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Not so Rotten Tomatoes


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    Some of you may have already noticed this, but rottentomatoes.com has compiled a countdown of the 30 best Shakespearean movies of all time. The criteria is that there must have been at least 20 online reviews, and the scoring is purely on the basis of the percentage of positives.

    Nice to see that 2 of the top 5 are Kurosawa movies – no prizes for guessing which ones 😉



    Well, it’s interesting.

    (Essentially interesting to me in the fact that I don’t know all of the 30 movies. :p)

    Thanks for this information!

    But I didn’t understand this first line of the “How it works” section :

    “Each critic from our discrete list gets one vote, all weighted equally.”

    Who are these “critics”? And how is this vote counted eventually?

    This is just a detail, but I’m wondering (and I already wondered about such rankings, like the top 250 of IMDB, with similar bayesian formula).


    Vili Maunula

    Thanks for the pointer, Ugetsu!

    Interestingly enough, even with two films in the top five, Kurosawa still isn’t the “best Shakespearean director” according to this list — Branagh just beats him for that title!

    Looking at the other movies, I’m really happy to see Ian McKellen’s excellent Richard III so high on the list (number 6). It might just be my favourite Shakespeare film. Meanwhile, I’m surprised that Laurence Olivier’s films are not in the top 5, but that’s probably because there aren’t so many reviews for those films in the RT database, pulling his ranking down.

    And what on earth is Forbidden Planet doing in the top 10? Surely it’s not that good?

    Fabien — Rotten Tomatoes is a brilliant service that aggregates reviews written by professional film critics. What I really like about RT is that instead of putting emphasis on what rating the critics give to a particular film, they simply mark whether the critic thought the film was “fresh” (he or she liked it) or “rotten” (he or she didn’t like it). The result is the “Tomatometer”, which is the percentage of reviews that were favourable to the movie. Ran, for example, has a tomatometer rating of 96%, indicating that 96% of film critics have liked the movie. It is a pretty high score, actually.

    The Shakespeare ranking seems to work a little bit differently though, as they tweak the tomatometer score with the number of reviews that they have in their database.

    In my own case, the tomatometer actually tends to be a very good predictor of what I will like and what I won’t. So much so that I have got into the habit of checking RT before deciding whether to see a movie.



    IMDB rating are a joke, but as Vili mention RT does a great job of giving deserving ratings.

    I’ve only seen 4 of the listed movies, so no further comments.



    Thanks for the explanation, Vili.

    Jeremy, I already knew that IMDB ranking was not that interesting when I saw nearly-good films appearing in the Top 50 and Ikiru, for example, disappearing from the Top 250. :/

    But, as long as I hadn’t noticed that the “Tomatometer” was only based on professional ratings, the two systems seemed similar to me (rankings gathered then Bayesian-tweaked).

    Now, it’s clear, and I will certainly take a closer look at RottenTomatoes.

    About the other Shakespeare-inspired films, I think that Titus, although it’s a bit weird, deserved a better place (comparing with some higher-ranked films).

    And I discovered the existence of Prospero’s Books from the great director Peter Greenaway, and based on a later and less renowned œuvre The Tempest, it could be worth a look.


    Vili Maunula

    Fabien: About the other Shakespeare-inspired films, I think that Titus, although it’s a bit weird, deserved a better place (comparing with some higher-ranked films).

    And I discovered the existence of Prospero’s Books from the great director Peter Greenaway, and based on a later and less renowned œuvre The Tempest, it could be worth a look.

    I really liked Titus too, yet there is indeed something quite strange about it. I thought it was quite uncomfortable to watch, actually, although the play (if you manage to take it seriously, which I have a slight problem in doing) probably wasn’t very comfortable watching either, at least when first performed, with all that blood and gore.

    Prospero’s Books, meanwhile, is perhaps my favourite Greenaway, but I’m certainly biased here since The Tempest is my favourite play by Shakespeare, in fact perhaps my favourite play of all plays. If you haven’t seen Prospero’s Books, I can highly recommend it, although with the note that it is really full-on Greenaway, so those who don’t like his style need not bother!

    Going through the list again, I would also have thought that The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino as Shylock and Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet would have ranked higher. Neither is a perfect production, but both are very interesting watching, I think. Mel Gibson as Hamlet, meanwhile, never quite did it for me, and it’s therefore curious to see that film ranked higher than the two others.

    There is also a handful of movies on that list that I haven’t seen yet, but now have a strong urge to watch.



    Throne of Blood #4 and Ran #2. Not bad. (Holds up hands and counts on fingers like Daisuke Kato in Yojimbo).

    Of the list, besides the Kurosawa, the Zefferelli R&J will remain connected with fond memories, and the Branaugh Henry V as a fine, very fine, surprisingly fine adaptation for film. Y’know it made quite a few people think about he bard for a minute or two. The Greenaway was awright, too.

    I’ve seen a whole slew of Shakespeare on stage-from Stratford-on-Avon productions (I saw Romeo and Juliet with Timothy Dalton as Romeo) to Henry IV with an Irish woman playing Henry (at the Barbican). But, most summers, I see a couple of things at Shakespeare’s Globe in London (as a groundling-I’m not made of money so I stand).

    I like Shakespeare best within that “O”-that open to the sky thatch-standing on my feet, leaning my forearms on the stage, inhaling dust kicked up by the players.

    Mark Rylance, former director of the GLOBE (he won a TONY recently-and his crazy speech is here) starred in quite a few of the productions. I saw many, including his last: The Tempest– and, Vili-you would have loved it! To show the storm he had a chess board, and he rocked it like a ship at sea, and as pieces fell off he did a Mr. Bill voice, “oh noooooo”….and “I’m drowning”….and it was so clever and tongue-in-cheek and frightening, because you felt he had the power over life and death.

    His 1997 Henry V was unforgettable-his St. Crispin’s Day speech absolutely rose the fine hair on the back of your arms.

    “For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

    Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,

    This day shall gentle his condition;

    And gentlemen in England now-a-bed

    Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,

    And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

    That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”

    Mark’s got a quavery voice and this bewildered look that somehow makes him riveting on stage.

    I also saw him as Olivia in Twelfth Night twice! Once in London and once in residence with the players at university here. Here, he put his clothes and makeup on for the role at a long trestle table in front of the audience. I have some strangely clear memory of exactly what his bare feet looked like. OMG once he got his lipstick on it was bad. He’s quite a handsome man but an ugly woman.

    Finally, his Hamlet (2000) was played for dark humor-so, it was quite interesting. The play-with-the-play was so fascinating-my feet were killing me-I’d taken a group around the National Gallery earlier-but I couldn’t look away. He may have taken some notes from Olivier’s film in developing his approach.

    So, I tend to best enjoy my Shakespeare live. Or, as in Kurosawa, transformed utterly.



    Rottentomatoes is a fairly reliable indicator I think, although of course its overwhelmingly biased towards US critics. It would be nice to see a version that gives a selection of international critics.

    I think the consistently high ratings for Branagh reflects more that a high percentage of film critics probably wouldn’t feel confident in taking on a Branagh interpretation of Shakespeare. I suspect professional theater critics would have a few more bones to pick with his middlebrow interpretations (not that there is anything wrong with middlebrows, seeing as I am one myself in most things).

    But as Branaghs versions are really filmed plays, I would say this places Kurosawa the number one purely cinematic interpreter of Shakespeare. I doubt if many of us here would disagree.

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