Movie Musings,  Movie Talk

Rating Scale – Movie Musings

Rating and ranking. Making comparisons. It is undoubtedly part of human nature. We do it daily for each and every decision we make, from the minute to the monumental. Judgy McJudgersons are we. We also value the opinions of others and how they rate things. (At least I hope so, since you’re here reading my thoughts about things in general and movies in particular.) In fact, several different rating systems have embedded themselves into our culture and vocabulary.

The 5 Star System is probably the most ubiquitous. It appears in nearly every space where people are given an avenue to express their opinions about most anything, from Netflix to Amazon, from to Yelp to Google. It is so common, in fact, that it has recently taken on a life of its own in pop culture. “0 out of 5 stars, do not recommend” has become a meme unto itself. Cousin to the 5 Star System is the “On a Scale of 1 to 10,” most commonly used these days for “people” evaluations, including customer service and patient pain ratings when being seen for medical issues.

Letter Grades are the ratings that have had the most direct impact on our lives day in and day out. Even if we typically no longer receive such grades once we finish school (be that high school, college, or graduate school), they almost certainly impacted the trajectory of our lives in some way. To quote Lord of the Rings, “it is a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt over so small a thing.” And you still have to deal with them regarding your own children (if you have them) until they, too, are no longer in school, which also impacts both their lives and yours, as much as we would prefer that it didn’t.

For movies specifically, “Certified Fresh” has become a rallying cry in ads and trailers ever since Rotten Tomatoes (no affiliation) came on the scene in 1998. I actually love this rating system because it doesn’t rely on any one person’s opinion. I also like that they give you aggregated opinions of both professional reviewers and “the common man.” Still doesn’t mean they always get it right, in my opinion, but it stands a better chance. Similar scores and wildly disparate scores between the reviewers and the audience can both be telling in themselves. The review snippets they post along with each reviewer’s rating (fresh or rotten) can also be helpful and are frequently hilarious! One of our favorite “games” to play is reading some of the snippet reviews out loud and having the other person guess if it came from from an overall positive or negative review. It’s harder than you think sometimes! (Do we know how to spend a weekend evening or what? Yes, we really are that weird and nerdy!)

Then there’s the rating system that shifted from movies specifically into the general cultural lexicon: “Two Thumbs Up,” made famous by rival Chicago film reviewers Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert beginning in 1986. (Note that At the Movies started in 1982, but still used the “yes/no” system that had carried over from their PBS Sneak Preview days. They switched to “thumbs” at Ebert’s suggestion when At the Movies was picked up by Disney.) Though the act of giving a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to signal approval or disapproval dates back to Roman times (and technically we don’t know which direction signifies which opinion), it took these two men and their television show where they compared their opinions of films to make that particular phrase famous.

What movie rating system do I use? Honestly, I haven’t found a great one yet. Once upon a time, with my reviews prior to about 2010-ish, I used “Will I Buy It” as the ultimate test of how much I loved a movie. Was I willing to just catch it on television/cable movie channels whenever they showed it or maybe even rent it from Netflix? (You should have seen my son’s face when we explained how “Netflix with DVDs” worked back in the day!) Or did I love the movie so much that I needed to actually own a copy that I could watch at any moment? Obviously, that was long before streaming or even On Demand, though that was becoming more common by the end. We do still purchase the occasional movie on DVD, but it’s not nearly as common as it used to be. In fact, it’s something we should probably do more often than we have of late, especially with streaming services removing films from their libraries as a cost savings measure. A couple of great articles that expand on this can be found here and here. (No affiliation with those links, I just found them interesting.) As a personal example, there were several things that we thought of to watch with my parents over Thanksgiving and Christmas last year that were simply not available on any streaming service, so owning movies on some type of physical media is becoming important again.

So no, I don’t really have a good movie rating system these days. A good recipe rating system? Yep, I have one of those, with each rating (measured in spoons) clearly defined, but an equally clear film rating system still eludes me. However, I must admit that while writing this, it did occur to me that the Letter Grade system might work best for me, given the generally accepted definitions of each. A = Excellent, B = Very Good/Above Average, C = Average/Needs Improvement, D = Below Average/Lacking, F = Failure/Completely Unsatisfactory. I think I would need an additional rating, though, like a zero or “null value” symbol Ø, something to indicate those truly awful films where I would like a refund (of both my money and time!) and would prefer to pretend that those particular films never even existed in the first place. Hmm, things to ponder….