In the wake of blockbuster franchise movies like Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Black Panther, and, most recently, Captain Marvel being subject to “review bombing” by its users, Rotten Tomatoes finally struck back.
Announced on Tuesday, the premier movie and TV review aggregator is implementing “a range of new enhancements” in “the months to come” that will clean up clutter, more clearly separate reviews from critics and users, and prevent user “reviews” prior to a film’s theatrical release.
The site’s timing couldn’t be better. Besides Captain Marvel — who’s pre-release user score was hovering at 30 percent more than two weeks ahead of release — the same people were already beginning to target Star Wars: Episode IX even though the movie won’t arrive until December. (We don’t even know the official title yet.) Reports of review bombs for the new Star Wars began to surface shortly before Rotten Tomatoes announced its changes.
In a press release, as well as a blog post published on its website, Rotten Tomatoes explained the changes that will roll out across 2019. These changes, the site explains, are to protect the site’s data and forums “from bad actors.”
“Starting this week, Rotten Tomatoes will launch the first of several phases of updates that will refresh and modernize our Audience Rating System,” the company said. It added (emphasis ours):
“What else are we doing? We are disabling the comment function prior to a movie’s release date. Unfortunately, we have seen an uptick in non-constructive input, sometimes bordering on trolling, which we believe is a disservice to our general readership. We have decided that turning off this feature for now is the best course of action. Don’t worry though, fans will still get to have their say: Once a movie is released, audiences can leave a user rating and comments as they always have.”
These changes have been needed for some time, but it wasn’t until Rotten Tomatoes’ users set their sights on Captain Marvel that the company finally acted after a handful of users heavily abused the site’s platform to express sometimes hateful and violent speech.
In response to Captain Marvel star Brie Larson advocating for a more diverse press tour for her movie, fans review bombed Captain Marvel using Rotten Tomatoes’ now-removed “want to see” metric. One now-deleted “review” for Captain Marvel said:
“You could not pay me to see this SJW laden white male hating worthless POS movie. I am sick of this identity politics taking over pop culture. Brie Larson could get hit by a bus and I would not shed a tear.”
The review bombing campaign made Captain Marvel one of the worst rated Marvel movies on Rotten Tomatoes based on the “want to see” metric, which the company admits is easily confused with the actual review score. At this time, only a handful of insiders and critics have seen the movie, with more advanced screenings set to take place before its opening weekend on March 8.
Additionally, in what appears to be a stronger effort to break down what each score on Rotten Tomatoes means, the site was revamped to feature “a cleaner, less cluttered, presentation of the Tomatometer and Audience Score.” In a press release issued separately, the site explained this delineation aims to give fans “easy access to compare and contrast critic’s and fan’s view of movies and TV shows.”
Basically, Rotten Tomatoes wants to make it even more clear which scores belong to whom. And below those scores, there is now an exact number of how many published reviews make up the Tomatometer and how many users contributed to the Audience Score.
These changes have already been rolled out. Here’s a tiny sampling of the new user interface with recent movies.
It is also, unsurprisingly, a space for ad placement. Here’s a Walmart sponsorship for the Tomatometer of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Rotten Tomatoes Has Ultimately Made the Right, and Very Logical, Move
It makes sense to prevent users from “reviewing” a movie prior to its release. Never mind the “want to see” metric was merely asking if one was interested in seeing an unreleased movie, it became the primary platform disgruntled fans used to express opinions towards films they hadn’t seen. In cases like Captain Marvel, derogatory statements towards filmmakers often used vocabulary evocative of anti-progressive pop culture movements such as GamerGate and Comicsgate.
While users can still write “reviews” that could contain such speech — Rotten Tomatoes has stated on the record that it will delete hateful comments and moderate the section closely — it has at least eliminated one of the biggest weapons large segments of the (mostly male) fandom have manipulated in the past.
Like Facebook and Twitter, Rotten Tomatoes began as and remains a platform, one that set out to let the internet weigh in on popular new movies. Unfortunately, the internet and its very human failings have allowed its users to operate in bad faith. In the case of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, people even used online bots to tank the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes score — possibly with help from the Russian government — but at the end of the day, we’re still just talking about movies sold by humongous corporations that also want to sell toys, pajamas, and breakfast cereals.
Because there is money to be made in diversity, major franchise movies in the future will expectedly become more inclusive. Future Marvel movies, such as Eternals and Shang-Chi, future DC films like Birds of Prey, and more are expected to star women and ethnic minority characters in major roles. While there’s no stopping folks from being outraged about movies they haven’t seen, they can’t do it on Rotten Tomatoes anymore. That’s what Twitter is for.