An Oral History of RT, Part One: The Beginning

In the first of a three-part series, the founders of RT talk about the site's early days.

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of Rotten Tomatoes, we asked some of the founding members of RT to share their memories. What follows is an oral history of Rotten Tomatoes' early years, from the people who were there at the beginning. In this installment, we cover the genesis of the site -- how the founding Tomatoes turned their love of movies into a destination for cinema fanatics the world over.


In 1998, Senh Duong (right) was working as the creative director of Design Reactor, a Bay Area web design firm founded by a group of University of California-Berkeley graduates. A big movie buff, Senh was looking for reviews of Jackie Chan movies one night when a light bulb went off in his head.

Senh Duong: My first visit to the theater was in junior high. And it was a double bill -- Raw Deal starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Cobra with Sylvester Stallone). My friends and I thought Cobra was the better of the two. So my inclinations tended toward action movies. It's my favorite genre. And my favorite actors then were action stars: Arnold, Stallone, and Bruce Willis.

I discovered Jet Li and Jackie Chan during high school, and I've always felt it was a shame that neither were known in the US then. When I got to college and was living in the dorms, I would always put on a Jackie or Jet movie, and they would always draw a crowd. When Rumble in the Bronx came out in the US, I was really curious to see how critics would react to it. I would search the web for reviews of each of his Asian imports.

I had the idea while searching for reviews of Jackie Chan imports -- Rumble in the Bronx, Supercop, Twin Dragons, and First Strike.

In high school, I started looking at the box office charts every week to see what movies were popular. I also started watching Siskel & Ebert, which obviously had a huge influence on me. When I was started picking a domain name for Rotten Tomatoes, I was gonna call it "Thumbs Up" as a tribute to them, but luckily (for copyright reasons), all variations of the show's trademarked rating system were taken. I ended up with Rotten Tomatoes because I didn't think anyone had used it as domain name. And I was right!

So I guess the love of Jackie Chan movies and Siskel & Ebert eventually gave birth to Rotten Tomatoes.

The name "Rotten Tomatoes" came to Senh while watching the fantasy film Leolo, about a boy who imagines himself to be the offspring of an Italian peasant and a giant tomato. Though it initially seemed like an interesting side project to his work Design Reactor, Senh soon realized he'd stumbled upon a really good idea.

Senh: I spent about two weeks designing and coding it. Back then it was pretty simple. The movie pages were influenced by movie ads in newspapers. The home page back then looked like a big giant leaf with bite marks made by caterpillars.


Rotten Tomatoes as it looked in 2000.


Rotten Tomatoes went live on August 18, 1998. Early reaction was profoundly encouraging.

Senh: On the very first day, it had about 100 views. I got that from posting in Usenet movie groups telling people to check it out. A few days later, it was picked by Yahoo! as the site of the day, which got the site a couple thousand views. In the following week, it was spotlighted by USA Today and Netscape (which was huge back then); each of those got the site tens of thousands of views. And then came Roger Ebert and the rest of the mentions.


Comments

Jen Yamato

Jen Yamato

Senh is the man. I can't believe how far he took RT!

Jun 23 - 05:54 PM

Oblivioncry

Danish Shaikh

yeah, gratulations RT, and thumbs's up to Senh Duong. Great Work.

Jun 24 - 01:43 AM

Abnaxus

Palamar Bogdan

Gongrats with the site Senh !

Jun 24 - 04:13 AM

Abnaxus

Palamar Bogdan

Gongrats with the site Senh !

Jun 24 - 04:20 AM

ninja13

daniel metzger

You're the man Senh.
See biblebuds on youtube.

Jun 25 - 02:09 PM

Virgil Starkwell

Evan Cowitt

Loved it from the word go!

Jun 25 - 08:51 PM

smi1ey

Matt Dunn

this is pretty cool learning how things got started. reminds me a lot of my own site got started. amazing how a few plugs and site design can change things! congrats to all of the success! :)

Jun 26 - 03:41 PM

707PG13

Patrick Garcia

Happy Birthday RT!!!! The tomato meter is honestly one of the greatest inventions and crowning achievements in human history. What Senh up to now these days?

Oh, and BAY AREEEAAAA!!!!!!!!!! YADDADAAYYYMEEEAANNN!!!!!

Jun 28 - 04:14 PM

narom

Mark Moran

wow .. i look so much younger in that group photo...

Jul 4 - 01:53 AM

etchy

R@ffi K.

ha ha, i'm disappointed Senh, no mention of me in all this! :-D

Jul 4 - 10:13 AM

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