- "Captain Marvel" is the latest blockbuster to be targeted by online trolls who are taking to Rotten Tomatoes and other review-aggregator sites to tank user scores.
- Rotten Tomatoes changed its policy last week so that users can’t review movies prior to their release, but now that "Captain Marvel" is in theaters, it has the worst Rotten Tomatoes audience score of any Marvel Cinematic Universe movie.
- These negative campaigns don’t necessarily hurt a movie’s box office, though. "Reasonable observers and analysts realize that grassroots campaigns to harm a film’s profile aren’t always reflective of real-world sentiment," BoxOffice.com analyst Shawn Robbins told Business Insider.
- Still, some Hollywood studios now have teams dedicated to combating internet trolls.
Audiences and critics rarely agree on what makes a good movie. At first glance, it would appear the same could be said for the latest superhero blockbuster, "Captain Marvel," which hits theaters this weekend.
The movie had an 81% critic score on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes as of Friday morning, but its Rotten Tomatoes audience score was an abysmal 31%. That is easily the worst audience score for a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie yet, even compared to what are considered to be the most lackluster movies in the franchise, like "The Incredible Hulk" (70%) and "Thor: The Dark World" (76%).
But that score doesn’t tell the whole story. "Captain Marvel" has been the victim of negative online campaigns, and even before its release, it was hit with fake negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes from people who hadn’t seen the movie yet.
All that doesn’t bother the movie’s directors, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, though.
"It’s pretty crazy, but it’s all good because the thing is people care about these characters and people care about this movie, even if caring about it means they have to go trolling online," Fleck told Business Insider. "It means they care enough to take the time to do that. So it’s fun for us because we have never made a movie where people besides our parents are amped to see it."
A Rotten Tomatoes spokesperson told The Verge that the site has faced an increase in "review bombing" in the last 18 months, and movies like "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" and "Black Panther," which have diverse casts of people of color and women at the forefront, have been particularly affected. And the trolling hasn’t been limited to Rotten Tomatoes. "The Last Jedi" star Kelly Marie Tran, the first Asian woman in a prominent "Star Wars" role, deleted her Instagram account last year after facing racist and sexist attacks.
Last week, Rotten Tomatoes announced that it was changing its review policy on the website, and users would no longer be able to leave comments for a movie prior to its release.
"Unfortunately, we have seen an uptick in non-constructive input, sometimes bordering on trolling, which we believe is a disservice to our general readership," Rotten Tomatoes wrote.
But the "review bombing" — or spreading of extremely negative reviews to tank a movie’s audience score — has continued now that "Captain Marvel" is officially in theaters.
On review-aggregator Metacritic, the movie’s user score is 2.5 out of 10, with 305 negative reviews compared to 70 positive (and 36 mixed). The movie also has a 6.6 score (out of 10) on movie database IMDb out of over 34,000 user ratings. As of Friday morning, "Captain Marvel" had about 7,700 perfect 10 scores, and over 6,800 scores of 1.
IMDb is different from Rotten Tomatoes, though, in that it uses what it calls "weighted vote averages" rather than "raw data averages" to somewhat combat these negative campaigns.
On its FAQ page for ratings, IMDb explains it this way: "Although we accept and consider all votes received by users, not all votes have the same impact (or ‘weight’) on the final rating. Various filters are applied to the raw data in order to eliminate and reduce attempts at vote stuffing by people more interested in changing the current rating of a movie than giving their true opinion of it."
Still, the scores illustrate the tug-of-war happening between those who like the movie, and those looking to discredit it. The snapshot below breaks down the scores.
Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.
While internet trolls represent a nasty corner of the internet, they don’t necessarily have an effect audience turnout. Both "Black Panther" and "The Last Jedi" grossed over $1 billion worldwide. "Black Panther" was the highest-grossing movie domestically last year with over $700 million. "Captain Marvel" is expected to be a hit, as well. BoxOfficeAnalyst.com’s Doug Stone told Business Insider he projects it to make at least $175 million this weekend and light a spark for what has been a slow start to the 2019 box office.
BoxOffice.com analyst Shawn Robbins told Business Insider it’s "tough to gauge how much real impact" review-aggregator sites have anymore on audiences.
"There was a time when they provided some valuable insight into a film’s level of anticipation or fan approval, but much of that has been corrupted for certain titles by a vocal minority of users," Robbins said. "’Black Panther,’ for example, went on to become one of the most successful superhero films of all time, and ‘The Last Jedi’ finished with an excellent box office total regardless of backlash."
Studios are still taking extra measures to prepare for trolls, though.
Digital ad spending in 2019 in the entertainment industry will reach $6.64 billion, up from $3.45 billion in 2016, according to EMarketer, Bloomberg reported. Hollywood studios have also increased marketing teams to combat internet trolls, and some have up to 40 people on a team, according to Bloomberg.
"Reasonable observers and analysts realize that grassroots campaigns to harm a film’s profile aren’t always reflective of real-world sentiment, but it’s understandable for studios to be concerned about the potential impact given the amount of risk they’ve taken on big-budget titles and how quickly social media of any kind can create a false narrative that spirals out of control," Robbins said.
But even "The Last Jedi" director Rian Johnson, who said he faced death threats when the movie was released in 2017, is putting a positive spin on "Captain Marvel’s" low Rotten Tomatoes audience score.
"Pretty much the new ‘Certified Fresh’ badge," Johnson tweeted on Friday.
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