You Won’t Believe What Has the Highest Rating on Rotten Tomatoes

(I’m not proud of that click-bait headline. I feel dirty, in fact. But I’m curious to see if it actually makes a difference in traffic.)

So for no known reason, I will sometimes spend (or waste) time collecting information that only I probably care about. This might actually be interesting to more than me, so I thought I’d post about it.

In case you don’t know, Rotten Tomatoes is a popular review aggregator of movies and TV shows. It’s often cited when talking about a movie’s critical reception, and also when people are trying to figure out whether something might be good or not. It has a lot of charts and different ways it presents its data but there isn’t one central hub. So I thought it would be interesting to collect as much as I could find and see… what’s the best reviewed thing on Rotten Tomatoes.

A few things to keep in mind. First, Rotten Tomatoes launched in August 1998 to collect consensus on movie reviews. In September 2013, they expanded out to television reviews. So the fact that consensus leans toward 21st century content is probably to be expected, even though it does have ratings on older movies, usually in regard to their home release.

The next factor is how Rotten Tomatoes presents their ratings. The site collects published reviews from critics. Reviewers at major publications are in a sub-set of that group, called Top Critics. Each review is assigned a rating from 1 to 10 based on the analysis of the Rotten Tomatoes staff. The Tomatometer shows the percentage of reviews that are positive. There are also audience reviews submitted by users on their website, where they rate the movie on a scale of 1 to 5.

And the final factor is that Rotten Tomatoes is a living, breathing aggregator of data that changes as new reviews are added, which is happening all the time. I pulled this data from their site on Monday night. I assume it’s still true at the time of this posting, but you may notice a slight variation if you to Rotten Tomatoes to double check my work. (Oh and final-final factor: there could be typos in my spreadsheet that throw the numbers off.)

I have collected only entries that have 100% on the Tomatometer both for all critics and top critics. Then I sorted based on Audience Score and then the Average Rating of each reviewer type (all reviewers, top critics, and then audience). For the sake of a decent consensus, I only included movies and TV shows with 20 or more critic reviews and at least 5 top critic reviews. This is the minimum criteria Rotten Tomatoes themselves uses in determining whether something is “Certified Fresh” (a stamp of approval for everything that has over 75% on the Tomatometer).

OK, enough with all the boring data and backstory! So what has the best rating across movies and TV shows? Take a look for yourself:

You can also view the above in Google Sheets here, if the above embedded version is a little too claustrophobic.

Easily, Breaking Bad has the highest score on all of Rotten Tomatoes. (Yeah, the picture at the top kind of gave it away.) Seasons 4 and 5 are the closest to having a perfect score. Depending on how you sort the data, Seasons 2 and 3 also make the top 10. The first season is the only season of the show to not chart, with a 78% on the Tomatometer. This brings the entire series score down to 95% but looking at individual seasons, it basically blows everything else away.

Breaking Bad: Season 5 is the only entry to have a 99% audience score. Season 4 has an average rating of 9.9 out of 10 from 24 top critics, and a 9.8 when including all critics. The average audience rating is 4.9 out of 5 among 4,551 reviews. Audience scores are generally less critical but because there are so many more contributors to the audience score, it usually averages out. So these kind of near-perfect audience scores among thousands of users is rare, if not almost impossible.

I loved Breaking Bad too, but I was amazed to see that it out-paced so many critically acclaimed movies. In fact, aside from Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece from 1956, and 12 Angry Men, the original 1957 version directed by Sidney Lumet, the top 10 are all TV shows from 2010 or sooner.

I know TV is going through a renaissance, but that’s crazy to me. Are TV reviewers just being overly enthusiastic because TV is actually half-way decent these days? Are film critics more nuanced or snobby or contrarian? Or is Sherlock and Hannibal really that good? Better than Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times? Better than Alfred Hitchock’s Rear Window? Is BoJack Horseman: Season 3 really better than the poster child for Greatest Movie of All Time, Citizen Kane?

I have a hard time comparing movies against TV shows, since they’re structured differently. Even comparing things so stylistically different is difficult, so things don’t really have to be better, per se. But the collected consensus seems to indicate that people are really loving TV right now.

Quantifying opinions is always tricky business, and of course it’s all to be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s fun to see what made the list of nearly universally loved movies and TV shows. Did your favorites show up?

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