It’s well-traveled good advice not to judge a book by its cover, but that’s exactly what the burgeoning practice of “review bombing” is all about. Review bombing entails a mass effort among fans to barrage a film with negative reviews, ideally affecting its aggregate rating. After originating in the gaming community, review-bombing has become a favorite weapon in the arsenal of toxic fandoms desperate to maintain an all-too-“realistic” hierarchy. Whether that’s Mordor, the MCU, or a New York City that has gay people, the problem is always the same: too gay, too diverse, too feminist, or too “woke.”
Billy Eichner and Nicholas Stoller’s rom-com Bros has become the latest target of the practice. After the film (which proudly features an all-queer cast) was well-received by critics at its Toronto International Film Festival debut, reviewers with a bigoted bone to pick flooded both Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb with denunciations of Bros. Many of the reviews presumably also come from viewers who haven’t seen the film yet—although it opened at TIFF on September 9, Bros won’t have a wide release until September 30.
The film’s critical rating on IMDb dipped to just 5.5/10 (in comparison to a 95% positive critical score on Rotten Tomatoes) after 312 one-star audience reviews, per Forbes. The barrage was so intense that both sites have since paused the audience review feature. (Both IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes did not immediately respond to The A.V. Club’s request for comment.) Eichner’s own response to review bombers, shared on Twitter, didn’t mince words: “FUCK ‘EM!!! IF YOU’RE NOT A HOMOPHOBIC PIECE OF SHIT, GO SEE BROS!!!”
The type of reviewers taking time to type up their anticipatory hatred for the unapologetically gay Bros don’t need any denoted fandom to spew rancor. But review bombing has also sown discord among larger-scale (and tighter knit) fandoms for years. Before its 2019 release, Captain Marvel was the target of extensive review-bombing aimed at its female-led narrative. Rotten Tomatoes removed nearly 54,000 fake reviews targeting the film. Rian Johnson, whose contribution to Star Wars canon The Last Jedi met a similar fate, joked that a review-bombed film was “the new ‘Certified Fresh.’”
Even lately, Bros is far from alone in the trenches: Amazon instituted a 72-hour review delay on Prime Video’s The Rings Of Power to try to thwart pre-air venom, but couldn’t avoid hatred towards the show’s diversity. Disney+’s She-Hulk has also faced the practice, as did Black Panther, and Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and, and...
And, although a 2019 gaming-focused study from The Conversation found that user feedback (praise or not) is “vital” to a project’s evolution, review bombing is all about prevention, not insight. The fact that these reviews roll in en masse ahead of a wide release points to targeted attacks that have nothing to do with form or content, but with ideological sore spots. The success of films like Booksmart and Fire Island indicates there’s an expansive market for comedy that showcases diverse queer relationships. Review bombers, however, would rather see these stories banished from the screen than engage with the writing firmly on the wall.
As far as whether or not review bombing actually affects a film’s bottom line, there isn’t yet much clarity. Out argues that a negative review could dissuade an on-the-fence viewer, but the speed with which the tactical pans were scrubbed makes that possibility hard to measure. At this point, scrubbing reviews has become the popular response to pervasive trolling. Netflix ix-nayed public commentary back in 2018, and YouTube stopped disclosing how many dislikes a video receives last November.
But when critical censorship becomes the only answer to rating bigotry, the greatest loss is within the fandom itself. Although the average Bros viewer is likely already steadfastly here for queerness, they deserve a chance to experience the film outside of a homophobic, heteronormative lens. There are undoubtedly Rings Of Power fans who’d love to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of Khazad-Dûm without someone griping that well, actually, dwarves couldn’t be Black because of sunlight.
Most of all, review bombing is a sneering betrayal of fans who may finally see themselves in characters that previously didn’t feel possible. As Queer Eye’s Bobby Berk wrote after seeing Bros: “I was never a fan of romcoms because they were always straight and I was never able to see myself in one. Today hit different, and I’m a fan of romcoms now.” When the future expansion of an entire genre is at stake, denouncing every new horizon—especially from the cloaked pedestal of a keyboard—is self-implosion at its stupidest.