As of this writing, Doctor Strange (Marvel's latest movie about a brilliant rich playboy who suffers a terrible physical impairment and is reborn as a powerful superhero with a stupid goatee) holds a somewhat astonishing 96% on review aggregation site RottenTomatoes. Ninety-six percent! If that holds, it will go down as having the HIGHEST RottenTomatoes Fresh percentage of ANY of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies - higher than Iron Man, higher than Guardians of the Galaxy, higher than Captain America: Winter Soldier. That means it's the best one ever, right?


1. It's just a binary


There's a dilemma at the heart of RottenTomatoes that most don't really seem to grasp (or even care about) - the Fresh/Rotten percentage rating is a binary. Critics are told to label their rating as "Fresh" or "Rotten," which doesn't leave much room for real criticism or nuanced opinion on the value of a film. All a film needs to do to get a 'Fresh' rating from a critic is convince them that it's worth seeing and at least more good than bad. So if EVERY critic gives a so-so movie a passing 'Fresh' rating (even though none of them are too passionate about the overall value of the film), it'll end up with a 100% Fresh rating. And then if a more complicated, daring film comes out and critics are a little more divided on the finished product, it'll have a lower 'Fresh' rating. If 8 out of 10 critics think it's the best movie of the decade but 2 critics think it sucks, it winds up with an 80% Fresh rating.

Now - we have a so-so film with a 100% rating and a possibly brilliant, challenging film with an 80% rating. That doesn't mean the so-so film is an A+ masterwork and the genius film is a B- forgettable film - it means people need to understand that art doesn't fit into BINARY CHOICES. I mean, who thought this would be a good way to categorize movies?


...oh right.

2. Watch the ratings


RottenTomatoes is clearly aware of the problem at the very core of the gimmick that supports their site, which is why RottenTomatoes also allows critics to give each film a score, on a 1-10 scale....which also comes with a ton of problems.

Of course, this score is much less visible than the 'Fresh' rating, primarily because it's simply less compelling - "Fresh or Rotten" is much easier to grasp when judging a film's worth than the difference between a 7.8 and a 7.2. Those scores are important, though, because they can provide a bit more insight into how truly great critics believed films to be - after all, a "Fresh" can range from a 6 to a 10, so it's important to know if the "Fresh" film you're seeing is a 9.3 or a 6.0.

That being said, this runs into a similar issue that trips up the "Fresh vs. Rotten" scale - assigning a number to a piece of art is inherently ridiculous. Art is, by its very nature, a subjective experience - to think someone can rate their own subjective opinions on a piece of art with an objective number scale doesn't make any sense. That's why you see reviewers (typically in the videogames arena) being dragged across the coals for giving ONE game a slightly higher score than ANOTHER game (that the commenter feels is more deserving).

"How DARE you give Overwatch an 8.7 when you gave The Witness an 8.5!"

The problem is that you're using an objective 1-10 scale to judge EVERYTHING within a given medium, and the vast majority of individual entries that happen to be made in the same medium were never meant to be compared to one another using the same scale. How do you judge a movie like Doctor Strange against The VVitch? Does it even make sense to TRY?

The answer is no.

Also, just for y'all who care about this against all reason, Doctor Strange has a 7.2 average score (as of this writing). Avengers had an 8.0, Guardians of the Galaxy had a 7.8, Iron Man had a 7.7, Civil War had a 7.6, and Winter Soldier had a 7.5. Which means, if you're into this, Doctor Strange is only the 6th best Marvel film.

3. There is no way to establish an objective assessment of art


And everything discussed brings us to the final point - it's simply not possible or reasonable to establish an objective rating for any piece of art. If literally every human on earth told you that your favorite movie sucked, would you be forced to change your opinion and hate the movie? Of course not - because YOU like it, it's a GOOD MOVIE to you.

People still seek out these kind of affirmations, but they're meaningless - every critic in the world could tell you a movie's great and worth seeing, and you still might hate it. The ideal path for each individual is to find a reviewer or group of reviewers they trust, and read the reviewers full thoughts on something to gauge whether it's worth your time and money. Of course, that's a little more complicated than a simple "Yes/No" that you can get from RottenTomatoes - it requires you to identify the critics who share your tastes and read ALL the words in their reviews to ingest and consider.

It's more time-consuming, less straightforward, and offers no consensus to brag about online when you're getting into petty "DC vs. Marvel" arguments. Everyone knows this, including Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson:

None of this is to say that it's in any way RottenTomatoes' fault - they (and sites like them, such as MetaCritic) are offering a valuable service for anyone curious about film or TV. They gather reviews from all kinds of outlets in a single hub and try to break things down as simply as they possibly can, all while giving you links to each critic's full review for you to read.

I'm psyched to see Doctor Strange and excited that it's getting mostly positive reviews, but let's not get TOO overhyped for it.


...oh wait, just remembered they actually somehow got a Doctor Strange movie with a huge budget and the best cast of any superhero movie in history SHIT I'M OVERHYPED AGAIN.