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Wherein Me and Your Grandmother Discuss Rating Movies…

Before I wrote my Wonder Woman review… in fact… even before I saw it, I started thinking about the way I, and other people rate movies. See at that point I was still afraid of the possibility that Wonder Woman wouldn’t actually be good. It turns out it was, but I didn’t know that yet. And if it were really bad, that would have been fine. But I was worried about it being mediocre… exactly how I felt about Ghostbusters(2016). It was thankfully better than that. In the Ghostbusters case (and actually with Wonder Woman as well) I knew ahead of time — from the buzz the movie had for more than a year before it was released even — that the film had progressed beyond being reviewed on its own merits. It had to deal with comparisons to the original as well no small amount of feminism and misogyny interconnectivity and conflation. It was hard to get honest opinions about it. And I expected that.

But I think it goes beyond that. I’m more and more starting to wonder if people are just incapable of rating movies objectively and analytically, particularly movies in the geek genres. Whenever a big blockbuster movie comes out, I’m actually pretty amazed if I look through social media and see anyone who isn’t a regular movie critic give anything a mediocre review. And HOVA-forbid if I give a less than stellar review to something that people like. You’d think I sodomized their grandmother. (Ok, to be fair… if I did sodomize your grandmother, I kind of get why maybe you don’t like me… but get over it. Your grandmother is a wonderful and beautiful woman… but she has needs dammit. And what the two us had together was consensual, amazing and special. And frankly your grandmother is a fucking demon in the sack. So kinky and so… flexible… and the way she uses her tongue is…. and wow… why the fuck are you still reading this? I fucked your grandmother in the ass, for GodMC’s sake!!!)

Anyway, as you know I liked but didn’t love Wonder Woman. I thought it was good, and worth seeing but I certainly didn’t think it was the best movie ever. Or even the best superhero movie ever. In fact, it was good, but it wasn’t even the best superhero movie of the year so far. Logan was better. Wonder Woman was more important, but Logan was better. It just was. And yet, a lot of reviews I’ve seen from people are “OMG! This was the best superhero movie of all time!!!” But unlike with Ghostbusters, I don’t think this is just the conflation of female representation with the movie itself (and yes, I do think that’s super important). But I think a lot of this has to do with it just being new and with the way people watch movies… or at least the way they talk about movies. Which is to say, most people DON’T! Or at least they don’t as much as I do.

Recently, Netflix changed their UI for rating movies from allowing 0-5 stars to a simple thumbs up or thumbs down rating system. I hated this! Frankly, I felt as though 5 stars wasn’t even enough granularity for me to say how I feel about a movie; two certainly doesn’t work! I’ve discussed this with some people in the comments of some of my reviews. My friend Nicole once made fun of my movie rating because I gave something like 3.125 stars or something and she wondered how I could be that specific. I’ve had other readers of this blog say similar things. Vic argued that even though he saw a couple of problems with Wonder Woman  it’s still a 5 star movie. Connie noted that it seems like most of my reviews are in 3-star range and it seems like I never give 1s or 5s. Barbara asked me if I ever gave any ratings above 4.

And that got me thinking. Netflix is just probably right. One of my favorite podcasts, the Weekly Planet, has this theory that on the internet there are only two possible movie ratings: “Best Movie Ever!” and “Worst Movie Ever!” Maybe people really do just judge movies based on “I liked this” or “I didn’t like this!” I’m a weirdo. I watch a lot of movies. And because of what I do for a living, I probably think about them more critically than most people. My friend Nat pointed out that most people go out to the movies once or twice a year tops, so maybe it’s hard to separate the cinematic experience in general from the film in specific. Plus, people generally only go to films they expect to like. This is why Rotten Tomatoes user ratings are almost always above critic ratings. If you go out to a movie that’s likely because something in the trailer sung to you, or you’re a fan of that genre or style of movie in general, so you’re already in the niche that the movie is reaching for.

Anyway, all that got me thinking that maybe it would be useful to explain basically how I arrive at the movie ratings that I use. So here we go:

Rating RangeDescriptionExample
5★This is a perfect movie! Everyone should see this. People will be talking about it forever. If you don't like it then you don't like joy. What the fuck is wrong with you?The Godfather
American Beauty
Citizen Kane
Any Given Sunday
Jaws
4★This is a cinematic masterpiece. I can recommend it to anyone. See this movie even if you aren't into the genre because it's just that good or important or funny or culturally relevantBig Lebowski
Logan
Edge of Seventeen
Mad Max: Fury Road
Black Snake Moan
Chasing Amy
3★Thumbs up! This is a good movie. If you're into the genre this movie is in but don't see them all, then see this one.Wonder Woman
Guardians of the Galaxy 2
Rogue One
2.5★Ehhh... it's a movie. Thumbs in the middle. Mediocre. It's not really good or bad. It's fine. Don't go out of your way to see it, but if it happens to come on TV it's not worth turning the channel either.Baywatch
Ghostbusters(2016)
Passengers
2★Thumbs Down! This is not a good movie. It really isn't. If you like it, great. But it's not actually good. If you're into the genre and you see everything then go. For everyone else, don't waste your money. Sucker Punch (which I love)
Fifty Shades of Grey
Every live action Transformers movie
Man of Steel
1★This is a bad movie. It just is. Even if you're into the genre, maybe you skip this one. Batman v Superman
Just about everything Johnny Depp or Adam Sandler have made in the last decade or so.
0★This is a piece of shit!Flesh Gordon Part 2 (you've been warned)
Everything in the Scary Movie franchise after they stopped calling them Scary Movie (seriously... you've been warned)

