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.
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.
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 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.