Rotten Tomatoes Mulls Further Tightening User Guidelines to Combat Trolls

Rotten Tomatoes and Captain Marvel Graphic - Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; Rotton Tomatoes

A person may be asked to verify that he or she has seen the film in question before being allowed to post an audience review.

On Feb. 26 — amid a deluge of negative posts about the female-led Captain Marvel — Rotten Tomatoes said it would no longer let users say whether they want to see a movie until it begins playing in theaters. Online trolls exacted their revenge by flooding the website with thousands of audience reviews trashing the superhero pic once it opened March 8.

But the play didn't work. Captain Marvel is a blockbuster, opening to $154.3 million domestically and more than $455 million globally over the March 8-10 weekend, the sixth-biggest launch of all time. And by Tuesday, it was zooming past the $500 million mark worldwide.

A rep for the website now tells The Hollywood Reporter that additional measures are being considered in terms of audience reviews. Namely, a user may be asked to verify that he or she has seen the film in question before being allowed to post a critique. (It is unclear what that prompt would look like in practice.)

"We are disappointed that there was a group of people who were obviously very passionate and who had a negative opinion of the movie, whether they saw it or not," says Dana Benson, vp communications for Fandango, parent of Rotten Tomatoes.

Early on the morning of March 8, the audience score for Captain Marvel was 32 percent from around 58,000 users, an unusually high number. Rotten Tomatoes issued a statement midday saying a glitch had led to an incorrect tally. The number of reviews subsequently dropped to 7,000 with a score of 35 percent. However, by Sunday, the number of audience reviews had swelled to around 40,000 with a score of 55 percent.

That was in stark contrast to a Rotten Tomatoes critics' score of 81 percent — and to the "A" CinemaScore awarded the film by audiences (as of Wednesday, the audience rating had risen to 63 percent from 62,706 reviews).

In its Feb. 26 note, the site said, "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."

Previously, trolls tried to sabotage Black Panther and the all-female Ghostbusters reboot. "The trolls have become ineffective now that everyone instantly recognizes that for what it is — people just hating to hate," says Imax Entertainment president Megan Colligan.

Of the divide between audience score and critics, Benson notes, "We are in the middle of evolving the audience score. We want to ensure its credibility."

A version of this story appeared in the March 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.