Two very, very different movies open in theaters this weekend. One is a romantic musical melodrama; the other is a bizarre, gleefully uneven comic-book horror. One was the toast of the fall film festivals and has trained its sights on awards season; the other is looking to rake in big box office numbers, but has no aspirations of taking home any gold statues.
One stars Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. The other stars Tom Hardy and a giant pile of sentient black goo.
A pair of movies more mismatched than A Star Is Born and Venom would be hard to find, and their audiences seem unlikely to overlap. But that’s no matter to some members of Gaga’s fandom, who are reportedly trying to sabotage Venom in a misguided effort to boost their heroine’s box office returns.
As detailed by BuzzFeed, several Twitter accounts appear to be posting fake reviews of Venom — including many that are identically worded — in an attempt to draw potential moviegoers away from the comic-book film’s opening weekend and into A Star Is Born. Whether the accounts are bots, trolls, true fans, or some combination is unclear — some are clearly purely trolling — but at least one account-holder told BuzzFeed that it was “us Gaga fans creating fake IDs to trash the Venom premiere. They both are getting released on the same day, so we want more audience for A Star Is Born.”
I saw #Venom last night and had to leave halfway through, my children wouldn't stop crying at how bad it was. Luckily a second pre screening of #AStarIsBorn was about to start, and now we are all crying, tears of amazement. Please pray for my eldest he is still in a coma.— Anne Harrison (@AnneHarrisonMom) October 2, 2018
Just got out of a #Venom preview.. Thankfully it was free. Worst two hours of my life. I will be taking my wife to see Lady GaGa's new movie #AStarIsBorn with Bradley Cooper on Friday. Their song Shallow is great..— Maher Adoni (@AdoniMaher) October 2, 2018
Beware of fake #Venom movie reviews. There are people trying to promote Lady Gaga's #AStarIsBorn and are fabricating negative reviews. Look out for bots and only trust proper and regular reviewers. pic.twitter.com/v9xznuN5R7— Marvel Mania™ (@marvel_maniac_) October 2, 2018
It’s not unusual for the more virulent corners of Gaga’s fandom — who call themselves “Little Monsters” — to swarm things they do not like, sometimes via homophobic and racist attacks. Past targets have included India Arie, Adele, and Perez Hilton. Ed Sheeran was driven off Twitter when they targeted him.
And this isn’t the first time the Monsters have used Twitter to try to create the illusion of support for the singer: Several years ago, some Gaga fans created fake Twitter accounts pretending to be middle-aged Midwestern women in order to urge radio stations to play her single “Perfect Illusion.”
A Star Is Born is Gaga’s first film, so this seems to be the first time her fandom has crossed over into the movie space. But it’s hardly the first time a movie has become the target of a trolling campaign.
Movies are being attacked online more and more frequently
Trolling campaigns against movies aren’t new, though the motivations behind them can vary.
In the last few years, several movies have been targeted in coordinated online attacks, often over increased diversity in casting. The 2016 all-female Ghostbusters reboot was the target of enormous outrage, much of it ginned up by sexist trolls. When Black Panther came out in February, racist trolls claimed that the movie’s fans physically attacked them outside theaters. In June, Star Wars: The Last Jedi actress Kelly Marie Tran was driven off social media by racist trolls. In each of these cases, the attackers were targeting franchises and films that were inclusive of women and people of color.
Meanwhile, a recent study published by Dr. Morten Bay, a research fellow at USC’s Center for the Digital Future, found that a significant number of the online attacks on The Last Jedi and its director, Rian Johnson, likely came from Russian bots — and were possibly politically motivated.
But sometimes, intra-fandom rivalries break out, too. The wars between fans of Marvel and fans of DC Comics have been known to get as heated and partisan as those currently happening in the US Senate — for instance, in 2016, DC Comics fans famously (and erroneously) claimed that Marvel was paying critics to trash Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. And though the DC-versus-Marvel fight is one that matters only to its participants, you can sort of understand why it erupts, given that both sides are fans of comic books and the superheroes within.
What’s happening in the case of Venom and A Star Is Born, however, is a bit more unique — some might even say idiotic and pointless — in that they are two extremely different movies that just so happen to share a release date.
For one thing, the opening weekend audiences for the two movies likely don’t overlap all that much. Not only does it seem unlikely that comics fans planning to see Venom would be deterred by negative posts on random Twitter accounts, but even if someone did decide to skip Venom due to a bad review, A Star Is Born — a romantic movie-musical — probably wouldn’t be their first choice of alternative.
For another, the measure of success for both of these movies is vastly different. Venom is aiming for box-office success, and it’s already on track to achieve it: The film is slated to rake in much more money than A Star Is Born in the films’ opening weekend, despite its low critical reception. And while it’s not like A Star Is Born isn’t trying to make money, its prestige festival premieres make it clear that it’s aiming for critical respect — which it’s already earned — as well as awards-season glory.
As fandoms increasingly weaponize the internet in service of the properties and celebrities they most closely identify with, we’ll only be seeing more of this sort of attack.