Wall of Monitors

You might wonder why Smartlife is covering entertainment, but let’s be honest: your leisure time is valuable. And, by our standards, watching bad movies isn’t a valued use of anyone’s time (unless you get paid to forewarn others). Our advice: if you’re going to spend 100-plus minutes of your life screen gazing (again and again), pick out flicks actually worth viewing and steer clear of those that aren’t. Good movies can do more than just entertain you — they can actually improve your mental health and, by extension, your productivity.

The Internet was intended to give access to infinite information, and it succeeded…kinda. Unfortunately the original designers forgot to specify useful information in the original specs and we’ve spent the last decade or so trying to discern whether information is fact, fiction, fantasy, functional, fatuous, and, well, you get the idea. And if it’s hard discerning facts, it’s even more complicated with things like movies that inhabit the realm of subjectivity. And online, subjectivity can quickly move-in next door to absurdity when you realize there are actually people out there who honestly believe Pokemon is a masterpiece of storytelling.

You need trusted sources, but almost everyone online lacks your proclivities — so one can’t wholly rely on a single critic. But what about 250 trusted critics using the same exact rating system — can you rely on their aggregate opinion? According to the principles of crowdsourcing and its wisdom-of-the-few corollary, you absolutely can — and should. And that’s what makes Rotten Tomatoes the most reliable source of online movie reviews for filtering out the virtually limitless entertainment choices.

At the core of the site is the Tomatometer (T-Meter), a composite-based scoring system that aggregates the multitude of movie critics who make their money by telling you what to watch in your spare time. Instead of drowning you in data, the T-Meter measures the percentage of positive reviews from approved sources — a mix of professional and amateur critics — and presents you a clear binary tomato-based disposition: “fresh” (60% or higher) or “rotten” (less than 60%). Ultimately, you can tell the good from the bad with a quick glance.

The Tomatometer

The Tomatometer

Instead of relying one “expert’s” review, every movie page shows samples from all the T-Meter critic reviews on file. You can pick up a pretty good impression of the movie from its convergence or diversity of opinion. If you find that your predilections are continually in the minority, you can choose T-Meter critics whom you agree with and over time your selections will build a trend that will align your Weird Science / Eraserhead / Flash Gordon obsession with kindred spirits.

T-Meter Critic Reviews

T-Meter Critic Reviews

For those with even less time, there’s another simple way to sift cinema via the “Certified Fresh” icon. This designation is awarded to those who score at least 75% AND have over 40 certified reviews. However, this doesn’t guarantee it will be liked by you, but it does pick out the best while preventing a few freakish or fixed reviews from spoofing the system.

Of course, averaging everyone might make for safe bets, but you’ll never find fan favorites: pure gem of the ‘80s raditude, Gymkata, scores 0%! This is where the RT community comes in. If you want to recruit your own “Ultra Action Movie Recommendation Force,” you can search for some films that you know you love and see who else agrees. Add these people to your “My Friends” tab, then see what they and only they think about the newest releases, related films, or recommendations.

You can save even more time by syncing up Rotten Tomatoes with Netflix, Amazon, or the iTunes store. No more studying the cinema signs, trying to find the least-worst abomination for your one night out: boot up the Tomato Picker and you search out the absolute best movies for you, then alt-tab over to your order window — or even buy the movies online. Never again will you sign over two hours of your life with “that looks okay, I guess.” (The very attitude that keeps Seth Rogan on our screens.)

Image credit: erikreis / iStockphoto

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Brian Cairns contributed to this post.