The troubling rise of review bombing

Online users are purposely bombarding certain entertainment projects with negative reviews. But why?

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Criticism of television shows, movies, video games, and books is nothing new. But the internet has made it easier than ever to weaponize critical commentary with sprees of "review bombing," wherein users hoping to call attention to a particular cultural or political issue purposely inundate review aggregators with negative feedback. The goal? Ruin a project's popularity or sales, sometimes even before the work is officially released.

How has review bombing affected different industries?


The term "review bomb" was first coined in a 2008 Ars Technica review of the video game "Spore," which saw users flood Amazon with negative reviews regarding the game's digital rights management system and gameplay. And since then, review bombing has become commonplace in the gaming industry. Video game review sites are the "place where fan-based review bombing happens the most often, but is probably the most ignored at this point," Paul Tassi noted in Forbes. It's become normalized because, unlike other industries, "the video game industry is home to warring factions in the console wars, or extremely reactive fans who respond to technical issues or general game problems with ultra-low scores."

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Take the recently-released "Diablo 4," for example. Though the game initially received largely positive feedback after being released for PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox, a rash of negative reviews over its perceived lackluster gameplay and issues with microtransactions caused its Metacritic score to drop significantly.

Television and film

Television shows and films have also seen a rise in review bombing in recent years, particularly as it relates to projects led by women or those with racially diverse casts.

For instance, when "Captain Marvel" star Brie Larson remarked in 2019 that movie coverage was too male-dominated, the film's IMDb page was soon flooded with negative comments. Other watershed Marvel projects — including the films "Black Panther" and "Eternals," which featured an LGBTQ+ couple, and the female-led TV series "She-Hulk" and "Ms. Marvel" — later suffered a similar fate. But though "Captain Marvel" "remains the lowest fan-scored Marvel movie" on film review site Rotten Tomatoes, Tassi noted, it didn't stop the film "from making $1.1 billion at the worldwide box office and spawning a sequel."

Another example: So-called J.R.R. Tolkien purists so ferociously review bombed the first episode of Amazon Prime's "Lord of the Rings" prequel, "Rings of Power" that the streamer temporarily shut off reviews until after the third episode aired. And Disney's live-action "The Little Mermaid" faced similar racist backlash after Black actress Halle Bailey was cast in the film's lead role. Eventually, IMDb posted a disclaimer of "unusual voting activity" on the film's review page and applied an "alternative weighting calculation" to its score.


In mid-June, "Eat, Pray, Love" author Elizabeth Gilbert pulled an upcoming project set in Russia after the book was swamped with one-star reviews on Goodreads amid social media criticism from Ukrainian readers. Those critical of the book felt it was insensitive for Gilbert to release the project given the ongoing war between Kyiv and Moscow. As a result, the author decided to pull the novel from production indefinitely, for which she was criticized for setting a dangerous precedent for book censorship.

"Everything's Fine," the debut novel from author Cecilia Rabess, was also bombed on Goodreads six months before its release after a user with an advanced copy posted the story's synopsis, which was slammed as "anti-black" or racist because it centers on a Black woman who falls for a conservative bigot. Despite receiving some accolades, The New York Times noted that the book "had a sluggish start, only selling 1,000 hardcover copies in its first ten days."

"It can be incredibly hurtful, and it's frustrating that people are allowed to review books this way if they haven't read them," author Roxane Gay told the Times. "Worse, they're allowed to review books that haven't even been written."

How have review aggregators responded to the uptick in review bombing?

By adjusting their review systems. In response to the backlash against "The Little Mermaid," IMDB began using a weighted system to balance out the one-star reviews. And after the "Captain Marvel" debacle, Rotten Tomatoes introduced a verification system to prove reviewers had bought a ticket for the film and stopped accepting reviews for movies before they premiered.

In response to the review bombing of the video game "Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores," review site Metacritic has said it's "evolving [its] processes and tools to introduce stricter moderation in the coming months."

And meanwhile, Goodreads claims to have made it easier for users to flag suspicious commentary for review and plans to improve processes regarding the detection and removal of problematic reviews.

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Theara Coleman

Theara Coleman is a Staff Writer for The Week. A New York native, she previously served as a contributing writer and assistant editor for Honeysuckle Magazine, where she covered racial politics and cannabis industry news. Theara graduated from Howard University and New York University, receiving her BA and MA in English Literature, respectively. She has a background in education as a former High School English teacher. She brings her passion for reading, writing, and all things nerdy to her work as a journalist.