User comments and ratings on the movie-review website Rotten Tomatoes are intended to give potential movie-goers a sense of what their peers thought of a film, in addition to the featured reviews from professional critics. But what started out as an innocent enough attempt to gauge audience response to a film became a tool for trolls to sabotage movies they wanted to see fail before those films even came out. Often, the movies subjected to that are superhero and action properties in which women have been given leading roles. The problem has become so bad that the site has announced it will be removing the option for the public to “downvote” or comment on movies before they open.
The signature feature of Rotten Tomatoes is that the site brings in reviews from numerous sources and analyzes them to assign two overall “freshness” scores to a film, one based on critical reviews and one based on the site’s own audience response. Those scores have become influential; many readers may just look at the number and not scroll down to read a critic’s full analysis before deciding if they want to spend money on movie tickets. Movie studios are anxious about the ratings, too, and have admitted to altering the release schedules of certain films in an attempt to game the system.
Previously, before a film came out, users could post comments and vote for a “want to see” score, marking if they “want to see” or are “not interested” in an upcoming movie. Under the new system, until release day that “want to see” percentage will no longer be displayed and comments will be disabled. The company announced the policy change in a blog post on Monday.
“Unfortunately, we have seen an uptick in non-constructive input, sometimes bordering on trolling, which we believe is a disservice to our general readership,” the company blog post reads. “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.”
It appears that the tipping point that triggered the change was a coordinated campaign of users going on the site to downvote Captain Marvel, a superhero flick hitting theaters on March 8, which has raised the ire of certain online communities by having the audacity to star a woman (and one who publicly mentioned the importance of diverse voices in culture journalism, at that). While the movie is not named explicitly in the company announcement, it was among the first to have its pre-release votes hidden as the new system is rolled out across the site, and the “review bombing” of the film had been widely documented in recent weeks.