritic
While it’s easy to translate a score from a five-star or 10-point scale, Metacritic’s way of translating letter grade is questionable. We can see how this works on the About Metascores page:
While scoring an A as 100 percent makes sense, take a look at the scores for B- and F. A 67 percent score for a B- seems a bit harsh. In most schools, a score of 67 percent is closer to an F than it is a B-. And scoring an F as 0 percent seems unfair.
Something like 20 percent for an F would be more appropriate. Because every site has different scales for scoring (some might not even use pluses and minuses), this could skew a reviewer’s original meaning.
Also, unlike Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic seems to have few public standards. There’s no detailed information on where it sources it critics from. Thus, the score potentially doesn’t have as much weight behind it as Rotten Tomatoes does.
Which Is the Best Ratings Site?
So, we’ve now taken a look at what each of these sites have to offer, along with their pros and cons. As you might have guessed, there’s no one website that’s best for everything. However, we can recommend each of these sites for different reasons:
- IMDb is great for seeing what general audiences think of a movie. If you don’t care what the critics say and want to see what people like yourself think of a movie, then you should use IMDb. Just be aware that fans often skew the vote with 10-star ratings, which may inflate scores somewhat.
- Rotten Tomatoes offers the best overall picture of whether a movie is worth seeing at a glance. If you only trust the opinions of top critics and just want to know if a movie is at least decent, you should use Rotten Tomatoes. While the Fresh/Rotten binary can oversimplify the often complex opinions of critics, it should still help you weed out lousy films.
- Metacritic offers the most balanced aggregate score. If you don’t mind which critics’ opinions go into the final score and prefer seeing a general average, then you should use Metacritic. Its standards are mostly unknown, but Metacritic makes it easy to compare professional and user reviews side-by-side.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with checking all three of these sites every time you’re thinking of seeing a movie. Over time, you should figure out which site’s tastes most match yours and you’ll then know which is best for you personally.
Personal Taste Still Matters Most
Remember that movie scores aren’t everything. All three of these sites don’t, for instance, paint an accurate picture of movies that are so bad they’re good. Because those movies are objectively terrible, they carry low scores even though they have ironic value.
Plus, it’s impossible to sum up complex opinions from dozens of people into a single number. And no matter what the critics or general public think, your preferences might be totally different anyway. These sites are helpful, but don’t take them as the law.
If you’d rather source opinions from certain individuals you can watch reviews on these YouTube channels for movie lovers too.