Review Bombing Does Nothing, Means Nothing

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The Big Picture

  • Review bombing, aimed at diverse casting and changes to the status quo, ultimately hasn’t impacted viewership.
  • Fan reviews don’t significantly affect a project’s success or viewership, showing their lack of importance.
  • Publicity from review bombing often backfires, drawing more attention to the project and increasing viewership.


A wide disparity on Rotten Tomatoes between the “Tomatometer” and the Audience Score isn’t anything new, but still points to some sort of disconnect between critics and the movie-going public. Or, at least, the movie-going public that feels they need to voice their opinion on Rotten Tomatoes. Take The Acolyte, the latest Disney+ foray into the world of Star Wars. It currently sits at 83% with critics, but only 14% with the audience. Are critics that out of touch with the sensibilities of moviegoers? In some cases, yes, but, the popular opinion is that the divide is the result of review bombing, the act of purposefully – and repeatedly — grading a TV or film project poorly to dissuade others from watching it. This is either because the bomber simply doesn’t like it, or, as is most often speculated, the bomber hates the fact that it has lesbians, gays, lesbians and gays, strong female leads both straight and/or lesbian, non-white characters, or hints of preposterous, hidden political messages like “women should be allowed to vote” or “women belong in the workplace, not the kitchen.” While review bombing can’t be dismissed, it is powerless, a toothless lion that, somehow, is still king of the pride lands. Review bombing does nothing, it means nothing, and, quite frankly, it is nothing.


The Acolyte 2024 New Disney Plus Poster

The Acolyte

The Acolyte is a mystery-thriller that will take viewers into a galaxy of shadowy secrets and emerging dark-side powers in the final days of the High Republic era. A former Padawan reunites with her Jedi Master to investigate a series of crimes, but the forces they confront are more sinister than they ever anticipated.

Release Date
June 4, 2024

Main Genre
Sci-Fi

Seasons
1


The Rise of Review Bombing

The genesis of the review bomb is credited to a 2008 Ars Technica review of Spore, a video game published by Electronic Arts. Gamers flooded Amazon with negative reviews about the game, decrying its digital rights management and gameplay. Paul Tassi, in an article from Forbes, cites the video game industry as “where fan-based review bombing happens the most often, but is probably the most ignored at this point.” Reviews of video games are certainly more immediate, with fans railing against technical issues, game glitches, or the fact that the game is either exclusive to XBox or PlayStation. With that immediacy, though, comes a flood of review bombs, which have led to a culture where most simply ignore user reviews outright, placing more stock on the opinion of professional critics.


It wouldn’t arguably be until 2014 that review bombing entered the realm of television and film, instigated by Kirk Cameron, of all people, and his 2014 Christmas turkey Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas. As the story goes, Cameron, unhappy with the 8% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, urged his fans to “storm the gates” of the review site, saying, “All of you who love Saving Christmas – go rate it at Rotten Tomatoes right now and send the message to all the critics that WE decide what movies we want our families to see!” It actually worked for a time, with the viewer rating peaking at a whopping 94%, at least according to Cameron (to put that in context, Elf has a 79%). But every yin has its yang, and the “haters and atheists” began responding in kind, leading Cameron to pretty much saying they had paved their way to Hell: “Now the haters and atheists are coming out of the woodwork, attempting to hammer your good work (they rallied to drop your rating super low). They are attempting, once again, to ruin Saving Christmas for everyone.” What they actually succeeded in doing is bringing the audience score to within 30% of the Tomatometer. An exact 30%, that is, with the Tomatometer currently sitting at 0%.


2016’s ‘Ghostbusters’ Starts a Disturbing Trend of Review Bombing

To review bomb a glitchy game, or call out the self-righteous, is at least semi-justifiable, but the vitriolic review bombing aimed towards 2016’s all-female Ghostbusters reboot started an ugly trend aimed at the film and television industry. Signs of a backlash against the film became evident when the first trailer garnered over 600,000 thumbs-down votes on YouTube, and when the film was released – even before it was released – it had an overwhelming number of angry zero-star reviews. The Guardian‘s Nigel M. Smith talked about the criticism he was faced with for liking the film, with one reader saying he was “pandering to politically correct, radical feminist rubbish,” and others hurling accusations that he accepted money from Sony Pictures before confirming that many trashed the film before even seeing it. That theme of female-led projects being review-bombed carried on with 2019’s Captain Marvel, and review bombing of the latest season of True Detective, featuring female leads Jodie Foster and Kali Reis, led to showrunner Issa López appealing to her followers to combat the “bros and hardcore fanboys of [Season 1] that have made it a mission to drag the ratings down.”


The anonymity of social media has allowed an even uglier side to review bombing, ones that target films and television projects for their inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters and racial diversity. The review-bombing towards LGBTQ+ inclusion in the Star Wars universe prompted Kathleen Kennedy to call out the franchise’s vocal male fanbase for their attacks, in an interview with the New York Times. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power was faced with review bombing that decried the audacity of casting people of color as elves, dwarves, hobbits, and other Middle Earth denizens, a gross abandonment of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s original text. Bigoted review bombing hit Disney’s 2023 live-action remake of The Little Mermaid hard for replacing the white-skinned, red-haired Ariel from the original with Halle Bailey, a talented young Black actor.

Review Bombs Are, Ultimately, Duds


Ultimately, however, whatever the intent of review bombing may be — fans lashing out at changes to the status quo, diverse casting — it isn’t working. True Detective Season 4 has proven to be the most-viewed of the series. Captain Marvel took in over $1.1 billion worldwide, despite the efforts of review bombers. Those vocal male fans of Star Wars that Kathleen Kennedy called out did little to impact viewership of The Acolyte, which had the most-watched premiere on Disney+ at 4.8 million views and about 11.1 million views over its first five days. That places it just behind Ahsoka, another female-led Star Wars entry that clocked in at around 14 million views.


The truth is that fan reviews simply don’t matter in general. The Suicide Squad boasted a 90% from critics and 82% from fans, yet bombed, and Shazam: Fury of the Gods fared no better despite an 86% fan score (as per the previously cited Forbes). Us, Jordan Peele‘s 2019 film, took in $256 million with a 61% audience score, clearly bolstered more by its 93% Tomatometer rating. Even logically, review bombing, as it stands now, is a ridiculous concept anyway. Inundating a film or series with review bombing doesn’t work if the project hasn’t even been released yet, and publicizing the fact that review bombing is happening would, at least the way I see it, lessen its impact. If you know The Acolyte has been targeted by review bombing, the odds that you place any credibility on the audience score is remote. Besides, any publicity is good publicity, as they say, so if the attempt is to dissuade viewers from watching something, you are achieving the opposite. All review bombing does is alert other review bombers, sympathetic to the often misogynistic and racist reviews, that there’s another project they aren’t going to like. In the meantime, those of us with better things to do will continue to sit back and watch the “lesbian witches” on The Acolyte, and enjoy it for what it is: entertainment.


The Acolyte is available to stream in the U.S. on Disney+

WATCH ON DISNEY+

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