So it’s not that I hated Wonder Woman. I quite liked it. And I think it stands out in particular because it’s probably the best superhero movie featuring a female lead ever produced. Of course, that’s a very short list. And I think better ones are to come… or at least I certainly hope so. Unlike Jaws, Godfather, Citizen Kane or even American Beauty, I just don’t see it as the kind of thing that a decade from now I’ll still be saying “everyone should see this!” and certainly not 50 years from now.

But that doesn’t mean don’t see it. DO see it! And bad ratings (from me or anyone for that matter) don’t mean that you can’t like a movie. Hell, I love Sucker Punch… but I know it’s not good… in fact it is very very very bad… But I love it. So, if you’re the kind of person who loves Batman v Superman, then good for you! You should enjoy it. I mean, I’m sure your grandmother is disappointed in the way you turned out. But don’t worry about her. I’m going to make her feel better. Much much much better. She’s still going to love you even if you have bad tastes in movies. You just have to still love her… even though I did her… in the butt.

22 comments for “Wherein Me and Your Grandmother Discuss Rating Movies…

  1. avatar
    June 7, 2017 at 10:20 am

    #BIGMOVIES20172018Movie

  2. avatar
    June 7, 2017 at 10:51 am

    I gave WW an A+, for me that is an entertainment rating. But I also agree with your rating of a 3 from a purely technical standpoint.

    John Carpenters The Thing, for example, gets a 5 and an A+ from me, as would Godfather, Princess Bride, Citizen Kane, etc.

    All of which is still subjective of course. And it is possible to critique all art both subjectively and objectively, so the idea of “I like” or “I don’t like” works well imo for a general review/assessment.

    Logan was a technically more proficient movie, but it also made me want to drink away the sorrow. So it totally depends on what someone is looking to get out of it.

    • avatar
      June 7, 2017 at 1:44 pm

      Yeah. I mean I could talk about movies in terms of what I like and don’t like instead of analytically, but that seems less useful to everyone else.

      Like I don’t care for horror movies. But I know what makes one good. You don’t want me to just thumbs down every horror flick on general principle. And you don’t want me to thumbs up Sucker Punch even though it’s not actually good.

      The entire usefulness of the ratings is that I’m trying to take the subjectivity out.

  3. avatar
    June 7, 2017 at 11:49 am

    Yeah, Likert scales are notoriously problematic, especially when it’s “opt-in” like a Netflix rating (or an Amazon review). Most people just don’t bother to rate things unless they feel strongly, so you wind up with a bunch of 5s and a bunch of 1s. And, of course, different people mean different things by a 3 or a 4 or whatever. Your means of measurement is to treat the 5 point scale as a sort of discretized bell-curve: 5 start and 1 star movies ought to be _very_ rare — almost everything should be a 3. But if your goal is, for example, to “train” Netflix’s algorithm with your preferences, this is a terrible strategy! Netflix isn’t going to learn jack-shit if you give 80% of its content a 3. So again, that is going to push people to over-hype their own preferences.

    • avatar
      June 7, 2017 at 1:50 pm

      I agree with you in general. Netflix has different needs than the user. They want to improve their algorithm. But as a user I want to know what I’m in for. That’s different. But I think it’s something you can deal with in the basic way rotten tomatoes does. Pick an arbitrary point (60% in RT) and anything above that is a thumbs up.

      If you really want to get fancy you can normalize by user. What’s the average the user rates? That’s their magic number. Now make their thumbs up anything above that. You can even weight the rating based on the individual delta from the magic number. And then you can still report the number in a meaningful way for readers.

      That said… as I’ll go into more detail when I answer connie. I don’t really rate things as simply as I implied on my chart here. That’s a simplification. I use a lot of decimals.

    • avatar
      June 7, 2017 at 1:57 pm

      Sure, it’s easy to turn a high granularity number into a low granularity number — but I guess the question is, why bother with the high granularity if it isn’t really capturing any more information? The low granularity is quicker, simpler, less ambiguous, and leads to more engagement (so you get more samples). That’s the Netflix reasoning, and it makes sense. As for your rating — which, yeah, is for a different purpose — honestly, I don’t really care about your number at all. I’m never going to know your 57 variable weighted sum with added “how many beers did I drink” bias correction mental model — and I’m gonna read the review anyway, which is where all the information and nuance really is. I’ll never recover that nuance from a single number no matter how many decimal points you use 😉

    • avatar
      June 7, 2017 at 1:58 pm

      I guess I’m saying: “English FTW!”

