Several weekends ago,
my family suggested that we go to the local theater and watch a movie. As most
any parent of a teenager knows, finding a movie that everyone can agree on is
no small task. My wife and I have found online movie review sites, such as “Rotten
Tomatoes,” helpful when deciding what to watch.
daughter suggested that we go see Mom’s
Night Out, a comedy that explores the many things that can go wrong when
dads are left in charge of the kids. When my wife and I looked up the movie on “Rotten
Tomatoes,” we found the low ratings by critics somewhat disconcerting (see the
analysis at http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/moms_night_out/).
Of the 35 professional
critics who viewed the movie, only 5 identified the movie as entertaining (for
a 14% “fresh” rating). On the other hand, approximately 86% of registered “Rotten
Tomatoes” users who rated the movie gave it 3.5 stars or higher (out of 4
When we showed our
daughter the low rating and expressed our concerns, she was dismissive. “What
do critics know anyway? They never like popular movies! They’re a bunch of
As a teacher of
mathematics, I found her comments intriguing. Her perceptions about critics
were not wholly unfounded. Bloggers and movie critics, such as Vic Holtreman
who owns Screen Rant, discuss the tendency of professional movie watchers to
pan popular offerings (see http://screenrant.com/transformers-2-vs-critics-vic-14735/
for details). I wondered if these perceptions of critics were true. In
particular, I wondered if data gleaned from the “Rotten Tomatoes” website would support (or refute) the
contention that critics rate popular movies lower than the general public rates
To explore this question in more detail, I gathered a list of the 200
highest grossing movies of all
time from “The Numbers” website (http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/records/worldwide.php). With the list in hand, my daughter and I looked up each movie on the
“Rotten Tomatoes” website and recorded critics’ and audience
“freshness” ratings in an online spreadsheet (readers are encouraged to explore
our dataset at http://bit.ly/movie-dataset). An exploration of such data is well aligned with the Common Core’s Standards for
Mathematical Practice, in particular, SMP 3: Construct
viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
After the data were compiled,
my daughter used the spreadsheet’s built-in AVERAGE function to determine the
average critic and audience ratings for the top 200 movies, noting that the
critics’ average was 4 percentage points lower (namely, 71% to 75%). “See,
critics rate popular movies lower, Dad!”
“Not so fast!” I
retorted. Calculating the difference between freshness ratings for each movie,
I used the spreadsheet’s built-in IF function to highlight instances in which
critics’ ratings were higher than audience ratings (these instances were
recorded as “1,” with noninstances recorded as “0”).
for 5 highest grossing movies. Note that column H uses the spreadsheet’s
built-in IF function to determine if the critic rating is higher than the
audience rating for each movie.
Summing the critics’
higher column (i.e., column H in fig. 1),
I determined that critics gave higher ratings than audience members for 112 of
the 200 highest grossing movies of all time. In other words, critics gave
higher ratings 56% of the time. “Ha! Critics aren’t snobs! They are less
critical than the rest of us!” These two initial analyses seemed at odds with
each other. Who was right?
Do You and Your Students Think?
Are critics snobs? Do
critics rate popular movies lower than the general public rates them? You be
the judge. Provide evidence supporting your contention. Graphs can be helpful
for analyzing large amounts of information.
Todd Edwards is an associate professor of mathematics education at Miami
University in Oxford, Ohio. He is the coeditor of Contemporary Issues in Technology and Mathematics Teacher Education,
executive editor of the North American
GeoGebra Journal, and codirector of the GeoGebra Institute of Ohio. His
research interests focus on the teaching and learning of school mathematics
with technology (specifically, dynamic mathematics software), ethical issues
surrounding the use of free software and the free software movement, and
writing as a vehicle to learn mathematics at all levels of instruction.