The flood of trolling on Rotten Tomatoes started about a month ago. Weeks before the release of Captain Marvel, commenters on the site were already claiming the movie was garbage and that they had no intentions of seeing it. “Terrible movie hate it already!!!!!!” wrote one. “Not interested in seeing another SJW [Social Justice Warrior] propaganda film,” claimed another. And finally: “THIS MOVIE IS DESTINED TO FLOP.”
Another day, another attempt to pillory a film long before anyone in the comment threads could’ve seen the movie in question. We’ve seen this story before; hell, we’ve written this story before. But now Rotten Tomatoes is trying to do something about it.
On Monday, the movie review site announced some changes to the way it deals with audience scores, specifically that it will no longer show the “Want to See” percentage score (the one that gets posted next to all of those reviews above) of a movie before it’s released. Why? “We’ve found that the ‘Want to See’ percentage score is often times confused with the ‘Audience Score’ percentage number,” the site’s staff wrote in a blog post, referencing the number compiled after the movie has been released and people have (theoretically) seen it. True to their word, the company now relegates the Want to See option to a small button below Captain Marvel‘s scores, which are blank since the critics’ review embargo is still in effect and no general audiences have seen it yet.
But sequestering Want to See isn’t all Rotten Tomatoes is doing to stop the trolls. The site is also turning off the comment function before a movie’s release date. “Unfortunately,” the blog post noted, “we have seen an uptick in non-constructive input, sometimes bordering on trolling, which we believe is a disservice to our general readership.” The site, as of this writing, doesn’t seem to have scrubbed the previous comments about Captain Marvel, but no new ones have gone up since Monday, so it seems the influx of hateration has stopped.
This, for fans (and presumably studios), is a long overdue reprieve. It’s nearly impossible to tell which comments are from actual fans and which are from users just out for the lulz. Movies ranging from Baywatch to Star Wars: The Last Jedi have recently found themselves subjected to trollishly harsh reviews on RT. In some cases, the negative comments are earned, but in others, as was the case with The Last Jedi and (to a lesser degree) the all-female Ghostbusters, the poor ratings seem driven by racist and/or sexist motives from fans who don’t appreciate diversity in their movies. (They also might have been fueled by Russian trolls.) It also happens that, from time to time, a movie gets a terrible RT score from critics and fans claim bias on the part of professional reviewers, as was the case with Justice League.
So will Rotten Tomatoes’ new changes come in time to save Captain Marvel from the trolls? Some of the damage has already been done, but the move will definitely stop it from getting worse. But more than that, RT’s move may not be necessary. While it’s certainly in movie fans’ best interest, the jig has been up on audience review trolling for a while. When a move was made to tank Black Panther‘s scores last year, it was largely shut down and the movie went on to make more than $1.3 billion at the box office and win three Oscars. A similar effort is in the works for Star Wars: Episode IX, but has attracted scant attention. Meanwhile, even as the Captain Marvel trolling was happening, ticket presales for the movie are outpacing those of Wonder Woman and are coming in just behind Black Panther when stacked up against other superhero origin flicks.
Does this mean movie trolling has been solved? No. Efforts to affect films long before their release still exist on IMDb, Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms. But seeing as Rotten Tomatoes is often one of the first destinations moviegoers visit when determining what to see, the site’s most recent move will sort out the good opinions from the bad ones—and on the internet, as in the movies, that’s really the best way to settle the score.