Movie public relations company Bunker 15 has been accused of paying off critics for fresh Rotten Tomatoes scores.
A recent article by Vulture, titled The Decomposition of Rotten Tomatoes, claims that Bunker 15 deliberately manipulated the Rotten Tomatoes score for Ophelia, a 2018 Hamlet retelling starring Daisy Ridley.
According to Vulture’s report, Ophelia received a 46 percent on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 13 reviews) following festival screenings of the film in early 2018. A movie needs to have a score of 60 percent or higher in order to be considered fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
In response to the mostly negative criticism, Bunker 15 allegedly contacted a number of self-published critics months later and offered them upwards of $50 to watch and review Ophelia. “It’s a Sundance film and the feeling is that it’s been treated a bit harshly by some critics (I’m sure sky-high expectations were the culprit) so the teams involved feel like it would benefit from more input from different critics,” the company told one writer in an email sent in October 2018.
When the writer who received the aforementioned email asked what would happen if they watched Ophelia, disliked it, and posted a negative review, Bunker 15 allegedly told them they were free to write whatever they wanted; however, the company mentioned “super nice” critics often post negative reviews on smaller websites that aren’t on Rotten Tomatoes’ radar rather than their main site. This means any negative criticism toward Ophelia would only be visible on “a smaller blog that RT never sees” and, therefore, wouldn’t impact its Tomatometer score.
Eight reviews were added to Ophelia’s Rotten Tomatoes score between October 2018 and January 2019, seven of which were positive. The writer of the one negative said Bunker 15 encouraged them to change their score after it was posted, while another negative review was added but somehow didn’t count toward Ophelia’s Tomatometer.
Bunker 15 responds to the Rotten Tomatoes manipulation claims
When asked for comment from Vulture, Bunker 15 founder Daniel Harlow said, “Wow, you are really reaching there.” He added, “We have thousands of writers in our distribution list. A small handful have set up a specific system where filmmakers can sponsor or pay to have them review a film.”
Vulture also reached out to Rotten Tomatoes and, since then, the website has delisted a handful of Bunker 15’s movies, including Ophelia. Rotten Tomatoes also sent out a message to writers who regularly review Bunker 15 movies, saying, “We take the integrity of our scores seriously and do not tolerate any attempts to manipulate them. We have a dedicated team who monitors our platforms regularly and thoroughly investigates and resolves any suspicious activity.”