    • avatar
      June 7, 2017 at 2:09 pm

      So interestingly enough… the guy who does that Podcast has abandoned number ratings for that reason on his YouTube channel and explains it in almost the exact words you do.

      And I think there’s a lot of logic to it. That said it’s a useful guide on some level to be able to say “which is better? GotG1 or 2?” Like Connie asked. Sure it’s kind of a nebulous answer that relies on way more nuance. But at least there’s a way to answer it.

      And I think there’s some logic to the aggregate too. Sure it’s a fiction. But as to Jim’s question I think there is some usefulness to being able to compare unlike genres in some way if only to be able to look at a list of Netflix results and say “should I watch Cars or Jaws?” Maybe the answer isn’t really logical but at least it’s better than “cars because it comes first alphabetically”. Maybe not perfect… but better.

  4. avatar
    June 7, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    Do you balance out a movie with its aim? What it is trying to be? Babe, The Incredibles, best Pixar movies, LA Confidential, Lethal Weapon, Unforgiven, Munich, Se7en? Any fives? Anything lower than a three?

    • avatar
      June 7, 2017 at 1:54 pm

      I do. I try to think about them in terms if what’s the best something could be for what it’s trying to do. I think Toy Story is an amazing movie. I think Jaws is amazing. I think Citizen Kane is amazing. They all have different goals but all exceed the averages of their genres enough to be worth recommending to anyone.

      And I can also say that Cars is not as good Toy Story and the Shallows is inferior to Jaws.

      And I think that even crossing the genres I can say that Citizen Kane is better than the Shallows.

  5. avatar
    June 7, 2017 at 1:19 pm

    GotG2 is a 3. What’s GotG1? What’s Antman?
    Seriously, we need one more star in there for the right granularity.

    • avatar
      June 7, 2017 at 1:57 pm

      So I actually simplified for that chart. I actually gave GotG2 a 3.125. I’d probaly put GotG1 up around 3.75. Maybe more. I don’t think. Could go 4. Antman is in solid 3.5 territory for me.

      Oddly enough though (to get to Vic’s point) I think I like Antman better than GotG1. Even if I’d rate them the other way.

    • avatar
      June 7, 2017 at 2:10 pm

      I almost wonder if you should split your 5 point scale into 5 points for people who like the genre and 5 points for people who are neutral or negative on the genre. Hell, at this point, you could make it a 3X5 matrix. Or bump to 10 points

    • avatar
      June 7, 2017 at 2:21 pm

      I mean, probably if I wanted the number to be really meaningful I could have a rubric with different scores for different categories: enjoyability, cinematography, directing, acting, social relevance, special fx/cgi, stunts, probably a bunch of other stuff. Sort of the way IGN does with video game reviews.

      Only I’m way too lazy for that….and as per the the discussion in Michael Higgins’s thread above, I’m not sure it’s as useful to do as the amount of effort it would take me.

      Ultimately I kinda think that the right way to read reviews is to read all of it. That’s why academic reviews don’t have ratings or scores at all…. but I don’t know if I believe everyone who isn’t Mike feels like that.

      And if I don’t have scores how am I ever going to be a certified rotten tomatoes reviewer? And I want that so bad!!!!

    • avatar
      June 7, 2017 at 2:58 pm

      I need an MCU specific scale: Winter Soldier to Age of Ultron – Post Iron Man 1 MCU, that is.

  6. avatar
    June 7, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    To be fair, I was surprised and entertained, but respected your right to be precise with your ratings ?

  7. avatar
    June 7, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    My rating scale is similar to yours I think. There is a difference between a well-made movie (written, acted, shot, etc) and a good movie. There is also a difference between a good movie and one I enjoy.
    Darkman is neither well-made nor good, but I enjoy it.
    Titanic is stunning visually, but awful in plot (not counting the iceberg part)
    I’m one of the few people I am aware of who is pretty much indifferent to Pulp Fiction, all aspects. Most either love or hate it.
    And yes, I agree with you that Jaws is one of the greatest movies ever made.

    • avatar
      June 7, 2017 at 5:01 pm

      Exactly. Like I was saying to Connie, there are different things that one can evaluate a movie on. I kind of aggregate those together to come up with my star rating. But none of them are really actually indicative of whether I like the movie or not.

      But as I was saying to Michael, it just *feels* more like a review if there’s a number.

  8. avatar
    June 7, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    I think I have similar rating habits for the books I rate on Goodreads. Not that I’m an expert or professional book reviewer, but I find I give a lot of 3s. I have to be able to reccommend a book to most anyone to go for a 4 and be basically in the Best Books Ever for a 5. I tend to give 2s to books that I don’t like enough to finish, and 1 is even below that. I couldn’t finish and becuase it is really and truely terrible.
    Really, most things are meh.
    But still I self-select to read things that I guess I am going to like.

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