The first qualification of that graph comes from a more detailed look at the data. Let's start with gross earnings — how much each of our movies made, in total, since release. A quick bit of explanation on these charts is in order. The horizontal x-axis on each of the blue charts shows Rotten Tomatoes rating which, if you're not familiar, is a percentage of critics' ratings. A 100 means every review was positive; a 50, the reviews were mixed; a zero, everyone hated the film. The vertical y-axis shows earnings. So a dot at the upper left of a graph earned a lot of money but was a poorly reviewed movie.
This is clearly not as definitive as that first graph. If our hypothesis is that crappier movies earn more money, though, this is at least some indication that it's not true. The right (better movie) side of the chart has more movies earning more money. But there are a lot of movies in that thick cluster at the bottom of the graph that suggests the numbers might not be as clear as they at first seemed.
If anything, we've added an element of doubt. So next we looked at debut weekends. After all, how a movie premieres is a huge predictor in its longevity. Here are first weekend totals. As you can see, far more crappy movies — Twilight Saga — had big first weekends than overall totals. (Again, The Avengers floats up to the top.)
Here again, though, there's a qualifying factor. Big movies debut in more theaters, which often means bigger receipts. A movie that grossed $10 million running in one theater for a weekend is probably better than a movie that earns $20 million running in 100 theaters. But, on the other hand, finding 4,253 theaters in which to open Iron Man 3 means booking a lot of theaters that might not get a lot of traffic (or even seat that many people).
Nonetheless, the graph is suggestive. There is a giant stack of movies in the 75 percent-plus rating range that doesn't exist for worse films. We also see Twilight sink — too many theaters.
Another asterisk: Air Racers 3D doesn't have enough critic ratings to earn a Rotten Tomatoes score. In situations like that, we gave the film a mid-range 50.
Back in our original graph, opening weekend box office followed the critics ratings pretty consistently. But for total earnings, with the left axis in millions, the chart look very, very different.
What can we learn from these graphs? Apparently more people fill theaters for good movies when they first come out — but then later on go watch a lot more junk. Apparently. That's not the only issue.
Rotten Tomatoes ranks movies as good (or, in their verbiage, "fresh") with a ranking of 60 percent or higher. Movies below that level are "rotten." Fine. But here's the distribution of all 797 of the movies, by year and ranking. There are more 50 percent films both because of our assigning that value to unranked movies and because 50 percent comes up more in the math: four of eight reviews, six of twelve.