Audience Reviews of Captain Marvel Lead to Rotten Tomatoes System Change


Jaden Thompson, Student Journalist

Captain Marvel is the most recent Marvel superhero movie to hit theaters since Ant Man and the Wasp was released in summer 2018. Captain Marvel stars Brie Larson as the titular character, the first Marvel movie ever to feature a solo female lead. This advancement for women garnered great buzz in the months leading up to its release on March 8th, at the beginning of Women’s History Month. Despite any hype surrounding the movie for its historic lead, Captain Marvel received an initially surprisingly low audience score on the respected film review site Rotten Tomatoes prior to the film’s release.

Rotten Tomatoes is a website where both professional film critics and average movie goers can share their opinions on films; film critics use the tomatometer, which ranges from low scores paired with a green tomato splat to ‘certified fresh’ high scores paired with a bright red tomato. Average moviegoers give a score paired with either a fallen bucket of popcorn or an upright one, depending on their opinion. The shockingly low audience score for Captain Marvel, which is still not over 60% as of March 11, can be accounted for by what Rotten Tomatoes calls ‘review bombers’.

Review bombers are trolls who post fake reviews with negative or angry sentiments about a particular movie, usually without having seen it first. As early as February 18, review bombers began to bash Captain Marvel with negative comments and low audience scores, many of the comments relating to the fact that the movie stars a solo female superhero. Without actually having seen the movie, these review bombers managed to create a negative image for a movie not yet released. People are allowed to review movies prior to an official wide release because many critics have the opportunity to attend pre screenings or premieres. However, the recent Captain Marvel controversy has led to Rotten Tomatoes making a change to their system; users are no longer permitted to post audience reviews prior to a movie’s release. In addition, Rotten Tomatoes took the time to remove more than 50,000 reviews that contributed to Captain Marvel’s biased audience score. Other blockbuster movies, like Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Ghostbusters, and Black Panther, have also received the same treatment as Captain Marvel, receiving negative audience reviews relating to the fact that these films starred women and people of color.

The impact of review bombing is not just a mere annoyance for customer service employees at Rotten Tomatoes; many moviegoers have an implicit trust in Rotten Tomatoes and will hinge their decision to see a movie based off of reviews on the website. While a high critic score is important, the contrast of a low audience score could be a deal breaker for someone, especially since they might equate themselves more to the average audience member than to a professional critic. Ratings affect both box office numbers and the general social impact of a film.

The blindly written and damaging reviews of movies like Captain Marvel and Black Panther make us wonder how far our society has really come in regards to social justice and equality. Many people were thrilled to see a black or female superhero take the lead for the first time in the past year, but the resistance of others to this inclusion is difficult to ignore. One way to curb the resistance is to simply continue to represent more women and people of color in popular movies, which will foster acceptance and normalize their presence on screen.