The new No. 1 Netflix movie is 31% on Rotten Tomatoes — why are people watching?

Man watching Netflix on TV
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Popular Netflix movies are often living on one side of a metaphorical approval Venn diagram. You're either critically adored *and* at the top of the charts, or you're critically reviled and also ranking highly. Today, we're talking about one of the latter.

Persuasion, which dropped on Friday (July 15), is a Jane Austen adaptation that was met with heavy skepticism when its trailers first arrived. But day by day, Persuasion somehow persuaded Netflix audiences to give it ago. 

And as of Sunday (via FlixPatrol), Persuasion was the No. 1 movie in America on Netflix, though it was fighting for that top slot with the animated family film The Sea Beast (which has both critics and audience on its side). It's kept that spot as of today (Tuesday, July 19). But about the other factor that Persuasion was fighting against...

Yes, critics were practically throwing overripe tomatoes at Persuasion, as negative press rolled in left and right (enough to give us more doubt it would land on our best  movies on Netflix list). So, let's dive into what Persuasion is, why critics hate it and if you should watch.

What is Netflix's Persuasion?

Persuasion is the latest attempt to give the Jane Austen novel of the same name a modern revival. Dakota Johnson stars as Anne Elliot, whose family is struggling while she deals with everything by acting like a combination of Zach Morris and Fleabag, talking to the camera every chance she gets.

Elliot is even set to wed Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis), but her family and friends stopped this before it could go ahead. Wentworth reemerges in her life years down the road, and he's now a captain. This sends Anne wondering if she made the right call, and if he's still interested in her.

But the captain isn't the only suitor in the picture. Anne attracts the eyes of the rich Mr. Elliot (Henry Golding), and the entire town is suspicious of what his ambitions with her are.

This sets up a fairly standard situation. Does Anne go with the man with money, cash which she and her family could so very much use? Or does she follow her heart to Frederick's arms, if he'll take her back that is. 

What critics say about Netflix's Persuasion

Rotten Tomatoes' Tomatometer isn't a scale to live your life by (I, for one, liked the new Resident Evil movie, which is falling below 60% currently), but Persuasion's 31% Rotten Tomatoes score is a big red flag. K. Austin Collins at Rolling Stone isn't holding back, writing "Austen works hard. But mediocrity, this movie reminds us, works harder."

David Sims at The Atlantic wrote "But Persuasion at times seems embarrassed by its source material, or at least overeager to spruce it up for audiences that might not be able to handle a gentler pace. The result is harried and forgettable—the complete opposite of Austen’s quietest, noblest heroine."

Dakota Johnson as Anne Elliot in Persuasion

(Image credit: Netflix)

Peter Deburge, writing for Variety, was down on Persuasion, writing that this sort of adaptation "strips the novel of its core tension." He also notes that Johnson is "not the right actor for this role, and she’s been entirely misdirected."

Not all reviews were negative, though. The AV Club's Courtney Howard gave Persuasion a B, writing that it "combines the classic and the contemporary with innovative, resonant craftsmanship." The performers get their flowers too, as she notes "Despite these modern constraints, Cracknell’s adaptation crackles with life. Especially with an effervescent actress and hunky actor delivering compelling performances."

Should you watch Netflix's Persuasion tonight?

Netflix's Persuasion feels akin to a Marvel movie or Disney Plus show that is lambasted for diverting from the source material too much. Those who know what could have been will feel disappointed at best, and insulted at worst. 

But if you're not aware of Jane Austen's original work, you might find Persuasion to be worth its one-hour, 49-minute run time. I wouldn't go into it expecting the moon, but at the very least you've got attractive people swooning for each other, and a protagonist who will not stop making jokes. That is just what some people probably want. It's just a question of whether you're one of those people.

Next: Plus, the best new show is on HBO Max — and it's 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. HBO Max is apparently going to get a documentary on a subject that Netflix had to drop. And Netflix has a new no.3 TV show with 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. 

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.

  • weibowil
    I thoroughly loved it. Anne and Frederick's pining when they were almost slipping out of each other's grasp was so harrowing and dramatic!! A much more memorable Austen movie than 2020's Emma. As for those petty fans of the book who've been making such a fuss - no problem.. This movie is not for you.. It is for those who have not read the book 🙂. And mind you, that's the majority.
  • Daya34
    Well I enjoyed it. Critics reviews are not the audience, it’s their own personal opinions and if you can’t form opinion for yourself then that’s just embarrassing.